The PhotoBook Journal

February 3, 2018

Donald Weber – War Sand

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Photographer: Donald Weber (Toronto, Canada & resides in Amsterdam, The Nederland’s) http://donaldweber.com/

Microscopy: Donald Weber and Kevin Robbie

Published by Polygon, Nederland, copyright 2018 https://shop.donaldweber.com/products/war-sand

Essay by Larry Frolick, Kevin Robbie and Donald Weber

Text: English, French, German

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Stiff covers, map insert, perfect bound (sewn & glued), block trim, four-color lithography, D-day Glossary, printed by Fine Books in Nederland’s

Photobook designer: Teun van der Heijden, Heijdens Karwel

Color management & Lithography, Sebastiaan Hannekroot, Colour & Books

Notes: War. As I have stated before; I don’t understand it and fortunately I have not had to experience it, although my house is built on an old WWII bombing range. I think Donald Weber’s War Sand is a similar multi-medic type of publication that has much in common with Louie Palu’s Front Towards Enemy beyond the fact that both are investigating an aspect of war; Weber looking at the traces of World War II’s D-day invasion on the coast of France and Palu is grounded in the present in Afghanistan. Whereas Palu utilizes multiple types of publications for his collective narrative, Weber provides his multi-media story within one set of covers.

Weber’s book is a series of sections in which his investigation changes formats, styles and viewpoints to explore the complexity of his subject; the D-day landing zones. The “introduction” is a lyrical study of the sky, clouds and into the heavens above and then the viewpoint progresses to include the landing beaches (code names: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword) until drilling down (literally) and then into the sand itself. The attributes of sand of these beaches was in of itself a secret commando mission that Weber’s grandfather had partaken in 1943.

A scientific section on microarcheology of current sand samples from the various D-day beaches reveals in minute detail the finding of what was expected as well as some things not expected, while disturbingly some very small shrapnel debris that is no doubt related to this intense battle that began on June 6th.

Weber has created a number of very intriguing set of dioramas to tell the story of his grandfather’s commando raid to get beach samples. The book concludes with a visual storyboard that is a combination of D-day movie stills and archive WWII photographs. Although the latter is an interesting read, it may be the weakest aspect of this multi-layered book, nevertheless for a visual book investigating a complex subject I applaud Weber for taking an artistic risk by including this last section.

The clever book design includes a sleight-of-hand with the utilization of a few Japanese folds that are printed on the concealed interior pages referring to the secret codes names created for the D-day invasion. The cross-word puzzle printed on the interior page of the fold provides a ghostly image with the thinner paper stock, barely discernable of the outer pages in this section of his photobook. The books little secret visually hints at all of the many secrets surrounding this WWII event and indirectly the reason for the book’s creation.

The higher key lyrical coastal photographs provides an alternative viewpoint and belies the horrors that had occurred at these same locations on that stormy June 6th day in 1944. The casualties for the Allied landing forces on D-day alone include 2,700 British, 946 Canadians and 6,603 Americans. For Germany, the number of casualties are still unknown, but is estimated between 4,000 and 6,000. The Battle of Normandy that resulted from the invasion incurred 425,000 Allied and German troops that were either killed, wounded or went missing. Perhaps not often mentioned are the number of French citizens caught in the middle of this battle which has been estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000 casualties. Some of the many statistics of war that this narrative only hints at. That my father landed on D-day plus 3 with the U.S. Second Armor on Omaha beach and at the war’s end came home is something I am grateful for as otherwise I would not be here to delight you with this review. It was also a dark event that my dad refused to talk about, so indirectly I think of this book as being part of his story.

What really intrigues me about this photobook is that as a visual object it is similar to my thought processes and the way I think about a subject; a constant jumble of ideas mixed with various kinds of facts, different memories and recollections that seem to oddly cross-paths. In turn this process creates ideas about things that I want to dig into and tangential thoughts that then result. It makes book development challenging in trying to decide what the narrative should be and how to present it. I enjoy how Weber’s multi-faceted investigated of this complex subject resulted is a photobook that is an visual interesting, nicely organized and a delightfully layered narrative.

Weber states “The war-relics presented here create an immersive experience on the theme of collective memory. They include WWII spy-craft and old Hollywood movies, dioramas and drone-mounted cameras, private post-war memoirs and wistful seaside photographs. These artifacts reveal war’s quantum traces. And they expose our civilization’s longing for a final victory over death.”

Other book by Donald Weber that is reviewed on TPBJ: Bastard Eden, Our Chernobly.

Cheers!

