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Psychic deaths come in all shapes and sizes; their after-effects are as varied. One of the more affecting and inspiring ressurections is currently on view at White Columns. On April 8, 2000, Mark Hogancamp was attacked by five young men in a Kingston, New York, parking lot. The assault left the ex–navy man, carpenter, and showroom designer in a coma for nine days. He emerged with brain damage that initially made it impossible for him to walk, eat, or speak.
Slowly, in an attempt to bring himself back to life and “not to let those five guys win,” Hogancamp resumed a childhood hobby of collecting toy soldiers and building painted models. At some point this “playing house” turned therapeutic and double-edged. Eventually, Hogancamp constructed the fictional Belgian town of Marwencol in his backyard. Built to one-sixth scale, he peopled it with WWII soldiers, as well as friends and family. Next, he began taking pictures of the pitched battles between occupying German and American forces as well as fights in a town bar. The results are sort of stunning.
Mostly this is because Hogancamp has an uncanny feel for body language, psychology, and stage direction. He combines film noir, the healing arts, a journey into the id, and mid-century war photography. You can see the weariness of one G.I. as he rides atop a tank, or the wariness of another as he peers under a tarp. Women carrying guns behind their backs approach unsuspecting soldiers. Hogancamp’s captions are little fictions and confessions. One reads, “I’m sitting in front of my Christmas tree, trying to relax, when I hear a fight between the bride and Dorothy outside in front of my place.” Whatever he’s doing, anxiety, play, and imagination are in ample evidence.