Goethe In­sti­tut ex­hibit brings tar­gets to life

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse - NYO ME ny­ome@mm­times.com

“WAR is the chess game politi­cians play, and we are the pawns.”

“I never felt guilty about killing peo­ple who de­served to die. In my eyes they de­served to die be­cause they were the en­emy. I’m trained to think that way.”

“When I de­cided to be a sol­dier I ac­cepted to kill and to be killed. It’s part of the job.”

“To be a sol­dier is a spe­cial pro­fes­sion, above all other pro­fes­sions, be­cause we swore to die for our coun­try.”

The sol­diers’ words are dis­played on the wall of the Goethe-Villa, part of the ex­hi­bi­tion Tar­gets by Ger­man pho­to­graphic artist Her­linde Koelbl. It runs from Septem­ber 5 to 12, and dis­plays the tar­gets used by armies in nearly 30 coun­tries, col­lected over the past nine years.

The sol­diers are rep­re­sented as live tar­gets, a de­pic­tion that il­lus­trates how war puts a bulls­eye on ev­ery fighter’s back.

Koelbl said se­cur­ing ac­cess to so many shoot­ing ranges was a reg­u­lar headache.

“Armies are closed so­ci­eties and it was very dif­fi­cult to get per­mis­sion from the var­i­ous de­fence min­istries,” she said. “Some­times, it took years.”

Myan­mar was one such coun­try, which she was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in due to its his­tory of iso­la­tion and mys­tery. Au­thor­i­ties here waited two years be­fore al­low­ing her to pho­to­graph the shoot­ing ranges, but even­tu­ally she got in.

On a visit to Pyin Oo Lwin, she was sur­prised to dis­cover that, for all its iso­la­tion, Myan­mar’s army was not so dif­fer­ent than many others in the re­gion. The Tat­madaw tar­gets re­main the same ones used by the Bri­tish.

“You can see a his­tory of colo­nial in­flu­ence,” she said. “The use of this tar­get is wide­spread through­out Asia.”

Free­lance pho­tog­ra­pher Nay Thet Thet Nway, who vis­ited the ex­hibit ear­lier this week, called it an “imag­i­na­tive project”.

“It’s not war pho­tog­ra­phy. It’s so cool. It makes you feel like you’re un­der­go­ing mil­i­tary train­ing your­self.

“I also like the con­cept about who the en­emy is. I think my side is right; they think the same. Where does the truth lie? It’s up to the politi­cians to de­cide that, but the sol­diers bear the heav­ier re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

One of the sol­diers quoted in the ex­hibit said, “In Iraq a kid pointed a gun at us, and we shot him. Af­ter­wards we found that the gun wasn’t loaded. Then you ask your­self, was it right what you did? You try to sup­press these thoughts, but they al­ways come back.”

“I can ac­tu­ally re­mem­ber the smell of fear the night be­fore the at­tack. Your body chem­istry changes. It is very dis­tinct. The en­tire com­pany had it,” said an­other.

Koelbl has pub­lished doc­u­men­tary films, video in­stal­la­tions and more than a dozen books of pho­tog­ra­phy – Fancy Peo­ple: High So­ci­ety (1986), Jewish Por­traits (1989), Traces of Power (1999), Bed­rooms (2002), Hair (2007) and My View (2009). She has won a num­ber of awards, in­clud­ing the pres­ti­gious Erich Salomon Prize.

Pho­tos: Sup­plied

The ex­hibit from Ger­man pho­tog­ra­pher Her­linde Koelbl runs through Septem­ber 12 at the Goethe In­sti­tut.

In the ex­hibit, stark im­ages of shoot­ing ranges from around the world com­ple­ment med­i­ta­tive quotes from sol­diers.

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