Goethe Institut exhibit brings targets to life
“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.
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.