I was in New Zealand recently, attending the Auckland Festival of Photography, by a kind invitation from festival director Julia Durkin. In its 15th year, the festival is well established and featured over 100 gallery exhibitions, international presentations, workshops and portfolio reviews. The festival center is located at Silo Park, where the specially curated thematic ‘Control’ exhibitions were held, literally in two giant disused concrete silos and a metal gantry in the surrounding open space by the water’s edge.
That was where I met Herlinde Koelbel, the respected German photographer known for her lifelong portraits of Angela Merkel and her series ‘Jewish Portraits’. In Auckland, Herlinde was showing her recent project Targets, part of the Control theme, as noted in the program :
“For years Herlinde Koelbl travelled around the world, and in a total of thirty countries, made photographs of the military targets used in the training of soldiers. As icons with which the various armies of the world learn the craft of war, everyone considers himself to be on the right side. In the reality of war, the soldiers themselves are always ultimately the target. For Koelbl, it was thus obvious that exhibited beside the mechanical targets are portraits of the soldiers – for they are the living targets.”
I spent my first morning in Auckland enjoying a delicious brunch with her in a cafe on North Wharf and snapped this portrait. We chatted about her project and discovered she had traveled to many countries, liaising with their militaries and consulates to gain access to their training and practice locations to photograph. Encountering obstacles and being passed from one department to another she nevertheless obtained permission in many of the prominent nations. ‘Targets’ attempt to show the ultimate futility in armed conflicts, the power play and arms race amongst nations. By portraying and comparing methodologies and practice targets used in various militaries, a powerful insight about the ‘art of killing’ and the soldiers trained to do so, only to discover that they are the very targets that the others are being trained to kill.