Every day on the news we are shown images of war and destruction. This coincides with global expenditure on arms increasing year after year. However, we are rarely afforded a glimpse behind the curtains of the global arms business. Photographer Nikita Teryoshin travelled to 16 arms fairs between 2016 and 2023 to investigate what happens before wars take place. His aim was to take photographs at exclusive so-called defence expositions— which are closed to the public—on every continent to highlight the global nature of the industry.
‘’Nothing Personal’ shows the back office of war, which is the complete opposite of a battlefield: an oversized playground for adults with wine, finger foods and shiny weapons. Dead bodies here are mannequins or pixels on screens of a huge number of simulators. Bazookas and machine guns are plugged into flatscreens and war action is staged in an artificial environment in front of high-ranking guests, ministers, heads of states, generals and traders.’
Teryoshin deliberately obscures the faces of the business men and women present as it is not his intention to fix blame on individuals. The anonymised arms dealers can be seen as a metaphor for a business operating in the shadows and under the radar of the media. His photographs are playful and often focus on bold graphic angles and visual humour such as drinks put down alongside machine guns and geopolitics tote bags. The casual nature of his observations combined with the bright innocent colour palette which runs throughout the imagery is a sinister contrast to the goods on sale. Teryoshin’s use of flash helps him to highlight certain elements and is reminiscent crime scene photography.
Teryoshin first began photographing all types of fairs—agriculture, pets, funerals—because his photography school in Dortmund, Germany was next door to a giant expo hall. In 2016 he ended up at a hunting fair—Hunt and dog—and was surprised how guns, in this instance hunting rifles, attracted old and young visitors. After publishing his series Sons and guns, he became curious to find out what happens at professional arms fairs. He first gained media access to Eastern Europe’s biggest arms fair MSPO in Kielce, Poland in September 2016 due to his work for VICE Germany and the project began. Over a period of years he visited expositions in Poland, Belarus, South Korea, France, Germany, South Africa, China, UAE, Peru, Russia, Vietnam, USA and India.
‘Nowadays companies use slogans like, ‘70 years defending peace’ or, ‘Engineering a better tomorrow.’ It is hard to imagine, that some people in the weapons industry believe these things. Still there is a remarkable quote from the inventor of the machine gun Richard Gatling that says: ‘It occurred to me that if I could invent a machine – a gun – which could, by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as 100, that it would, to a large extent, supersede the necessity of large armies and consequently, exposure to battle and disease be greatly diminished.’ Ironically, rather than decreasing the number of soldiers on the battlefield, his invention led to unimaginably greater bloodshed.’
An exhibition of work from ‘Nothing Personal - The Back Office of War’ will open at Freelens Gallery, Hamburg, 25 January 2024.
Based in Berlin, Nikita Teryoshin (*1986) was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. When he was 13-years old he moved with his family to Dortmund, Germany where he went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Photography. He graduated with his first long term project ‘Hornless Heritage’ (2014 - 2017) which focused on the matrix-like world of the German dairy cow industry. His project ‘Nothing Personal - the back office of war’ has been supported by the Stiftung Kulturwerk der VG Bildkunst, a PH Museum Grant and Volkart Stiftung. It has been exhibited in La Chambre Straßburg, France, Bienne Festival of Photography in Switzerland and at Cortona on the Move and PH Museum days in Bologna, Italy. His work has also been awarded the World Press Photo 2020 first prize in the Contemporary Issues category, nominated for the Picture of the Year, awarded the Miami Street Photography Festival 2019 first prize in Series, World Report Award first prize at Fotografia Etica (IT) 2020, and became Leica Oskar Barnack Finalist 2021. Teryoshin works freelance for publications such as SZ-Magazin, ZEITMagazin, The New Yorker, Der Spiegel and Stern and his personal projects have been published in VICE, Le Monde, GUP, ZEIT Magazin, GUP Magazine, It’s Nice That, WIRED, Internazionale and Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin.
The Back Office of War
Essay by Linda Åckerström