Nostalgie de la boue
Using a photo camera from the First World War, Nostalgie de la boue explores the reenactment of collective memory in France, 100 years after the end of the conflict. For some it is an idealised past, more reassuring than the present. The image is part of the series “Nostalgie de la boue” (Nostalgia for Mud), a work in progress about memory. / "We have to wait until time passes before we can talk about somethings, like war," says Stéphane Tatinclaux, 53, a photographer. Venteuil, October 2018.
For over almost two years I travelled through France photographing dozens of World War I reenactments. The photos were taken with a Kodak Vest Pocket, also known as “the soldier’s Kodak” one of the most widely used cameras during the war. / "If my great-grandfather saw me dressed as a German soldier, I'd get a hell of a slap in the face," says Luc, 65, who, for lack of candidates to play the "enemies", dressed up as a German soldier during the battle reenactment at Mont Renaud in April 2018.
The images of Nostalgie de la boue, like the historical reenactments they portray, are carved in the present. They function as a mirror to our present doubts, desires, fears and frustrations. We learn more about our present than the past. / WWI French reenactors resist a German attack on Mount Renaud in Noyon, in April 2018. This summit was defended in April 1918 by real French soldiers, exactly one hundred years before this reenactment.
When faced with an uncertain future and a confusing present, the past can work as a refuge to revitalize in, where the stakes are straightforward. Playing the role of a past hero can provide meaning in our daily life. / Chloé, 12, plays a teenager from the early 20th century. Her father has been taking her to reenactments since she was 4 years old. Armentières, France, October 2018.
Collective memory is a never ending process of rewriting. In a century from now, who knows what will be reenacted? / "I reject the present," says Francis Carrey. Staging of a French offensive in a public park, in Armentières, October 2018.
"Wait, I'm going to do it again, in a more spectacular way," says Alex Phialip, 27, who falls, for the second time, for the photo, alongside his friend Cédrick Meine, in a public park in Armentières, October 2018. Alex wears the uniform of a soldier from the 139th Infantry Regiment of Aurillac, his hometown and the regiment in which his ancestors fought in WWI.
"For Valentine's Day, I bought my wife the door of a German bunker," says Eric Hedin. Dressed as a pigeon fancier, holds on his arm Valiant, one of his 20 carrier pigeons. Saint-Soupplets, September 2018.
A French "attack" in progress, against a German machine gun, on the football field of Saint-Soupplets, France, September 2018.
"For us French, reenacting World War II is complicated. Is France ready to revive this period? ". Vincent, 34. A German reenactor points his machine gun at combat aircraft during an air reenactment in Meaux, June 2018.
“We do not reenact executions. There is no point in reopening wounds.” Édouard Abon, 33, municipal councilor. Venteuil, October 2018.
"The audience loves what is visual, watching combats and see the material. Reading a book is very interesting but when you are on the field and you see the soldiers in real life, it’s great!" says Dominique Jallerat. Staging of a French offensive in a public park, in Armentières, October 2018.
"Good reenactors have historical rigor. We must get as close as possible to reality." Édouard Abon.
"Bang! Bang! Bang!” shouts Michel Teinturier, 65 years old. "You have to get into the role and be a little exhibitionist to do that.” Dressed as a sergeant, he charges against Germans fleeing Mont Renaud, April 2018.
Blank shot with a 75 mm cannon during a French “offensive” on the Saint-Soupplets football field. Seine-et-Marne, September 2018.
"I like immersive reenactment: sleeping and eating like soldiers used to, like them, being in the trenches, it is a way to get closer to reality." Henri Desbordes, winegrower, 26, dressed as a lieutenant. He has been doing reconstructions since he was 12 years old. Here in Venteuil, October 2018.
"My two great-grandfathers fought in Verdun. I pay tribute to them by wearing a WWI uniform," says Jérôme Pariiselle, 20 years old, himself born in Verdun. "There are so few young people in the reenactments."
"My great-great-aunt was a nurse in Metz during WWI," says Aurélie Anne, 22, Jérôme's partner. "The nurses collected the last letters from the soldiers (dead or about to die) and mail them to their families. Saint Mihiel, near Verdun, September 2018.
"They offered me to be a bourgeois woman of the early 20th century. That is not who I am. I like helping people, so I chose to be a nurse," Gerdie Hazard, 62, caregiver in hear real life, here with her granddaughter, Chloé, 12. They are scouting for “wounded men” after the reenactment of Mont Renaud’s battle, April 2018, 100 years after the real fighting.
