“Whistling Dixie” by Anderson Scott (Columbia College Chicago Press)
As reported in Wired Magazine, "Civil War Lovers Can’t Leave the Past Behind at Awkward Reenactments," by Jakob Schiller, on 30 May 2013 -- Some of our favorite photographers are ones that bring a fresh eye to a stale topic, which is what Anderson Scott has done with Civil War re-enactors — a favorite subject among photographers. In his recent photo book Whistling Dixie, Scott delves into the American South with a dirty aesthetic and an eye for the strange.
But just like his photos defy our expectations, the events themselves actually caught him by surprise. Scott, a lawyer in Atlanta, was raised in the South, but years spent documenting the Civil War reenactment scene revealed a group of staunch Confederate supporters among the history buffs and hobbyists.
“On the benign end of the spectrum are the people who are into hoop skirts,” says Scott, who grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. “Then you move across the spectrum and you have Neo-Confederates who in turn bleed into white supremacists. But even for the folks whose motivations are ‘benign’ they are engaging in a willful ignorance. They are parading around under Confederate flags and that sends a message.”
For many outsiders, that message carries racist undertones given the role of slavery in the Civil War, though from a Southern perspective the Confederacy has become more about states’ rights and autonomy from the federal government. Scott says he appreciated and respected the parts of the reenactments that are designed to celebrate the region’s history and was impressed by the re-enactors’ dedication. But he says it was obvious some of the participants were there to make a political statement.
“[At the reenactments] I started hearing people talking about bringing back the values of the old South and I thought, ‘Either you haven’t thought about the values of the old South or you are a pretty scary person,’” he says.
Civil War reenactments actually began during the Civil War itself as a way for soldiers to commemorate their friends and educate others about war. The modern version of the reenactments, however, took off in the 1960s around the time of the Civil War Centennial. Some of the largest reenactments involve tens of thousands of participants and draw thousands of spectators.
Scott says Whistling Dixie is not him trying to take a jab at the participants. Instead, it’s principally a visual exploration of the beauty and incongruity of the events. Some of the other pictures, however, clearly speak to Scott’s growing distaste, like the photo of a young white girl sitting in a chair next to a giant Confederate flag while a young African American girl sits on the ground. He wondered why the African American girl decided to participate in the re-enactment.
“The thought that flashed through my mind was, ‘Where are your parents and do they know what you’re doing? And if they do what are they thinking?’” Scott says.
In the introduction to the book Scott writes about showing up to the events in his Toyota Prius and walking through a parking lot full of enormous American-made trucks. Plastered on those trucks were any number of pro-Confederate bumper stickers including one that said, “Citizen of the Confederate States of America, Fighting Federal Terrorism Since 1861,” and one that featured a photo of the U.S. Capitol flying the Confederate flag with the words, “I Have a Dream,” superimposed.
Today, Scott says he’s developed a newfound awareness to all things Confederate. He used to not notice when he drove by people’s cars with Confederate flag bumper stickers but now he can’t see one without cringing.
“At first I thought [the reenactments] were just nutty but over time the broader implications began to sink in and I realized there is a pretty substantial contingent who are still serious in their veneration of the Confederacy,” he says. “I came out the far end of the project much more vehement about it than I was going in.” (source: Wired Magazine)