When American photographer Daniella Zalcman landed in England in November 2012, she was looking for a long-term project to pursue while she waited for official approval from the British government to begin working in the country. What she found was a fiercely dedicated crew of World War II reenactors, who travel across the country staging epic recreations of significant events from the war. The images she created as she followed their travels through history look like they could have been shot at the height of the war, a quality she says comes from a combination of her camera, her subjects and her persistence.
“One of the biggest elements of getting a good photo is getting good access,” Zalcman told TIME. “Once I got my foot in the door I was really able to interact with people and follow this story for a long period of time.” She’s been photographing British battle reenactments for close to a year now, and is currently in Normandy photographing the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Her images, shot in black and white on medium format frames, evince a rugged authenticity and timeless charm.
“It’s pedantic in the most loveable way possible,” Zalcman said. “Every detail, down to the last button, has to be accurate, because every single one of these World War II reenactors has a father, a grandfather, a very close family member who was in the war. So in these photos a lot of them are wearing their grandfathers boots, or their dad’s insignia. It’s very close to home for a lot of them.”
While far from a history buff, Zalcman says she’s had to brush up on her WWII trivia to keep up with the subjects in her photos. “It a lot more interesting and a lot easier to immerse yourself when you’re hearing stories from that close, and from that perspective, to really know where they’re coming from.”
Zalcman’s said she comes from a documentary background, which shows in her WWII work. The nostalgia that shines through in her portraits of Winston Churchill look-a-likes and leisurely snapshots of soldiers at rest is a fitting tribute to both history as it was, and history reenacted. “WWII was really the last great war, and I think we can agree that it’s the last war that there were genuine war heroes in the most idealistic sense of the phrase. So for me, it’s a historic continuation and a way for me to reflect on their reflections on the war.”
Daniella Zalcman is a freelance photographer based in New York and London