A Startling Insight into the Business of Modern Warfare
Nikita Teryoshin’s Nothing Personal – winner of the PHmuseum 2019 Photography Grant – takes viewers behind the scenes of global arms trades, offering a gritty and sinister look at the commercial business driving war and destruction.
Nikita Teryoshin depicts the world in pieces. The result often brings a smile, though the subjects are often heavy. Close-ups, bits of scenes, the narrative builds itself with the accumulation of images, like a puzzle. And when Teryoshin undertook a world tour of arms fairs, he used the same apparatus.
War shows host foreign militaries and the accredited public mix to admire and purchase weapons such as missiles, tanks, drones, riot equipment and solid gold pistols. Weapons experts, soldiers and specialised media bustle about in the morbid yet luxuriant alleyways, showing off wealth and technology. It’s war out of its context, and all the absurdity associated to this disconnection.
Far from portraying a death market, the weapon trade pictured by Teryoshin is like any other – it’s made of sellers waiting in bore for a potentially interested customer; piles of food and trays of drinks meant to enhance interactions; and visitors taking selfies. “All the arm fairs are really the same. There are two or three days for professionals, followed by two days on the weekend for the general public - then you see children playing with guns in the worse way, sitting inside tanks or helicopters, holding crazy guns. It’s a form of propaganda for young kids”, Teryoshin says.
His photographs, even when absurd, are not meant to be humourous Rather, they are inherited from a practice rooted in street photography, looking for surprising details within the mundane. A visitor of Teryoshin’s exhibition, he explains, once compared his work to “Dangerous Dining Companions”, by political cartoonist John Heartfield - the drawing depicts two men whose heads have been replaced with long, threatening, canons, sitting at an otherwise uneventful family dinner. “It’s good symbolism”, Teryoshin comments. “Today it’s hard to say whether we are far away or not to the next war. Yet, every year there is more money for weapons. You call it defense but it doesn’t make sense if the weapons are not used.”
Heartfield was a pioneer in using art as a political weapon and Teryoshin clearly uses the same twist. When witnessing a crowd of men suddenly racing towards a giant cake, eating directly with their hands, he can’t help but think they behave like on a battlefield, though it’s the total opposite of a war scenario. And when he passes by a soldier making a demonstration of camouflage, surrounded with a dozen photographers, he notices the man’s meaningful eyes. “I like the expression of the soldier. At the end of the day he is only a puppet, asked to either parade at a fair or fight”, Teryoshin notes.
Nikita Teryoshin's series Nothing Personal was awarded the PHmuseum 2019 Photography Grant Main Prize. To see the complete list of winners, visit phmuseum.com/grant.
Nikita Teryoshin is a Russian documentary photographer based in Berlin, Germany. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Photography at the University of Applied Science in Dortmund and he is a member of Freelens e.V and the German Academy of Photography DFA. His photographs are part of private collections in New York, Paris, Madrid, and St. Petersburg, among others.
Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.
This article is part of our feature series, Photo Kernel, which aims to give space to the best contemporary practitioners in our community. The word Kernel means the core, centre, or essence of an object, but it also refers to image processing.