Close Assault at Camp Mabry

One of the things I try to make a point to do over the Memorial Day weekend is to pay a visit to Camp Mabry, where a WWII Reenactment always takes place. It's always a sobering experience for me as this small bit of living history brings to mind the tremendous sacrifice made by our military for the sake of the freedoms we get to enjoy. It's not about glorifying war. It's about recognizing the price paid by too many of our soldiers.

While the mock battle between US and German troops is the highlight of the event for many people, I more enjoy wandering around among the troop camps, talking with the reenactors, and getting some candid shots as they prepare for the battlefield. These guys take their roles seriously and if you hang around in the background, you'll catch some war faces.

All images were captured with a Fujifilm X-T2 and 50-140mm lens using the Acros film simulation. More photos from the event can be found on my gallery site.

Close Assault at Camp Mabry

Every Memorial Day weekend the Texas Military Forces Museum Living History Detachment at Camp Mabry puts on a series of WWII reenactments. I enjoy attending these exhibitions and taking a few photos for the reenactment troops. There is always a special emphasis on reminding those in attendance of the reality of warfare and the tremendous costs in human life in the fight to preserve the freedoms we enjoy. The folks who stage these events do so not to glorify war but rather to tell the stories of historic battles in an immersive history lesson. While there is an exciting battle recreation to watch, I'm always more moved by the traditional tribute at the end of the program where we remember those who gave all they had to give in service to our country. 

In memory of our heroes, Memorial Day 2016.

Veterans Day

The Living History Detachment of the Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry stages several WWII Reenactments a year around the Memorial Day and Veterans Day holidays. I make it a point to attend and document these events with my camera. Some might find it odd to stage depictions of war. Those who participate in these events do so not to glorify war. Rather, they go to great lengths to educate on its harsh realities and the cost of the freedoms that we enjoy due to the sacrifices made by our veterans. Many of the living historians who participate have served in the military and consider it an honor to share the story and history of WWII. 

My goal in photography at these events is two-fold. For one, I try to accurately capture the characters and battles in a manner that gives the images plausibility. My shots are composed to isolate the scenes and remove any hints of a modern time period if possible. Secondly, I try to capture the humanity of actors in their characters - their emotional responses, long stares, the war faces. Some of those are backed by real memories of service. It's my way of honoring our veterans. To those who have served, thank you.

More images from the event are here.

Close Assault - The Book

I've been taking photos at WWII reenactment events at Camp Mabry for a few years now. After accumulating a good number of images I have decided that it is finally time to do something special with them. My main reason for shooting at these events is to give something back to these guys. Owning and caring for genuine period uniforms, weaponry, and vehicles is really expensive and nobody pays these folks to present these programs. These people do what they do because they are passionate about presenting living history lessons. It's not about running around with guns and glorifying war. It's about educating the public about the harsh realities of war and the tremendous sacrifices that are made in defense of freedom. 

I have put some of my favorite images from the Close Assault WWII reenactment events into a small book. It is a 44 page paper back. I've donated several copies to the Texas Military Forces Museum for sale in their gift shop so that they can use the proceeds to help fund programs like Close Assault. The book is also for sale online. I will donate all profit from online sales of the book to the museum either directly in cash or I will use the profits to purchase more copies of the books to donate for sale at the museum. Either way, I'm not making a cent - all the money goes to supporting living history programs at Camp Mabry. 

A number of people have asked me about purchasing my images in books and I'm happy to finally have something available. Please consider picking up a copy and supporting the living history program at Camp Mabry. I'd sure appreciate it and I know the great people of the Living History Detachment would as well. Just click the link below to purchase. Thanks!

Close Assault

By Michael Connell

44 pages, published 8/25/2015

Photos from the Close Assault WWII Reenactment events at Camp Mabry in Austin, TX. These events are put on by the Texas Military Forces Museum's Living History Detachment. This book includes portraits and battle photos.

War Faces

Over Memorial Day weekend recently, I stopped by the Close Assault WWII reenactment at Camp Mabry in Austin.  The reenactment portrayed a battle with Nazi Germany, taking place in 1944.  A reenactment is not a glorification of war, but rather a living history lesson.  The reenactors did a great service to the community by sharing military history.  These individuals make great personal and financial sacrifices to present an accurate visual representation of the battle conditions our soldiers faced during WWII.

I've attended and photographed this event before.  This year I decided to take a little different approach in my photography.  Last year, my primary goal was to get battle pictures.  This time around, I chose to focus more on the individuals in their character roles.  I tried to keep the shots candid and unposed.  When you point a camera at someone, assuming he or she doesn't mind being photographed, you always run the risk of a deliberate pose.  That is not what I wanted.  These reenactors were out there to perform a role and it was within the context of that role that I wanted to capture them.  In their minds, for the purpose of this exhibition. they were back in 1944 and I wanted the camera to reflect that.

I made one more change from last year.  After a bit of research, I found some period photos in color.  Kodachrome color film was around during the war, although it wasn't used much because it was a slow film at ASA 8 or 10.   There is a certain connection I feel that is made through color photographs of the period, like looking through the window of time.  I decided to process my character stills in color, as close to the Kodachrome look as I could get.  I used a Lightroom preset provided by X-Equals and I made some adjustments.  I mainly wanted the color and tone and I decided to not attempt to replicate film grain or print age.  I am not a film expert but I did look at some samples from the period and I believe this is a reasonably close representation, with modern clarity.

Without further ado, let me share some of images of the men of G Company, part of the Living History Detachment of the Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry.  One of the things that struck me about these guys is how seriously they take their roles.  There was a look of concentration on their faces as they prepared for their performance.  Their weapons shoot blanks only but there are still dangers on the mock battlefield, not the least of which is a Sherman tank roaring across the field!  These guys must stay focused to be in the right place at the right time for their safety.  They also have a responsibility to make sure their audience is safe during the reenactment.

Putting on a demonstration like this is a lot of work.  These guys sacrifice their time and financial resources to put on these reenactments.  I heard that they spend over $600 in blank ammunition alone for each performance!  Many hundreds more is spent on everything from uniforms to vehicle maintenance.  The money comes from donations and their own pockets.  Despite the time, effort, and cost, one thing was clear to me.  These guys love what they do.

It wouldn't be a war reenactment without an army for our guys to battle.  That is where the 167th Volksgrenadier Division comes in.  This group is a living history and reenactment group that plays the role of Germany in WWII.  They wear the full uniforms and insignias of Nazi soldiers.  Please understand that this is a historical group, not a hate group.  They play an important and commendable role in the demonstration of historical events.

I hope you enjoy these shots as much as I enjoyed capturing and processing them.  There are many more shots from this event on my web site, including black and white renditions of these shots, as well as battle scenes.  Thanks to all those who give so generously of their time and money to make these living history events possible.  I encourage everyone to attend these regular events and support these reenactment groups and theTexas Military Forces Museum.

This was Memorial Day weekend, which was first and foremost a time to remember those who gave their all in service to our country.  To the brave who gave their lives that we may continue to live free, thank you.  You are not forgotten.