For the last four years Stacy Kranitz has been photographing the Battle of the Bulge, sans thick Belgian forests and sans her identity.
The New Orleans-based photographer has been documenting the 500 person-strong reenactments in character. She tries recording the Pennsylvania-based events as Leni Riefenstahl, the controversial German filmmaker & actor, most famous for her Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will.
In her artist’s statement Kranitz says that Riefenstahl’s autobiography was released when she was a teen, and that it’s part of the reason she became a photographer. “Rather than seek out a simple role model who fit the classic heroine profile, I became intrigued by the complex story of a woman I could both love and hate.”
Kranitz says she decided to bend the rules of documentary tradition, inserting herself into the project. Kranitz says she partnered with photographer Marisha Camp for those portraits, “in an effort to subvert the viewer’s instinct to dismiss these people as different from themselves.”
Stacy Kranitz calls her project Target Unknown, and I talked with her yesterday about the work:
Brett Myers: Could you describe the reenactment? What’s it like to participate?
Stacy Kranitz: It can be an intense environment. People take the event very seriously. The event is made up of many units and each have a different style and mentality about how things should be done.
Most of the participants come from a working class background. Many have served at war or have family members who served. For a lot of people the event offers an opportunity to connect to that experience. The participants are interested in guns and military strategy. It is hard if not impossible to start a conversation about the Holocaust. They just don’t find it relevant to the event. There is also a serious interest in beer. Lots of drinking. Men seem to use the event as a chance to get away from the wives and kids.
BAM: How does playing Leni make you feel?
SK: Playing Leni is wonderful. She was so manipulative, glamorous and bossy. She was perceived as a controlling slut, “the crevasse of the Reich” and I think that idea is fun to play with when it comes to setting up the pictures of me. I am shy, but as Leni I must be the opposite.
BAM: Does that make you feel guilty at all – enjoying stepping into her persona?
SK: She is a deplorable women. She pulled gypsy families from concentration camps to be extras in her movie Tiefland, and then returned them to be murdered. She refused to take responsibility for things like that despite evidence showing her guilt. But as much as I hate her, I admire her. She was a strong woman who achieved great things in cinema in a man’s world. Later in her 60′s she went onto do some interesting work in Africa and under the sea. Her life was intriguing until the end. In her 60′s she met a man who was 40 years younger. They married and lived together until she passed away at 101. I have found so many details of her life fascinating bizarre and troubling.
BAM: What motivates the Nazi re-enactors to be on that side of the fence?
SK: There are several things that I have noticed. A lot of the men had been on the American side for many years and got bored with it. There is a draw to being the bad guy. Some men get involved through friends and just end up on the German side of things. Many of the Germans soldiers that are not SS see a difference between the idea of serving your country and the SS who served Hitler.
There is a small group of Neo-Nazi’s there participating in the event as SS soldiers. Their politics are not the majority and they are discouraged from speaking openly about their beliefs.
BAM: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you want to say?
SK: I am interested in violence. I did not go to this event to humanize these people or validate what they do. I came to explore how violence is part of our hobbies and pastimes. For me this story is about the nuances in between good and evil. It’s why Leni fits so well in the project.