Why Lincoln? That’s the question Greta Pratt asked the costumed men before her camera, all of whom committed a portion of their lives to a president now gone for more than 150 years. For these fans, Pratt learned, Abraham Lincoln “embodies one of America’s most cherished tenets: that the common man, through sheer hard work and determination, can elevate his status in society.”
At four annual conventions of the Association of Lincoln Presenters, Pratt met men and women who perform as the president and first lady at schools, senior centers, and other venues. For the portraits in her project, she framed the men in softly focused, pastoral backgrounds reminiscent of historical paintings, and she challenged them to “summon up your inner Lincoln.”
They did so gladly. “Lincoln brings out the best in me,” says Illinois reenactor Randy Duncan. “He probes the patriotism of each of us.” Though her subjects began portraying Lincoln for varied personal reasons, Pratt says, they continue because he helps them feel part of something larger: a nation.