Before the US Civil War, the great American poet Walt Whitman wrote these words in the first edition of Leaves of Grass:

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men…

And at war’s end, in his elegy for the slain Lincoln and all the soldiers of both North and South, he wrote:

I leave thee lilac with heart-shaped leaves,
I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, returning with spring.

My chlorophyll prints provide a literal embodiment of Whitman’s trope of leaves. In our present day, they convey Whitman’s metaphor tempered by the image of spring’s return.

The chlorophyll print process employed here uses no ink and no chemicals. A film transparency prepared with a positive image is applied to a freshly plucked leaf and sandwiched between two plates of glass. Exposed to sunlight, the leaf bleaches where the transparency allows, and the image is made with the leaf’s remaining natural pigments. The resulting photographs are the leaves themselves, unique as each leaf is unique.

The images of the soldiers used here are taken from the magnificent Liljenquist Family Collection, found in the US Library of Congress. These appropriated images—portraits in leaves—direct our attention to the individual: the face of the one who fights, is wounded and dies. When we contemplate going to war we must know its reality and reckon its cost; when we can’t avoid going to war, we must remember the lost, and in that way bring them back. They must be recognized. They are witnesses to be seen, to be heard and not be forgotten.

As Whitman wrote in ”When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”:

O what shall I hang on the chamber walls?
And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls,
To adorn the burial-house of him I love?

These leaf-prints are the pictures I offer in our own time of war.

—Robert Schultz


Editors’ Note: War Memoranda is the result of an eight-year collaboration with Binh Danh, the technique’s
modern originator. Their efforts resulted in the publication of a book of poems by Robert Schultz and art by Binh Danh, Ancestral Altars (Artist’s Proof Editions, 2015), and an exhibition, War Memoranda: Photography, Walt Whitman, and Renewal, which opened at the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia and has since travelled to the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York where it will be shown until October 16, 2016.