“. . . and indoors for hours we would play with one hundred lead soldiers, moving them man-by-man across the floor, lending them our blood and bones; whispering their voices, their commands, and cries of pain; whispering the bugles and the killing shots."
Above are lines from a memoir I wrote years ago, trying to understand even then – and still now – the powerful magic contained in the lead figures I played with as a boy and continued to collect as an adult and now attempt to capture in photographs.
Blindfold me and place in my hands any one of my brave soldiers from two dozen wars. First, the familiar size and weight of the figure will send the old pleasure through me, and my fingers will begin to explore lightly, careful to not bend sword or lance or rifle or bayonet. And soon in my blinded eyes I will begin to build the image of whom I hold in my hand, and I will smile as if discovering an old friend – a Bengal lancer or French cavalryman or Gurkha regimental or mounted Arabian warrior with scimitar and long flowing robe. And by building this figure from touch and memoir, I will begin to “see” its individual face: bearded, mustached, clean . . .
I will tell from the shape and weapons, turban or helmet or cap, the date in history of this soldier and the bright colors of his uniform because the men in khaki who belong to modern wars are not in my collection. My legions fight the old battles with bright banners showing through the mist of centuries. I don’t ask for reality from this small magic. Give me the myth of glory. Bring me the memory of moving them across a blue tile floor in an upstairs room littered with fortresses made of piled books where I created their battles and made, just above my breath, the sounds of their conflicts and where I decided their individual fates. And each soldier, as I held him and moved him across the tile and over the books, was, for a moment, me.