Eric Omori is a Los Angeles based artist who received his B.F.A. in Photography from California State University, Long Beach. Struggling with depression has hindered his daily life but has also given him new insight, which now fuels his need to create. His most current work “Theatre Of War” examines the Southern California paintball and airsoft fields that deal with ideas of the simulacrum, military influence, and social behavior. The work focuses on paintball fields that simulate regions that have been affected by war and this helps to examine how we react to landscape and what role it plays in the thought process.
The sportsmanship he experienced participating in recreational airsoft and paintball teams as well as being a member of the first paintball team established at CSULB has had a big influence in the life of this artist.
Much to his surprise, what first started out as a platform to let out his aggression had evolved into a team bonding experience that enriched his life through sportsmanship.
Theatre Of War
I chose to photograph simulated battlefields that are used for recreation and training purposes. I am interested in what these man-made landscapes suggest about our generation in regards to cultural and social behavior and how they can be unconsciously determining, as well as reinforcing, certain ideas and beliefs about war, the military, violence, and aggression.
First of all, thank you for taking the time to speak with me about your work. So I know the military-to-consumer pipeline is nothing new, especially in the gaming world – I’ve heard of the Xbox games that are used for training and also played by young kids, the ones developed by the actual US military and then released to the general market. For this reason I want to clear something up before I ask more questions: are these all airsoft or paintball fields or are some of them actual training grounds?
All of my photographs are of paintball and airsoft fields. In my artist statement I mentioned that the fields were used for recreation and training purposes, but what I meant by that was generally teams or groups of people will practice on these fields for tournaments or big scenario games. Actually as we speak one of the biggest 24 hour scenario games in the world is going on in Chino, California called “Decay Of Nations” and yesterday two teams, LA Hitmen and Destiny (an all girls team), just broke the world record for the longest game played ending it at 25 hours. The fields used for these events are the same ones that I chose to photograph.
Ok so when playing these games, you mention both the factors of sportsmanship and of releasing some personal aggression – what does that mean to you in relation to the reality of war and what the US military is actually carrying out overseas? How does that translate? Is this something you discuss with your fellow players?
Well what I am interested in is the evolution of the paintball field. In the 1960’s the Nelson Paint Company developed the first oil based paintball marker for loggers to mark trees and ranchers to mark cattle. Then 10 years later a group of friends created “The Survival Game” which was the first paintball game played in the woods. Articles about the game were being written in magazines like Sports Illustrated and Time Magazine which created interest in people wanting to learn more about the game. As paintball slowly evolved so did the style of play, in 1989 SC Village opened up in Chino, California and introduced a new style of paintball called “Speedball” which utilized bunkers laid out in an open field almost resembling a game of chess. These were the first types of fields that didn’t really allow people to be able to hide from opponents. In a way it forced people how to learn to work together and communicate in order to win. As we slowly see paintball progress in almost two different directions – the recreational play in the woods and a tournament style play on the Speedball fields the business of paintball starts to grow even larger. In my own opinion, I find that people who play on the recreational fields tend to like the mil-sim style of play, while those who play Speedball tend to want to separate themselves more from the mil-sim style and want to be recognized as professional athletes.
My interest in the paintball fields is how it evolved from playing in the woods to now having fields that simulate certain areas of the world that have been affected by war or fields that are based off of scenes from a movie. The introduction of Speedball is a fascinating creation, but in what point in time did either the field owners or paintball customers become interested in playing on fields that simulated other parts of the world? I’m curious about what this says about our generation in regards to cultural and social behavior. I’ve been playing paintball for close to 10 years now and within that time I have never met a player, whether it’s their first time or they are a regular, to say anything about the simulated playing fields.
On the other hand there is airsoft which primarily focuses on the mil-sim style of play. Players take pride in everything from the type of guns they use to the type of camouflage and gear they are wearing. In airsoft you are more likely to hear people talking like they are in the military and playing games that mimic a real life counter-strike game.
I can’t believe how much history is behind these games, and really appreciate your observational breakdown of the difference between those who enthusiastically identify with the military simulation style and those who consciously distance themselves from it. My next question is in regards to those who intentionally disassociate from the mil-sim style. You say in your statement that you’re interested in what these arenas could be unconsciously suggesting – what do you mean by that? This interests me because I can’t imagine there being anything subconscious about the decision to arrive at these scenarios – you know what I mean? Like you can’t really accidentally find yourself suited up in full gear with a gun in your hand running around these arenas going “oh weird, I wonder what brought me here?” What do you think some of the processes are for establishing emotional and mental equanimity when you find yourself deliberately eschewing mil-sim, while physically interacting in a literal simulation of military space?
When I am working on this project I am less fascinated with the hobbyist paintball players (whether they’re into the mil-sim style or choose to disassociate from it) and more interested in the customers that only play once in awhile. Mainly because these big simulated recreational fields were made to bring in more new customers. I can only assume that the evolution of the paintball field came to how it was based on business strategy. I highly doubt that the target audience for these simulated fields were for hobbyists for two reasons:
1) The average first time customer will generally spend around at least $100 for a days play. The hobbyist is usually more savvy and buys a membership and finds paint somewhere cheaper than buying it straight at the field spending probably less than ($40-$50). So the players who actually generate the demand for the business to be able to run everyday are the new customers/ people who need to rent. At least that’s my observation I really can’t talk for the business side of paintball.
2) At least from all the paintball players I know (and I know a ton) many of them try to disassociate themselves from the mil-sim/ military/ war games label. Most of them view it as a sport even those who engage in the mil-sim style of play. I’m sure you could build any field and the hobbyist would enjoy playing it. It’s only when thinking of the new players that makes me think these fields are built for them. I find many of the new players often go in with this Rambo type of mentality. Although their tactics aren’t usually the best I sometimes wonder if they are copying something they’ve seen from a movie or are visualizing themselves like they are in an action movie.
With that said, this is still a work in progress but if these simulated fields were created for the new customer(s) then that has to say something about the world in which we live in. Perhaps discussions of privilege and the dynamics of human behavior. Who knows? To be able to know any of this goes way beyond what I can observe at the paintball fields because of the social psychological variables and not knowing what other social influences are taking place during and after these events. It’s really only a question I’m putting out there for debate I’m not really looking to come to any conclusions. It would be impossible for me to take that position.
Totally understandable – you being so deeply involved does make it almost impossible to form an objective opinion. But I’m so glad you decided to put these images out there anyway, to let the rest of us dissect and explore. Another factor of this series leaves me with a funny dual sensation – I’m both wildly curious about the people who inhabit these fields, and incredibly grateful that you have refrained from any portraiture. Was this a conscious decision for you?
Yes I decided to stay away from portraiture and still life work for this series because I felt like it would give the impression that I’m labeling others into certain categories. By only photographing the fields it allowed me to ask questions without being biased.
And finally what is up next for you? Have you had any bursts of inspiration about new subject matter lately or does this remain your current driving obsession?
I’m waiting to continue the “Theatre Of War” project for when I am able to travel out of state. For now I’m brainstorming and networking for a couple different ideas I want to work on. It’s a slow process but I think I’ll be able to start working on two different projects in a few months if I’m lucky.
Well best of luck, and thanks so much for chatting me.
To view more of Eric’s work, please visit his website.