Julian Röder   
Hokkaido I, 2008, C-Print, 50,5 x 65,5 cm

Born 1981 in Erfurt (Germany)
Lives and works in Berlin (Germany)

In the spring of 2011, Julian Röder visited the largest arms trade fair in the Middle East, which is held every two years in Abu Dhabi. The event draws arms dealers, military brass and weapons manufacturers – some 50,000 people in all – interested in perusing the latest developments in weaponry and expanding their arsenals. Specialised weapons systems for every conceivable military deployment scenario down to street combat are on offer. Röder had himself accredited as a journalist, reasoning that “an artistically oriented photographer without a media organisation behind him would have had a much harder time gaining access”. With the accreditation, he was able to document the event with a series of photographs. His pictures show the everyday existence of an arms show, from bombastic weapons demonstrations to bizarre arrangements of gleaming gold shells, solicitous salesmen, attractive hostesses and fascinated visitors. The usual organisation of a sales trade fair combines with the elaborate presentation of air shows with combat helicopters and military jets, which Röder captures as a panoramic landscape.

The multifaceted selection that he presents provides insights into the economic structure of a capitalistic world in which everything becomes a good and everything can be bought and sold. It reveals the seductive appeal that the weapons cast upon the visitors, as well as the fanciful gaze of the buyers attracted by them. But the selection also shows the wearying sequence of sales stands and the desolation of repetitive sales pitches. The alarming combines with the quotidian. Röder offers no explanatory interpretation, no revelatory accusations. He creates a documentary sequence of images that seems to emerge from a random selection. He places the observer in the role of a spectator whose gaze floats from one attraction to the next, moving in a trade-fair showcase in which war and violence are reduced to a banal business transaction. Our growing unease emerges from the recognition of how our perception simultaneously reveals our inability adequately to grasp, and respond to, what we are seeing.

Text: Guido Boulboullé