Soldiers and civilians around the world practice use targets to practice their marksmanship. These pretend enemies might be simple cans, paper bull’s-eyes, or elaborately drawn caricatures of enemy combatants. In her latest book, Targets, acclaimed German photographer Herlinde Koelbl explores what soldiers around the world look at as they’re trained to shoot. While on an assignment to document the German Armed Forces, Koelbl became interested in the forms the soldiers used for target practice. Over a six-year period, she visited military training camps in more than 20 countries to create portraits of the inanimate enemies soldiers learn to kill.
“In the vast expanse of barren deserts, in labyrinths of concrete bunkers, and in mock Arab villages created by Hollywood set designers, soldiers are being taught to take aim at a great range of targets, all for the same deadly purpose,” as the book’s synopsis describes. Who and what serves as a training target for soldiers reveals deeper cultural and institutional ideas about the identity of the enemy–a perception that in some cases changes depending on the latest war, and in other cases is a veiled remnant of otherwise forgotten, decades-old conflicts.
Koelbl discovered targets that ranged from faceless silhouettes and abstract shapes to carefully drawn characters of different genders and races. One American colonel told her when he was in training, targets featured the red star of the Soviet Union. Now, the targets wear Middle-Eastern head scarves. Imitation villages used to train soldiers revealed who armies consider a potential enemy. In France, she found a new training site bore streets with German names–though the two countries have been allies for decades.
The book is available here.