In order to infiltrate the mysterious Society of Creative Anachronism, photographer E.F. Kitchen had to work from the inside.
That meant joining the group, forming bonds with members and – most importantly – wearing a Medieval tunic. A big blousy one, tucked into a fat belt.
“I just did the minimum that was required in order to blend in and not make people feel nervous or put off,” said Kitchen, from Venice Beach.
Apparently, the tunic and belt was enough. The group – which reenacts Medieval battles -- invited her to shoot photos of members in their elaborate armor. Now some of those photos will be displayed in a new exhibit by the Central California Museum of Art, beginning this month.
The exhibit, held at Studio on the Park in Paso Robles, will include about 20 of Kitchen’s platinum prints, which were taken with an 8-by-10 camera that is modeled after early 20th Century cameras.
“The content is retro, and the technique is retro,” said Gordon Fuglie, curator for the CCMA, which invited Kitchen to Paso for its third show.
The CCMA features the efforts of two former San Luis Obispo Art Center curators, Fuglie and Tim Anderson, now the director of the Cuesta College Art Gallery. When Fuglie was interviewed for the Art Center position toward the end of 2007, he met with Anderson, one of his predecessors, at a local restaurant to talk about the local art scene. During their meal, the two – who had both worked at the J. Paul Getty Museum -- noted a lack of museum-quality art in Central California.
After Fuglie was laid off from the Art Center – now the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art – he had the time to focus on the CCMA. The organization, which serves 13 counties, has an advisory council and is currently seeking non-profit status and a board of trustees. So far Fuglie has done much of the work, paying for trips with his own funds.
The first exhibit, featuring Templeton painter/printmaker Peter Zaleski, was held at the Cuesta Art Gallery in the spring. An exhibit by Santa Barbara printmaker Nicole Strasburg was held at Arts Obispo in the summer. And after Kitchen’s show, the photography of Sky Bergman will be on display at Arts Obispo this fall.
Right now, Fuglie said, the CCMA is building a resume before expanding to other counties, though a show in Fresno is planned for next year.
“Ideas have to be demonstrated in order to get in,” he said.
The knights show is a perfect example of what they’re looking for.
Kitchen, whose photos have been shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, brings an established artist to the CCMA. And, Anderson added, her SCA series is just quirky. “It’s not every day you get to see people dressed up like that.”
Kitchen got the idea for the project while photographing a neighbor’s son, who had a suit of armor he’d made for a class project. When Kitchen asked where she might find more armor enthusiasts, he told her about the SCA.
The group, with members from around the world, is dedicated to researching and recreating the arts and skills of pre-17th Century Europe. That means they dress in period clothing, put on feasts, and dance Medieval-style.
And the warriors whack each other really hard.
“They hit each other with full force,” said Kitchen. “It’s full contact battle.”
Kitchen didn’t take action shots. For one thing, her camera’s shutter speed isn’t fast enough to capture fighting. Also, she wanted portraits.
“My story was to actually show you how these people dressed and the personas they create,” she said.
In the back of her book, “Suburban Knights: A Return to the Middle Ages,” she includes mini-bios of her subjects, with submitted photos of them out of uniform. Those subjects include a radiation protection specialist, a real estate analyst, a restaurant manager, a tattoo artist, a teacher and a Homeland Security employee.
“I would say 80 percent of them are attracted to it because they can actually go into battle and not get penalized for being violent,” Kitchen said. “And the other percent goes there to be creative. They make things with their hands. They make armor, they make costumes, they dance the dances of the Middle Age, they play musical instruments.”
There’s even a hierarchy, where the more involved participants move up the chain.
“You don’t become a prince or baroness or a king just like that – you have to earn it,” Kitchen said.
Kitchen went to battles in three states – California, Arizona, and Pennsylvania – shooting subjects over a span of two years. While she acknowledges some might question why adults would want to recreate wars, she went into the project objectively.
“My idea was to be completely neutral and let the reader decide whether it was interesting or stupid or crazy or a waste or time,” she said.