The Print Center

Michael Mergen

Confederate Heroes, Confederate Dead is a photographic installation comprising 68 images of sculpted heads from memorial statues to unnamed Confederate soldiers. Each is a tightly cropped view of the statue’s head, portraying a white, male and usually young soldier. Presented together, they form a taxonomy of an idealized American masculinity.

Mergen was compelled to make this work after the June 2015 shooting in a Charleston, SC church, where white supremacist Dylan Roof murdered nine Black people gathered for a Bible study session. At the time, Mergen was living in Virginia. Having been raised in the Philadelphia area and educated in New England, he was struck by the memorialization practices of the South. He spent the summer traveling across Virginia, photographing the statues still found in many city and town centers. These statues of unnamed soldiers are smaller and subtler than the grandiose equestrian monuments of famous generals. Some were erected immediately after the Civil War by memorial associations representing the families of the deceased, while others went up more recently – as late as 2007. It did not take Mergen long to recognize similarities among the statues. Many have the same or similar heads, which were ordered from a catalog of prefabricated monuments. In wealthier communities, they were custom-made by established sculptors. Mergen wields his camera to gain intimate access to the statues, which are typically installed 30, 40 or 50 feet high on a large base bearing an inscription.

Artist Biography