NEIL HAMON
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SUICIDE SELF PORTRAIT - HANGING Lure
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There is an implicit doubt in the titling of Neil Hamon’s photographic series of military re-enactment society members Living History that interrogates a confluence of acting and remembering. Framed as formal portraits and printed to be generally reminiscent of the photographic reproduction of the time – sepia for the American Civil War, Black & White for World War II – Hamon scrutinises this predominantly male pass-time. Most of the groups focus on one particular period with obsessive loyalty. They are Company B, 9th Kentucky Infantry of 1863 or II Kompanie, 5. Battalion, 916 Grenadier Regiment, 352 Infantry division of the German army, circa 1944. Members spend many hours and considerable financial resources investing in fictional personas and historically authentic paraphernalia. Yet despite protestations of historical interest Hamon’s Images attempt to suggest the real motivation behind the re-enactment society members dedication is quite different.

Framed against the shrubs and flowering bushes of the parks and woodland in which the societies often act out their dramas, Hamon’s images subtly suggest a degree of absurdity at the heart of the society members’ activities. His group of German officers of 352 Infantry division in particular strike proud, confident poses amongst the cascading flowers and florid confusion of grass that characterises their woodland backdrop. This juxtaposition cannot help but encourage the images to border on the camp, suggesting that the society members are not primarily involved in any form of historical accurate activity but are in fact simply involved in a form of self-legitimised adult game-play. Any idea of remembrance that may be associated with their activity is negated by the fantasy and escapism at the heart of their activities.

This idea of a somewhat debased engagement with the past is reinforced by the taxidermy works, such as Lure (2002), that Hamon often shows in conjunction with the Living History photographs. Lure consists of a taxidermy hare lying in repose on the floor. Taxidermy in itself represents an attempt to fix the dead in the image of the living, but Hamon’s work transgresses on taxidermy’s peculiar etiquette by inserting a small electric motor in the chest of the animal. Infrequently, as the viewer walks between images of men pretending to be dead soldiers of conflicts that are sliding into the malleable vacuum of secondary recollection, the motor cause’s the hare’s chest to rise and fall. In doing so Hamon has taken taxidermy to its logical completion – to make it appear that the animal is breathing.

But this is not an afterlife either spiritual or material, but a charade of one. And it is a charade that is intended as a form of warning: a warning against animating things beyond their natural end, for our own ends. Weak shallow and infrequent, Lure’s breaths are those of the dying. It is a dead animal preserved and animated to mimic life but in doing so simply acts out its own death with more verisimilitude.

 

© Simon Morrissey 2004

Extract from After Life, The Bowes Museum, ISBN: 0-9502375-7-4

Neil Hamon
Anna Mecugni
David Thorp
Eduarda de Souza
Ben Borthwick
Simon Morrissey
Simon Morrissey
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