Defence Mechanisms

Venturing inside the arms trade

DEFEXPO-2020 Lucknow, India
DEFEXPO-2020 Lucknow, India
Photographs by Nikita Teryoshin Text by Tanvi Mishra
01 July, 2020

Men in corporate suits and military outfits, alcoholic drinks perched beside assault rifles—many scenes in the photographer Nikita Teryoshin’s work Nothing Personal–the Back Office of War present a theatre of masculinity. The setting and the actors resemble childhood games with GI Joes, but in this rendition the boys have grown into powerful men, and their toys have evolved from plastic models of soldiers to real missiles and rifles. The performance, no doubt, appears incomplete without a drink in hand.

Photographed at various arms-trading fairs across 13 countries, including Poland, Peru and India, Teryoshin’s images take us “behind the curtains” of the global defence business. He began by shooting what he called the biggest fair in Eastern Europe, in Kielce, Poland, in 2016. Teryoshin’s characters are faceless and nameless, as he cheekily frames them behind a military camouflage mask or weapons on display. “It is not my intention to fix everything upon a certain person,” Teryoshin said, while speaking of his deliberate attempt to explore the larger political, military and corporate systems that propagate this trade instead. His clever obfuscation of these identities finds parallels outside photography too. A text on his website says that a photograph of anonymised traders who appear to have weapons emerging from their heads, could be read as an allusion to an anti-war drawing from the 1930s, titled “Dangerous Dining Companions,” which showed men eating nonchalantly with cannons for heads. “I like the Idea of this symbolism,” Teryoshin writes.

Expositions have been the subject of Teryoshin’s work in the past as well. He previously photographed dog shows, agricultural shows and funeral fairs, which displayed the newest inventions in coffins. Four years ago, after visiting a large hunting fair in Dortmund, Germany, he made a work titled “Sons & Guns.” It serves as a prelude to the arms work, using the same techniques of anonymising people, as well as the aesthetic of using a flash, particularly in daylight. Unlike in Nothing Personal, though, his focus in “Sons & Guns” was on “the other side,” on how visitors to the event—including children that play with guns and taxidermied animals at the fair—respond to these artificial situations. “I was totally surprised how people of all ages are affected by guns, holding them, aiming, taking selfies,” Teryoshin said about the absurdity of the fair.

Nikita Teryoshin was born in Leningrad and now lives in Berlin. He won first prize in the contemporary-issues category of the 2020 World Press Photo awards, and was a finalist for picture of the year. His first solo exhibition opened at La Chambre Gallery in Strasbourg in 2017. His work has been published in magazines such as VICE, SZ Magazin, ZEIT Magazin, GUP, Mouvement and VRIJ.

Tanvi Mishra is the creative director at The Caravan.