Portfolio: Jim Naughten

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The Independent Culture

Simulated battles aren't everyone's cup of tea – but for those who take part (some 20,000 people in the UK), they are a serious business: call their uniforms "costumes" and you might find yourself on the sharp end of a bayonet.

Jim Naughten, a London-based photographer whose grandfather was a Desert Rat and uncle was a Spitfire pilot, had no such fears – though he did put on a flak jacket to join thousands of First and Second World War re-enactors on the battlefield, experiencing days of heavy rain, heavier artillery and Hitler Youth marching past his tent, which he had set up as a portable studio.

But rather than base his Re-Enactors project around those live scenes, he found that what he wanted to achieve was better accomplished photographed against a plain background. This both allows us to see quite how authentically accurate their garb is, yet also sets his subjects apart from time – their 1,000-yard stares could as easily have come from the horrors they had seen as those they were commemorating.

In focusing on the details of their attire, the series also draws attention to the depersonalisation of war and the need to remember that individuality is too easily suppressed by notions of collectivity: for while these uniforms might reveal unit, rank and nationality, they cannot reveal what is in the heart of their wearer.

Jim Naughten's Re-Enactors exhibition is at the Imperial War Museum, London SE1 ( iwm.org.uk), until 30 November. For more information: jimnaughten.com