The subtitle of Lukas Einsele’s One Step Beyond, “The Mine Revisited”, discloses the aspirations of this book. By taking on the humanitarian crises associated with landmines, due to the world’s still enormous stockpile, Einsele is not examining an old subject but calculatedly attempting to shed some new light. Landmines are known the world over as being an instrument of war that, often years after a battle has concluded and “peace” established, are discovered by innocent civilians, with tragic consequences. Einsele has created a sort of beautifully designed resource on the subject, its exterior resembling a top-secret document, while at the same time serving as a tribute to the many people whose stories he sought out and also the many people who tirelessly work for the de-mining cause. The resulting work is a collection of personal accounts, along with portraits, essays, informational statistics and documentary images focusing mainly on Cambodia, Afghanistan, Angola and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
What sets Einsele’s approach apart, in looking at individual cases, are his large format black and white portraits of the victims. Instead of framing each shot to include the whole body, emphasising the loss of a limb, the entire frame is devoted to a single face, a study of which proves far more interesting in attempting to read emotions than gaping at a dismembered body. The detail and expressions more telling of the person’s ordeal than seeing the actual result of the pain in their deploring gazes.
Twenty-six-year-old Dejan Babalj from Sarejevo, half-heartedly smiles into the camera. He tells how, when he was 18, he and some friends went to look at some old planes in a field after school. “I have this picture of my shoes and my jeans, because when I stepped on that mine, it blew my leg off. I remember how the shoe looked … The tattered jeans on my right leg. I still have that picture in my mind…”.
To support these tales with an additional level of personal significance, each person interviewed was asked by Einsele to draw a map locating the spot where they had trodden on the mine. This way of including the victim in the creative output becomes more an homage to their ordeal than merely stating the facts of the accident. As described in Einsele’s biography in One Step Beyond, “The central aspect of his work is remembering as an act, as an active process that generates images, as a process in which individuals relate to and appropriate their environment”.
Juxtaposed against these personal tales of tragedy are the highly technical descriptions of the exact models of mines, from their country of origin to exactly how the bombs are detonated (not unlike the story by Raphaël Dallaporta featured in this issue). In this way, One Step Beyond becomes more a forensic study of a crime scene.
Other images focus solely on the extensive mine-clearing and rehabilitation teams that devote their lives to the cause. The large-format images almost look surreal with a pervading stillness of atmosphere – a sole mine clearer, in his bright blue suit, sits in front of a possible landmine ready to inspect the sandy ground; Cambodia’s national volleyball team posing on the stands, each one with a missing limb; tranquil pictures of wooded areas where a mine has once maimed someone.
In relation to the pieces of writing included, the essayists and subsequent topics of consideration, indicate a vast array of specialists from surgeons to architects who are able to comment on the subject of landmines.
All of these facets are included in this deceptively small book, as well as definitions of words associated with mine clearance running above the main text, index ribbons to remind you of your place in the book (very useful when trying to navigate from English translations and back to pictures), a comprehensive and engaging use of typography throughout, and an accompanying website (www.one-step-beyond.de) that allows the work to be accessible to a larger audience. The fact that all of these documentary elements have been accumulated together in such a artistic and creative way is what makes One Step Beyond all the more momentous and vital as a work of thorough reference.