2Q-04: Donald Weber

War Sand

Polygon, 2018

“What a crazy object this is” was my thought when I first opened up Donald Weber’s expansive, multi-faceted exploration of a few grains of sand. I’m not sure that William Blake, when writing “Auguries of Innocence” in the early 19th century, ever imagined that the trope of his first four lines – “To see a World in a Grain of Sand/And a Heaven in a Wild Flower/Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/And Eternity in an hour” – might, in the mid-20th century, find a parallel in covert reconnaissance research into the impact-resistance of the sands along a French beach. And then, in the 21st century, blossom so vividly into this intriguing book.

From the Geological Section, Naval Intelligence Division of the British Admiralty

27 December, 1943

Gentlemen; Your orders are to:

a) Make the landing under cover of darkness.

b) Take samples of beach material from above, and at, the tide line. Note any irregularities or visible defenses on beach zone.


(war sand, p. 196)

Two Questions

Question #1: What compelled you to publish this material in this form at this time?

This book was made with three people in mind: my father, my grandfather (who features very prominently and was the initial impetus to begin this work), and my best friend. My grandfather died when I was young, but during the making of this book, both my father and my best friend — Larry Frolick, who is the author of the texts in the book — both passed away from cancer. What unites all three of these people is not just their familiar connection to me, but rather, they were all remarkable storytellers, deeply entwined in historical truths and fictions, able to conjure memories and regale me with their vivid insights through myth, fiction, fact: stories.

My grandfather liked to tell stories about life and death, and the sea.

When I was twelve, he told me the best sea-story I ever heard, a fantastic tale about WWII. It was the first time I heard the word “commando.”

Donald Weber (War Sand, pp. 283, 285)

This was a weird project in that I thought it was going to be a simple, two-week excursion to make images of sand on the D-Day beaches of Normandy — I figured using a microscope would make compelling images, enough to get lost in the minutiae of what is present in these microscopic fragments of time. Little did I realize, five years later, that I would still be working on the project – exactly lost in all this minutia! What I started to understand, was that sand, indeed, has a memory – now it was my task to uncover these memories, to see how conflict, memory, storytelling, evidential traces and fabulations all combine to tell a compelling story, from myth to micron.

Question #2: What photo books, mags, or zines released in the last 15 years stand out on your shelves? I am specifically interested in publications you currently possess that were first published after 2005. Tell me what you admire about one or two of them.

Annett Gröschner and Arwed Messmer, Taking Stock of Power: An Other View of the Berlin Wall / Inventarisierung der Macht: Die Berliner Mauer aus anderer Sicht (Hatje-Cantz, 2016). This is a nearly 1500-page book compiled of 700 panoramas from nearly 3000 photographs of the Berlin Wall made in the mid-1960s. The images illustrate the entire circumference of the wall as it wraps around West Berlin. The images were made by East German border guards and present the wall not as a continuous encasement, but rather as a mishmash collage of all kinds of sizes, shapes, and materials. This is an amazing project, one that moves beyond historical representation and archival documentation and enters a territory of almost strange travelogue. It is a great example of how the so-called objective view of archives can be transformed into a rich portrait, dismantling the abstract vastness of the wall with gritty, personal details. It is so huge I am still looking through it; an almost infinite book that keeps on giving.

The second edition of Allan Sekula’s Fish Story (MACK, 2018) is one of the few books I perpetually come back to when I have doubts or questions or even want to feel good about photography. Sekula’s brilliance lies in his ability to talk about the “big system” while simultaneously living within that system. He presents us the thick, oily mess of capital, insisting on its corporeal and material presence. That, in fact, as Herman Melville pointed out long ago, the Pacific is a sweatshop.


Paperback, 372 pp., fold-out map insert, over 195 color and B&W images. English, French, and German texts. ISBN: 978-0-9959377-0-3

Photography by Donald Weber. Text by Larry Frolick, Kevin Robbie, and Donald Weber. Design by Teun van der Heijden.

Bio on donaldweber.com


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