Donald Weber: War Sand

Text taken from Photo District News (PDN)

Teun van der Heijden

“While photographer Donald Weber was working on a project about the site of the D-Day invasion, which became his self-published book War Sand, he shared some of his images with van der Heijden, including microscopic photos of sand, and “about 1,000 images of weather on the Normandy beaches,” van der Heijden says.

When it came to designing War Sand, van der Heijden decided to open the book with the weather pictures—30 of them. His decision to use so many of what he calls “tranquil, boring” images was inspired by Weber’s obsessive interest. It also created a way to experiment with the idea of a “slow film,” and offered a fresh take on a subject people think they know well.  “What if I were not to do the
traditional tension and release, tension and release, but instead we stretch the boredom?” van der Heijden asked himself. “So many people have many images in their mind when they think of D-Day. Maybe this boredom is cleansing your mind of the other images,” the designer recalls thinking.

The sequence of weather images work like a stop-motion film showing waves rolling towards the shore, says van der Heijden. In the book, the weather images are followed by images of the beaches today, including
monuments, bunkers, parking lots and sunbathers. The book then makes a quick cut to a map. Next, he shows microscopic images, placing multiple images on each page. “That’s where the stop-motion book turned into a science book,” he says.

After the microscopic photos, the book shows toy-soldier dioramas which Weber made and photographed to envision the anecdotes his grandfather had told him about his war-time experiences. These “childish” images present the view of Weber as a boy, van der Heijden says. “This book has three narrators,” he explains: “The documentary photographer, the scientist and the little kid.”

For a bookmaking workshop he taught, van der Heijden drew a sketch of how he envisioned the narrative arc in War Sand: A flat line representing the quiet sky photos breaks into a jagged line representing the variety of images in the science section, and eventually flattens again. To
create each section, however, he was looking at color, subject and tone, and rearranging images intuitively, and also seeing how the sections fit together.”

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