Thursday, November 3, 2011

Two Men and a Rifle

At first, this very calculated Civil-War-era photo looked to me like one of those posed faux-old-timey photos people get in tourist towns. The fraternal embrace, the awkward attempt to share contact with the gleaming rifle... Those posed, dress-up photos are absurd and cheesy. But even if you didn't know that this is an actual portrait taken during the Civil War, the expressions of hostility, fear, and a kind of reticence or apprehension make this photograph infinitely more complicated than a kitschy family photo taken in an amusement park. This photo is terrifying and sad and tender and blunt. You are moved; you feel like you know something about these two men without being able to say what.

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