In time for Memorial Day, an exhibition at the St. Petersburg Museum of History offers a chance to reflect on what it has meant to be an American soldier from the Civil War to the War in Afghanistan. Through 116 photographs, The American Soldier: a Photographic Tribute
offers a look at the gamut of military experience from harrowing adventure to barracks humor, tearful family reunions and heart-stopping displays of courage.
The exhibition is both educational and emotionally gripping. Starting with images from the 1860s, just a few decades after the dawn of photography, an array of legendary historical conflicts are given a human face: from the corpse strewn battlefields of the Civil War to face-offs with Germany during World War I, D-Day, the Bataan Death March and the Vietnam War. The intensity of each moment is timeless, though contexts differ considerably.
Seeing photographic technology evolve along the way is fascinating, too. The exhibition transitions from the blurred faces of early, large format black-and-white photography to contemporary digital images in vivid color with crisp detail in handheld close-up shots.
It’s important to note that the exhibition doesn’t feature actual photographs, but rather enlargements and reproductions of photographs drawn from archives around the country. While connoisseurs might be put off by the absence of historical objects, the exhibition format brings into view an array of images that might otherwise be prohibitively expensive to organize and transport to small museums like this one.
The American Soldier: A Photographic Tribute runs through July 13 at the St. Petersburg Museum of History, 335 Second Ave. N.E., St. Petersburg, 727-894-1052, spmoh.com.