NPR logo A Very Vintage Take On Our Modern Military

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A Very Vintage Take On Our Modern Military

In the 1860s, a photographer named Mathew Brady hauled a huge, clunky camera around the Civil War battlefields, capturing portraits and scenes of military life.

As camera technology goes, the process used by Brady was all but phased out. Today, a few niche art photographers continue to practice it — including Melissa Cacciola.

And in the vein of Brady's Civil War portraiture, Cacciola also focuses on the military. Her latest series, War and Peace, takes two looks at men and women who serve: in uniform and in civilian garb. "Through the photographic lens," she writes in a statement, "we can study just how the airman in his dress blues relates to the man in the Guns N' Roses T-shirt."

Cacciola was trained by renowned photographer John Coffer but is somewhat new to the wet plate process. In fact, photography is not really her background, per se, but she makes all of the chemicals and materials by hand — a feat even for a seasoned photographer. She studied historic preservation and restores paintings for a living — which helps explain why she would be drawn to such an antiquated, tangible process.

"[There] is a growing feeling that images lose their sense of permanence or uniqueness," she writes in her statement. "Photographs are no longer created with light but with pixilation and computers whose software is engineered to erase our scars and correct anything ordained to be a flaw."

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But her photos are up-close, personal and untouched. Over the phone, she explained that getting people to participate was the biggest challenge. "They're very private people," she explained. "A lot of people who [agreed] wanted to show that they were just like everyone else. Just because they were in the military didn't mean they were different."