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This War Photographer Was Embedded in the World’s Largest Paintball Game

See images from paintball's front lines shot by a conflict photographer who just returned from Iraq

Earlier this month, I was in Iraq, just back from the frontline, when TIME’s Josh Raab asked me to photograph a paintball reenactment of the D-Day landing in Wyandotte, Okla.

As a documentary photographer, I’ve covered conflict for 10 years, spending as much time looking at how our society exists in wartime as I did in the wars themselves. This assignment seemed like the perfect intersection between those worlds.

The idea behind this assignment was that I photograph this fake war to compare and contrast it to the real thing.

A night battle in Colleville. Flares were popped to illuminate the darkness.
Peter van Agtmael—Magnum for TIME

Upon arrival at the D-Day Adventure Park in Wyandotte, the trappings of war were evident. Gear and gun-laden young men wearing camouflage walked and strutted while tanks and armored personnel carriers dotted the landscape. I introduced myself to Dewayne Convirs, the founder and godfather of the event and he introduced me to Beatle, a veteran and Harvard graduate living in New Orleans and working as a business consultant. From the adoring stares and Beatle’s own matter of fact explanations, it became clear that he was a legendary figure. Beatle, who’s real name is Juan Parke, became our guide, introducing us to the many units modeled after their real life counterparts.

Shortly after arriving there was a night battle in the center of a recreated town made of concrete and bulk styrofoam. Flares were popped to illuminate the darkness, and the Allies and Germans battled in the flickering light. Thousands of paintballs streamed through the air and it was impossible not to get shot. Getting hit by a paintball feels like a hard pinch. It is more startling than painful. After getting used to the feeling I realized I wanted to photograph as if I were immune. I didn’t enjoy getting pummeled by paintballs, but there was something liberating about it.

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Josh Raab for TIME

I don’t generally care for photographs of combat. I’ve been in quite a few firefights in Iraq and Afghanistan but rarely took pictures that were anything more than a two-dimensional representation of war. Men shooting guns does not carry much emotional value for me. After the first few times in real combat, I tended to find a nice piece of cover where I could photograph the action from relative safety.

Afterwards, Josh asked me if the night battle had felt like combat. For me it was like comparing a drawing of an orange to the fruit itself. When you take away the constant feeling of mortality and the always looming potential for death or injury the essence of it disappears.

When I woke up the next morning I felt a little wary. Was this a celebration of militarism? A nationalistic throwback to a more triumphant, noble-seeming time when the enemy was clear? Perhaps in part, but as we started to spend time with the participants, a different picture emerged.

We pitched our tents with the group representing the 1st Infantry Division, who had landed on Omaha Beach and suffered one of the highest casualty rates. There was a great warmth and sense of community. Food and drink were shared and there was a nightly gathering where individuals were celebrated for their helpfulness and generosity. They received a cream pie in the face, to cheers. Afterwards, one man mentioned that he enjoyed the battles, but the real core of the experience was the camaraderie of the camp site. Another mentioned he had sold his car to afford to come. A third had sold his plasma.

On the last day, after an entire day fighting across a half dozen intricate battlefields, a group gathered at a makeshift bar in one of the campgrounds. Talk of strategy and battlefield successes was largely over. A gruff voiced commander sang “Happy Birthday” in a falsetto. A large man acted out an intricate story about getting beaten up by a little person martial arts expert. I drank whiskey in the dark with a former soldier turned military contractor in Iraq. “A lot of us are angry,” he said. “But we’re not angry with each other.”

Josh Raab for TIME

Peter van Agtmael is a conflict photographer and member of Magnum. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. His book Disco Nights Sept 11 is available now.

 

 

Christian Hansen

Josh Raab is a regular contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

TIME portfolio

See How the World Celebrates Key Historical Events

Starting from D-Day, Marc Beckmann went around the world to photograph anniversaries with historical significance.

When German photographer Marc Beckmann was in college 11 years ago, he assigned himself to shoot the 60th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, which made a mesmerizing impression on the 26-year-old photography student. In the next decade, without any editorial support, he went on to photograph another 15 anniversaries of historical significance, from the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the Prague Spring, to the erection of Berlin Wall, the Islamic Revolution, 9/11 and the most recent conflicts in Egypt.

The biggest and perhaps most ambitious project to date for Beckmann, now 37, is to explore how these events shape collective memories and affirm national identities. “The project looks at how we remember the past, and how we work with history today,” he tells TIME.

At these orchestrated events, often in the form of spectacular military parades, state ceremonies and even demonstrations, Beckmann tried to shy away from prescribed images such as those ones of decorated veterans, heads of states or wreathes of flowers. Instead, his vibrant images, shot entirely on a Mamiya 7 medium format camera, offer quiet observations that are, in many cases, countering the propaganda images governments hope the press will produce.

