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.