200th anniversary re-enactment
1812 - 2012

Our Russia correspondent Kalina Neva photographed the 200th anniversary re-enactment of the battle of Borodino in September. Here is her report describing what it was like to be at the battle and some of her photographs. You will agree Kalina has taken some terrific pictures.

Living history moments

By Kalina Neva

It’s a pity that in 1812 photography did not exist yet, otherwise we would be able to see Napoleon Bonaparte saluting his soldiers or the Russian army fighting on the battlefield of Borodino.

Though there’re no pictures of this, we still can imagine how it was – thanks to history lovers and living history moments they create trying to be as authentic as possible.

They study historical literature and make costumes, weapons, dishes, flags, drums and many more items to take a step back in time and to live like our ancestors lived some two hundred years ago.

They do it not because it can bring them a lot of money or fame, but mostly because they believe it’s a right thing to do. To remember history and to treat it - not like a few dull paragraphs in a school textbook - but as live moments of the past that influenced the future.

Historical reenactment clubs exist in many countries, and there’re many events worth memorising.

Anyone can attend and photograph these wonderful reenactments, which are especially great when there’s an anniversary celebration.

The 200th anniversary of Borodino was honored this year in Russia in many ways and can serve as a good example.

An almost 4-hour long event held on September 04, 2012 was one of the most unforgettable battles I’ve ever seen.

“Breathtaking! Stunning! Absolutely fabulous!”

That’s how I felt standing on the Borodino battlefield under the heavy rain holding my big photo camera in one hand, an umbrella in the other and the rest belongings were hanging around my neck.

I was so impressed by the things going on in front of my eyes – hundreds of soldiers loading their guns, screaming “Attack!” and riding horses just in a few metres from my nose!

For a moment I felt like being a war photographer standing on the front line and trying not to miss a moment of this grand battle!

One might say that the battle re-enactments are just a kind of entertainment, when viewers are coming and sitting relaxed on the ground, and re-enactors are just playing their roles, posing for photographers and television and having fun.

It goes without saying that there’s a lot of fun for everybody, but I would not agree that it’s just a game to play.

It’s a moment of history when we, modern people, are paying tribute to our ancestors, and we show that we remember their acts of bravery, and we will.

So it’s very emotional moment, that’s why I like to photograph emotions of soldiers and generals fighting on the battlefield behaving as if they do not know how it all ends ...

Staying close and being involved, you still cannot intervene in the battle, of course.

So when Napoleon is passing by very fast, you cannot say “Hey! Hold on for a second, look here, I’ll take some pictures!”

(He’s not a movie star on the red carpet, and he will not hear you anyway – the cannons are shooting very loud!)

To catch a real emotion you need not only to get involved emotionally yourself, but also you ought to think about some technical stuff: Take a good position, get as closer as possible (taking into account that many children would like to be as close as possible too), take long camera lens with you (I use a 300mm), find a good balance between the shutter speed and ISO when it’s getting darker and more foggy because of cannons shooting.

You also need to be polite with other people standing at left, at right and at your back, trying to photograph the battle (and themselves also) by mobiles and feeling abused when your huge lens are closing a part of their picture, and getting annoyed when you stand up and sit down and stand up again to change the point of view a little.

It means that if you want to take good pictures, you need to concentrate and think simultaneously about many things, you need to observe what’s going on in different parts of the field not to miss that “decisive moment”!

I have gone to Borodino for many years, and every time it’s like a first time – so exiting, so colorful, so inspiring!

I’m truly amazed by people dedicating their time and talents to battle re-enactments and I’m sure they’re doing the right thing showing the others that bravery, honesty and courage still exist and are valued.

As someone said, if you do not know your history, you have no future.

I leave Borodino every time with a feeling that as long as we can find some time in our busy schedules and take a few steps back in time, there’re many reasons to have a bright future ahead.

And to come to the battlefield next time!


Click here for Kalina's picture website

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