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April 28, 2009

Donald Weber – Bastard Eden, Our Chernobyl

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 9:35 pm

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Photographs copyright of Donald Weber courtesy of Photolucida

Donald Weber’s Bastard Eden, Our Chernobyl is his Photolucida 2006 Critical Mass book and a scary look at what could be our potential post-Nuclear civilization. It is also about a marginalized society and the reclamation of the land.

Weber’s photographic documentary project investigates the no-man’s region surrounding Chernobyl (Ukraine) where 20 years ago in 1986 a nuclear reactor incident which went really bad. The result was a 40-kilometer Exclusion Zone where people are not permitted to enter. But they do enter and some have now chosen this area to become their home, for them and their families. Thus Weber’s question:

What was daily life actually like, in a post-nuclear world?

A post-nuclear world could be the result of the nuclear arms war going to the ultimate gamesmanship where all of the buttons were pushed for the wrong reasons, or as in this case a nuclear reactors malfunctioning. In the first instance as we know from the end of World War II a nuclear war will probably clear the landscape pretty much clean with very little remaining. In the latter most everything remains intact with only the radioactive traces creating the issues. The latter is also the landscape of Chernobyl that is silent but yet potentially deadly.

And so what results?

Nature abhors a vacuum and since the trees, plants and most of the landscape remains intact, the wildlife are the first to re-claim the land. The rabbits, boars and deer are wild game for those people who exist on the fringe of this region, and over time these hunters have slowly ventured further and further into this no-man’s land. Eventually people began to become squatters taking residence in the empty and abandoned houses and buildings to claim them as their own.

But who would knowingly choose such a dangerous location to establish a home and raise a family? Probably much like the squatters who exist through out the world are those who survive on the marginal edges of our society. And so this society evolves functioning somewhat similar, but also in many ways very differently that those outside this small region. In most of Weber’s photographs you would not realize that these photographs are made in such a potentially dangerous place.  Children are at school or playing at home and acting out as they do everywhere.

There are also hints of a darker side perhaps not directly correlated with the area, but about those who would chose this place over a much safer location. Weber captures the isolation and aspects of a dysfunctional society who are still striving to survive. He documents individuals who are captured and held here because of the choices of others such as the children of parents who have decided to bring their families here. We do not know what their other living options are and the body language within many of his photographs does create a message about their isolation and despair. Yet family bonds and values are still strong even in the face of such a bleak situation and where there are plenty of potatoes and vodka and wild game to hunt.

Is it just me, or is there chance that those eyes of the lone man leaning on the snow covered shed (below) reminds you of Jack Nicholson’s character in the Shining? There is something sinister and malevolent in those hooded eyes as they connect with me. Is he anomaly in this region or does he represent what we all might become under these same circumstances?

I believe that there is yet another theme that runs through Weber’s book and best illustrated by one of the last photographs in his book of the urban landscape photograph, below. The desolate urban landscape which is dark, cold and foreboding with the sun peaking out from the tall structure sand the slender shaft of sunlight spreading over the snow covered foreground. To me this image speaks of Hope.  And Hope held by the people in Chernobyl for a safe and prosperous life and thus Hope for mankind in the face of such an ominous potential.

These are searing documentary photographs.

The 8 1/2″ x 10″  softbound book is 64 pages with 62 photographs and was printed in Hong Kong. The book is accompanied with a text by Larry Frolick (see below).

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

Update from Larry Frolick, off-line I received the following comment:

Hi Douglas!  I read your review of Bastard Eden with interest. As Don Weber’s collaborator from the writing side, I have travelled with him through a number of desolated landscapes including the uncountry of Kurdistan that covers the remotest parts of Syria, Turkey and Iraq. The enclosed comix, Kebabistan, was drawn by Steve Wilson, and written by me about our adventures at the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. Don waded into the thick of knife fights in the grubby streets, massed tanks, mad farmers and unhappy GI’s, right into the shit of war and the craziness it brings to everyone within range of the guns.

Who is not in range of the long guns of today? That’s the question we try to answer in Bastard Eden. People try to live normalno, as they say here — but then this thing from nowhere keeps coming and knocking things into another dimension.

That’s what we discovered about these people living in the abandoned Chernobyl region in Ukraine. They are living in a past-less place; whatever it was, this thing has come and gone, taking what it wanted and leaving people to their post-atomic existence. For us, as two investigators of the silent crimes of history, this story is not about the failure of technology — or about the limits of human imagination.

It’s about the randomness of a nonhuman Power.

Is this Power evil, as our cartoon story suggests? Is it stronger than us? We don’t know. We watch the Chernobyl hunters snare wild rabbits for supper and their wives pick radioactive raspberries, and we think:

Life goes on, despite everything that can be thrown at it.

Larry Frolick, Niagara on The Lake, ON

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