Title: War Sand
By: Donald Weber
Publisher: Polygon

After collaborating with Donald on his book Interrogations we regularly saw each other and always talked about the changes in documentary photography. On an evening late 2012 I met Donald for diner in Amsterdam. That same afternoon I met Jan Rosseel, the Belgian photographer. I told Donald: “this photographer picks little plants in the forest, photographs them in his studio and calls them witnesses.” Donald replied: “I read this article the other day ‘The magnetic sands of Normandy’ about two geologists who took microscope images of the sand of the beaches in Normandy. Apparently 4% is magnetic and is probably shrapnel from the Normandy landings on D-Day.”

Roughly a year later on September 21 2013 Donald send me an email.

Heya Teun…

Just thought I’d share these links with you. It’s some low res files of the sand we’ve started imaging from Normandy. It’s just at the beginning stages, so there are all kinds of images of sand using microscopes searching for the shrapnel. We’re using two kinds of microscopes – an optical one and something called SEM (these are the b&w and then the weird colour ones). The coloured ones using an overlay is what they call chemical composition, we assign different colours to elements looking for iron, which in turn means shrapnel. yellow = silicon (in silica particles, normal sand), orange = calcium (in calcium carbonate, seashells), and blue = iron (steel)

I want to make a book at some point of this, but have no idea what to do with it – I hope it can be like Interrogations where you see the gold where I don’t and say to me “do this!” and we make another awesome book. But this time, I don’t think it warrants a big book, was thinking something smaller, more experimental, kind of a go nuts and let it all out and see what we can come up with. I also have a link of some landscapes I am thinking of doing as well, each of the 5 beaches is represented.

Taken from Donald’s website:

The story my grandfather told me, goes like this.

During New Year’s 1943, nine British commandos were ordered to cross the English Channel and surface on the beaches of Normandy in France. The mission was to covertly collect sand and soil samples along a vast stretch of coast.

​They had two days and nights to cross the Channel, collect the samples, and return without being caught.

France, and the seacoast in particular, was thick with German forces. The Atlantic Wall, Hitler’s dream fortress, was a wall of pure concrete, guarded by massed artillery and elite soldiers. To be caught meant certain execution as spies.

​If the commandos made it back to Britain, the samples would undergo scrutiny by scientists, geologists and physicists. Supreme Allied Commander Eisenhower and Field Marshal Montgomery were counting on these minuscule grains of sand to withstand the weight of an invasion force, the largest the world had ever seen.

​Thousands of ships, soldiers and armaments would land on Normandy’s beaches for the liberation of Western Europe. But first, the commandos had to complete the mission.

​At the end of his story, my grandfather opened a small wooden box, and unwrapped a small glass tube from a white linen cloth.

It contained a pinchful of grey sand.

“This is what we brought back.”

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