"Mark Hogancamp: Resilience" at One Mile Gallery in Kingston | Visual Art | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

Mark Hogancamp and the miniature World War II-era Belgian village he built and photographed on the grounds next to his trailer on the Rondout Creek outside Kingston became something of a sensation after the release in 2010 of Marwencol, the award-winning documentary film titled after the name of Hogancamp's fictional town. Represented by Kingston's One Mile Gallery, Hogancamp has had exhibitions at One Mile as well as several galleries in New York City. His story spawned a Hollywood film starring Steve Carrell, Welcome to Marwen, and Hogancamp receives fan mail from all over the world.

After a long hiatus caused by the pandemic, One Mile is hosting a show of his new photographs, "Mark Hogancamp: Resilience," enabling fans to catch up on the latest going-ons at the one-sixth-scale town, from Nazi ambushes to seductive, all-female encounters.

On April 8, 2000, Hogancamp, a divorced Navy vet who suffered from alcoholism, was brutally beaten outside a bar in Kingston, leaving him with a brain injury and other disabilities. After a year of therapy and partial recovery, he began constructing his wartime European town out of scrap wood, populating it with costumed action figures and dolls. The cast of characters consisted of occupying Nazis and the GIs and local women seeking to oust them.

click to enlarge "Mark Hogancamp: Resilience" at One Mile Gallery in Kingston
Photo by Janet Hicks
Mark Hogancamp with the residents of Marwencol last fall.

Much like a film director, Hogancamp set up the dolls in a series of carefully arranged tableaus, many of which centered around US Airforce Captain Hogie, Hogancamp's alter ego, and the beautiful, seductive women who aided and protected him. The creation of Marwencol has been a powerful therapy for Hogancamp, a way to act out his fantasies of violence and romance: "I got five new Nazis to depict the vigilantes; they're going to be punished soon," he says during my recent visit, referring to the five men who severely beat him 24 years ago.

But his mise-en-scenes are also extraordinarily artful, capturing the ambience of wartime Europe with uncanny naturalism through encounters charged with psychological tension—alternately violent, full of camaraderie, tender, and erotic. Mugs of beer clustered on a wooden bar, a mud-splattered jeep, the feminine hand discretely placed on Hogie's crotch—such details bring the scenes to life, as does the moody lighting and Hogancamp's cinematic-like manipulation of the camera's depth of field.

Marwencol is now more than 20 years old—Hogancamp says he has taken over 100,000 photographs—but he is as immersed as ever in the lives of his ever-expanding cast of characters. (A week after he suffered a stroke in 2022, he filmed Hogie having a stroke while having coffee and a cigarette at the Catfight Club and his subsequent recovery at the hospital.)

Grant money and donations of plywood enabled him to upgrade and add new buildings, including a three-story hotel. The four small shed-like structures are wired with electricity and have a space inside where he can sit and photograph the richly furnished, miniscule rooms. Though the main premise, killing off the Nazis, hasn't changed, he's modernized, adding tiny laptops and smart phones to his vast inventory of props. Many of his characters are based on personal acquaintances as well as actual people and fictional characters from popular culture. "We sit around the fireplace and listen to Gwyneth Paltrow reading stories," he says.

Hogancamp uses a point-and-shoot camera—he's on his fourth—attached to the top of a broken tripod, whose foot-high height is perfect for photographing his miniature world. Noting that his German grandfather was a mechanic in the Luftwaffe—the family immigrated to America after World War II—Hogancamp said even as a young child he was fascinated by the shiny, stockinged legs of his mother's German friends (it was Hogancamp's comment about liking to wear high-heeled shoes that nearly cost him his life that night in the bar). "I love elegant women, elegantly dressed," he says. "Men kill what they don't understand, while women are curious."

The show at One Mile will consist of 25 photographs, a combination of new and old works exploring the theme of resilience. One of the one-sixth-scale buildings, "V'rella's Rooms," will also be on display. The opening is from 5 to 8 pm on March 23, and people can view the exhibition through April 13 by appointment.

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