In 2013, The Guardian ran a story on Ed Drew, a US aerial gunner serving in Afghanistan who had brought with him a field camera that used a wet plate collodion process.1 This was the first time since the American Civil War that this process had been used to document soldiering life. The resulting photographs of his fellow soldiers were revealing: “I know all of my subjects well and fly with them on missions, and I felt it essential in telling their story that I connect with them at a close level. No photographic process can achieve this better than a wet plate.”2 The soldiers are positioned in ways that are eerily reminiscent of the Civil War photographs of Mathew Brady and his cohorts. There are solo portrait pictures of soldiers seated or standing against a canvas backdrop, rarely smiling, and emoting their combat experience through their facial features. Also, there are group photographs of soldiers posing in camp in front of helicopters or gunnery equipment. What these photographs have in common is that they project a sense of haunting. The presentation of wars as haunted sites in historical memory has been a persistent feature of war photography since the Civil War, and Ed Drew’s photographs continue this tradition.


Motion Picture National Tradition Emotive Power York Time Article Early Cinema 
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  1. 5.
    Spirit photography, developed during the Civil War by a Bostonian photographer named William H. Mumler, used double exposure to make it appear as though the ghosts of dead soldiers were appearing behind their bereaved relatives. For further reading, see Louis Kaplan’s The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    For further reading on color in early cinema, I recommend Joshua Yumibe’s Moving Color: Early Film, Mass Culture, and Modernism (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers, 2012).Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    For further reading, see Paul Virilio’s War and Cinema (London: Verso, 1989)Google Scholar
  4. and Friedrich Kittler’s Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (Redwood City: Stanford University Press, 1999).Google Scholar

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  • John Trafton

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