As a young person growing up in Fairfax County, Virginia, Lauren Haldeman played soccer on a public field next to Manassas National Battlefield Park. Here, bullet shells and other Civil War artifacts were so common that players walked the field before games to prevent injuries from stray metal. The soccer field wasn’t the only space in Haldeman’s childhood marked by Civil War violence—in the woods, her brother once found a human femur, likely the remains of an amputated limb, while Haldeman herself was visited by disturbing nocturnal visions that had the features of hypnagogic hallucinations, but felt more like hauntings.
Blending graphic memoir, poetry, and history, Team Photograph assembles a narrative from these fragmentary encounters with Northern Virginia’s Civil War past. This book isn’t a traditional historical narrative about military campaigns or battle maneuvers; instead, Haldeman is interested in the emotional legacies of violence, whether encountered through commemorative spaces such as national parks, archival objects, or individual acts of remembrance and erasure.
The book is organized as a series of short comics interspersed with poetry sequences, showcasing Haldeman’s craft in both forms. Dense, deft lyrics evoke powerful, if slippery, emotional responses to history; a sequence of poems titled “An Incident” are particularly memorable conjurings of Haldeman’s childhood hallucinations, shot through with dreamy, unsettling weirdness. The book’s colorful art operates as a counterpoint to the literary register of its text, wolf-headed figures stand in for soccer players and Civil War soldiers serving as a playful distancing effect. Both the words and pictures are layered with historical allusion: images copied from antique photographs, quotations from primary documents, and erasure poetry crafted from texts as diverse as the Washington Post and the poetry of Walt Whitman.
Haldeman’s repurposing of historical texts and images gives Team Photograph a feeling of collage, a creative melding of present and past that resembles the artifact-strewn soccer field of her youth. These “overlays of space,” as she describes them, are sites for Haldeman to craft personal responses to Northern Virginia’s violent past, whether contemplating the meaning of her childhood hallucinations, exploring resonances between team sports and military combat, or grieving the death of her brother in a random act of violence in 2012. Yet Haldeman’s project isn’t simply to impose her own story on the past. She positions herself as “a vessel, a thing possessed,” an artistic mode that allows her to channel the voices of the Civil War dead, who, “having died now cry out / to be seen.”
This openness to the voices of the past means relying on serendipity to guide the narrative, even when it surfaces stories that were missing from Haldeman’s childhood understanding of the Civil War. One narrative excursion uncovers the history of the Robinson House, an African American historical site at Manassas National Battlefield Park that was destroyed by arson in 1993. Haldeman, who is white, isn’t sure it’s her place to tell this story, but she decides to use a newspaper article to construct “erasure poetry” about this contemporary act of racist violence, drawing parallels between the arsonist’s destruction of historical memory and her own ambivalent attempts to reconstruct it.
With its blending of narrative modes and genres, Team Photograph is a richly layered reading experience that will give readers of poetry, literary nonfiction, and experimental comics plenty to mull over. The book is particularly recommended for communities who are currently debating contested Civil War landmarks, offering a model for reading these spaces, and their histories, generatively and against the grain.
By Lauren Haldeman
Sarabande Books, 2022
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)