"We will eventually forget about WWI. We have to do these reenactments for the children," says Dominique Jallerat. Saint-Mihiel, September 2018.
"This is not just a disguise. It's resembles to cosplay, because there's a real rigor in these performances," says Daniel Djebrani, 53, passionate about costumes and history. He provided the German outfits for the Battle of Mont Renaud, April 2018.
In April 2018, an "officer" and a "subordinate" discuss after a combat reenactment, on the ruins of the Mont Renaud chapel, next to the Christ of the Calvary of Passel, mutilated during the battle in April 1918.
"I have a passion for history and it also allows me to escape the family routine," says Daniel Djebrani, 53. A group of French reenactors take position, just before an "air attack" in Meaux, June 2018.
View of the Meuse River from the French WWI reenactors camping site at dawn to the sound of the bugle in Saint Mihiel in September 2018. The municipality was liberated twice, in September 1918 and September 1944.
"Today reenactments are spectacular and folkloric. History was pushed into the background. It's not like it used to be." Patrice Losson, 47, "lieutenant" of infantry, in the company of his daughter Chloé, 12. Armentières, France, October 2018.
"It gives me something to do during my weekends," Xavier Lequeux, 25. Venteuil, October 2018.
"I do reenactments to remember that before it was worse than now," says Loic (R), 30. Like Denis (L), 34 years old, they wear uniforms like their great-grandfathers, WWI veterans. Armentières, October 2018.
Dressed as a war widow, Marie Claude Duriez, poses with her husband Philippe during the commemoration of the Hundred Days Offensive of 1918, which ended the War. He wears his great-grandfather's suit and his grandfather's hat, a WWI veteran, in Armentières, in October 2018.
"I want to forget," used to say my great-grandfather when we asked him about the war. I don't think he'd like to see us doing reenactments." Stéphane Gerlache, 41, a worker, with his father in Venteuil, October 2018.
"Reenactment is a man's thing. We are trying to enhance the role of nurses," says Marion Desgouliere, 25 (R). "When we parade, we're always last." Armentières, October 2018.
"I spend all my weekends on battlefields," says Cyprien Lejeune (R), 13 years old. "I do homeschooling. Reenactments allow me to make friends. Marty (L), 14 years old. Here in Venteuil, October 2018.
"Who let the horse into the room?" said my grandfather a few moments before he died. He was talking about his horse during the Great War. I think of him when I do reenactments. " Stéphane Tatinclaux, 53 years old, photographer. In the forest of Venteuil, which hides WWI trenches, October 2018.
"When I arrive in class dressed as a WWI French soldier, is easier for the students to remember what we learn. They can touch the equipment and feel the weight of History." Nicolas Gaultier, 50, a primary school teacher. He is standing in a trench destroyed by a shell in Venteuil, October 2018.
"Sometimes I do research to link the names on the graves to their personal history, to find out who these people were. There are soldiers who died not far from the cemetery," says Mathieu Baudoin, gardener at the American cemetery in Oise-Aisne. Photo taken in Venteuil, October 2018.
"I took a picture of a WWI French soldier and told my hairdresser: I want the same haircut. My mustache is also typical of the time. It was a sign of virility," says Alexandre Herreman, from behind, a 51-year-old mechanic. With Edouard and Stéphane, he cleans the replica of a 75mm gun, in Venteuil, October 2018.
Oblivious of the presence of Germans fighters, a French soldier rests against the ramparts of Fort Douaumont, in Verdun, during the remembrance ceremony for the battle, in August 2018.
"I've been killed about ten times since I became a reenactor. I´ve lived very beautiful deaths," says Olivier Pierrard, "KIA" under the German machine gun fire, on the football field of Saint-Soupplets, in September 2018.
Reenactors from different associations pose with their Lebel rifles, equipped with their "Rosalie" - the nickname of the bayonet - in a public park, during the reenactment, in October 2018, of the last Allied offensive during the Great War, in Armentières, France.
"We have a lot of photos from that time to recreate history. There is no excuse for not being strictly accurate," says Simon. French camp. Saint-Mihiel, September 2018.
"As soon as I put on the costume, I transform. I play my role to the max, like an actress," says Dominique Jallerat, on the left in the group photo of the French associations of reenactors, after two "battles" at Mont Renaud in April 2018.
"You can't reenact battles with a smile on your face. That is just a carnival. There was a lot of suffering during WWI. We have to remake History down to the last detail”. Henri Desbordes.