“With this format you automatically have to step back a little, you make very different compositions, you work much more calmly,” he said.

Beckmann quickly realized that he would be unable to photograph all of the anniversaries being celebrated around the world. “I decided to take events from the last 100 years, then try to do the key events of history that affected us in the western world,” he explains. While he mostly documented events around Europe, he also photographed a few other anniversaries outside, including the 35th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon.

Marc Beckmann is a German photographer based in Berlin. His personal project, Anniversaries, will be exhibited at C/O Berlin from June 20 to August 16.

Ye Ming is a writer and contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

TIME World War II

Before and After D-Day: Color Photos From England and France

Masterfully restored color photos from England and France in 1944 that feel at-once familiar and utterly new

It’s no mystery why images of unremitting violence spring to mind when one hears the deceptively simple term, “D-Day.” We’ve all seen — in photos, movies, old news reels, and usually in grim black-and-white — what happened on the beaches of Normandy (codenamed Omaha, Utah, Juno, Gold and Sword) as the Allies unleashed their historic assault against German defenses on June 6, 1944.

But in color photos taken before and after the invasion, LIFE magazine’s Frank Scherschel captured countless other, lesser-known scenes from the run-up to the onslaught and the heady weeks after: American troops training in small English towns; the French countryside, implausibly lush after the spectral landscape of the beachheads; the reception GIs enjoyed en route to the capital; the jubilant liberation of Paris itself.

As presented here, in masterfully restored color, Scherschel’s pictures — most of which were never published in LIFE — feel at-once profoundly familiar and somehow utterly, vividly new.

[See all of LIFE’s galleries]

[Buy the LIFE book, D-Day: Remembering the Battle that Won the War — 70 Years Later]

A note on the photographer: Frank Scherschel (1907-1981) was an award-winning staff photographer for LIFE well into the 1950s. His younger brother Joe was a LIFE photographer, as well.

In addition to the Normandy invasion, Frank Scherschel photographed the war in the Pacific, the 1947 wedding of Princess Elizabeth, the 1956 Democratic National Convention, collective farming in Czechoslovakia, Sir Winston Churchill (many times), art collector Peggy Guggenheim, road racing at Le Mans, baseball, football, boxing, a beard-growing contest in Michigan and countless other people and events, both epic and forgotten.

Finally: Information on the specific locations or people who appear in these photographs is not always available; Scherschel and his colleagues simply did not have the means to provide that sort of data for every single one of the countless photographs they made throughout the war. When the locale or person depicted in an image in this gallery is known, it is noted in the caption.

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

TIME D-Day

The Ruins of Normandy: Color Photos From France, 1944

Color photos -- none of them published in LIFE magazine -- from northwestern France, detailing the devastating impact of the D-Day invasion and its aftermath.

The ruins left behind after warfare speak a language of their own. Even more strikingly, no matter where the conflict has taken place — whether it’s in northern Europe or the South Pacific, the Middle East or Central Africa — the vernacular of destruction is often the same. Buildings reduced to rubble and dust. A scarred, tortured landscape seemingly devoid of life, aside from small human forms trying to piece it back together. Twisted, rusting, abandoned vehicles. And always, above it all, the indifferent sky.

[Buy the book, D-Day: Remembering the Battle that Won the War – 70 Years Later]

Here, LIFE.com presents a series color photos — none of which were published in LIFE magazine — made in northwestern France by LIFE photographer Frank Scherschel and detailing the devastating impact of the invasion and its aftermath. The impulse behind posting the gallery, meanwhile, is really no more complicated than this: to commemorate those Allied troops who fought and died; to honor those who fought and lived; and to mark the occasion by also remembering what happened to countless towns — and townspeople — in France and around the globe when the Second World War unleashed hell in the midst of their lives.

LIFE photographer Frank Scherschel in military uniform during WWII.
Frank Scherschel—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

A note on the photographer: Frank Scherschel (1907-1981) was an award-winning staff photographer for LIFE well into the 1950s. His younger brother Joe was a LIFE photographer, as well.

In addition to the Normandy invasion, Frank Scherschel photographed the war in the Pacific, the 1947 wedding of Princess Elizabeth, the 1956 Democratic National Convention, collective farming in Czechoslovakia, Sir Winston Churchill (many times), art collector Peggy Guggenheim, road racing at Le Mans, baseball, football, boxing, a beard-growing contest in Michigan and countless other people and events, both epic and forgotten.

