Teaching soldiers to take aim at a human target and pull the trigger requires practise, and while the end-game is the same (make flash-and-blood contact) the enemy looks different depending on where you are in the world. Photographer Herlinde Koelbl spent six years snapping military training grounds for a new book called Targets, offering a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the wide interpretation of international bad guys.
Though it's not filled with blood and guts or wartime casualties, Targets is not a hardcover for the faint of heart. The mix of bullet-spotted dummies and paper caricatures in desolate desert terrains, coupled with close-up portraits of real men decked out in camo and staring straight into the camera is unsettling, and provides an intimate glimpse at the anticipation of action before shit gets real.
From South Africa.
And it's not just about the physical act of raising a gun. Koebel talks of the strong morals and ethics these officers must develop, leaders "who respect human life and the rule of law, who do not label the enemy as 'inhuman' and thus make targets of them. They are involved in deciding whether atrocities and attacks take place or not."
Some of the targets are almost charmingly DIY, with basic faces painted on planks of wood draped with clothes to make them appear more legit; others appear like something out of a full-colour comic book, in realistic faux-villages crafted by Hollywood set designers; while a few are just cans on the dusty ground. When Koebel describes the heavy stillness that she found common to these locations punctuated by the sound of tanks or the ratatat of ammunition, it's difficult to imagine the mental leap these men must take between practising and actual combat. There's something incredibly eerie about this view, and how it translates to battle.
Lead image from Germany.