“I came flying over in my P40 Warhawk, on fire, and saw a flat field below and I crash-landed in it. And when I walked into town, there was nobody there.” So begins Mark Hogancamp’s story of Marwencol, the small-scale fictional Belgian town and oasis of peace in the midst of the Second World War that he built in his yard.
On April 8, 2000, Mark Hogancamp was attacked outside a bar in Kingston, New York, by five men who beat him literally to death. Revived by paramedics, Mark had suffered brain damage and severe physical. After spending nine days in a coma and 40 days in the hospital, Mark was discharged with his memory wiped nearly clean of the details of his life, his early marriage, girlfriends, family, Navy service, thundering alcoholism, homelessness and jail time. He had to relearn how to eat, walk and think at the age of 38.
Unable to afford therapy, Mark decided to create his own. In the yard beside his trailer home near Kingston, he built Marwencol, a 1/6th scale World War II-era town that he populated with dolls representing his friends, family, and even his attackers. Made from scraps of plywood and peopled with a tribe of Barbies and World War II action figures, Marwencol was named after himself and Wendy and Colleen, two women on whom he had crushes. Narratives surrounding a downed American fighter pilot rescued by Marwencol’s all-female population began to unfold against a backdrop that was nominally a World War II setting, in Belgium. The themes, however, were Mr. Hogancamp’s own: the brutality of men, the safe haven of a town of women, the twin demons of rage and fear. Mr. Hogancamp captured his stories with thousands of photographs, shooting on an old Pentax with a broken light meter. The noirish images, complete with blood flecks in the snow, are riveting and emotional.
Mark started documenting his miniature dramas with his camera. Through Mark’s lens, these were no longer dolls. They became living, breathing characters in an epic WWII story full of violence, jealousy, longing, and revenge. And he (or rather his alter ego, Captain Hogancamp) was the hero.
Hogancamp’s work has been shown at Esopus Space in New York and is the subject of a documentary by Jeff Malmberg, which explores the way that Hogancamp’s fantasy world has changed and affected him.
This piece includes a number of color photographs, a slide show and a documentary short film.
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