Finally: Information on the specific locations or people who appear in the photographs in this gallery is not always available; Scherschel and his colleagues simply did not have the means to provide that sort of data for every single one of the countless photographs they made throughout the war. When the locale or person depicted in an image in this gallery is known, it is noted in the caption.

TIME Veterans

New York Drops 1 Million Rose Petals on Statue of Liberty For D-Day

Statue of Liberty D-Day
Richard Drew—AP One of three helicopters showered 1 million rose petals on the Statue of Liberty during a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, on Liberty Island in New York City, June 6, 2014.

The roses were a thank-you from France, like Lady Liberty herself.

TIME

A 93-Year-Old Recreated His D-Day Parachute Jump

On June 5, 1944, one day before D-Day, Jim “Pee Wee” Martin parachuted into Europe with the U.S. 101st Airborne Division to take France back from the Nazis.

Exactly 70 years later, a spry Martin took a trans-Atlantic journey to recreate his jump.

“It didn’t [compare to before],” Martin, 93, told CNN Thursday, “because there wasn’t anybody shooting at me today.”

[CNN]

TIME Pictures of the Week

TIME’s Best Pictures of the Week

From the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protest, to World Environment Day and the NBA Finals, TIME presents the best photos of the week.

 

TIME europe

President Obama Honors Sacrifices of D-Day Veterans

Updated Friday at 9:56 a.m.

President Barack Obama called for recognition of the allied forces who turned the tide of history during a stirring speech in Normandy, France, on Friday morning at a ceremony to honor the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Europe.

“It was here on these shores that the tide was turned in the common struggle for freedom,” Obama said. “Whenever the world makes you cynical, stop and think of these men.”

The Commander-in-Chief cited the sacrifices of the fallen and the 70 years of democratic movement that spawned in the wake of World War II as aging veterans paid their respects to the tens of thousands of young soldiers who were killed during the opening days of Operation Overlord.

More than 150,000 troops participated in the invasion by land, sea and air in the early hours of June 6, 1944. Tens of thousands of British and North American troops stormed the beachheads of the German-occupied Norman coastline amid the largest amphibious assault in the history of warfare.

Allied forces suffered an estimated 10,000 casualties during the first 24 hours of the bloody 77-day campaign. The invasion succeeded in punching a massive hole into the Nazi war machine’s western defenses and marked the beginning of the end of Adolf Hitler’s reign.

“More than 20,000 Americans paid with their lives here in Normandy,” French President François Hollande said during the ceremony’s opening remarks. “They were your parents, your brothers, your friends. They were our liberators.”

After their speeches, Obama and Hollande placed a wreath at a memorial in the cemetery honoring those who died fighting to fascist’s forces in northern France.

Europe was primarily carved into two ideological camps in wake of the collapse of Nazi Germany, pitting Washington against Moscow. More than 20 years since the end of the Cold War, tensions between East and West have again burst to the surface.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea this past March upped hostilities in Europe to one of the highest levels in decades. Despite the tension, Obama attended a post-speech lunch hosted by Hollande at the American cemetery with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Obama and Putin had an informal conversation “on the margins” of the lunch for 10 to 15 minutes, according to pool reports.

TIME

Rising From Ruins: D-Day Landscapes, Then and Now

Past and present are joined together in photographs that combine scenes from D-Day 70 years ago with the very same locations in Normandy today

The scale of destruction unleashed in Normandy on and after D-Day beggars the imagination. On the 70th anniversary of Operation Overlord, TIME commemorates that epic invasion through a series of images that combine photographs taken seven decades ago along with contemporary pictures made by Getty photographer Peter Macdiarmid. As leaders throughout the world gather in Normandy Friday, the result is an uncanny mixture of past and present.

TIME President Roosevelt

FDR’s D-Day Prayer

Listen to the words that President Franklin D. Roosevelt used to mark Operation Overlord on June 6, 1944

One of his sons once referred to Franklin Roosevelt as a “frustrated clergyman.” The president, an Episcopalian, loved liturgy and found the cadences of the Book of Common Prayer and of the King James Bible at once stirring and reassuring. And so the time came for Overlord—what his friend and colleague Winston Churchill called “the most difficult and complicated operation that has ever taken place”—FDR decided to commemorate the moment and address the nation not with a Fireside Chat or a grand speech but with a prayer of his own composition.

The White House distributed the text on the morning of June 6, 1944, so that the afternoon newspapers could publish it and listeners could pray along with Roosevelt when he broadcast that evening. With an estimated audience of 100 million, FDR was to lead what must rank as one of the largest mass prayers in human history. Here are his words, spoken in an hour of peril and of promise.

The prayer in the video above is an abridged version. The complete text appears below.

My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas — whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them–help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen.

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