Exhibition about Kill Zones to go on display in Sunderland

An image from Kill Zones
An image from Kill Zones

A former soldier turned lecturer will showcase his new photographic exhibition, Kill Zones, at a Sunderland gallery.

The photographic exhibition by Craig Ames, which focuses on a series of Mil-Sim (military simulation) gameplay arenas in the UK, will go on display at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art (NGCA) on Tuesday.

A Mil-Sim in County Durham

A Mil-Sim in County Durham

Craig served in the British Army for three years, which included a six-month tour of West Belfast where he was an Evidence Photographer alongside his role as a combat soldier.

He now works as a senior lecturer in photography at the Northern Centre of Photography at the University of Sunderland and is a much-respected photographer who has work in the national collection of photography at the V&A Museum in London.

Mil-Sim players try to create authentic combat experiences, based upon the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan through the use of highly detailed replica weapons, wearing authentic military uniforms and employing standard military tactics.

Speaking about the exhibition, Craig said: “Kill Zones explores Mil-Sim’s fluidic relationship with reality and fantasy and how, in turn, pockets of the British landscape have been transformed in order to become theatres of recreational conflict.

Soldier turned lecturer Craig Ames

Soldier turned lecturer Craig Ames

“I was fascinated by these people who make such an effort to replicate a reality and I wanted to explore the fantasy world they create and how it compares to the reality I’ve experienced.”

As part of the project, Craig registered with a replica gun club and completed a training course to give him access to Mil-Sim sites in the north and south of England. He visited 12 sites in total, and says he was staggered at the number of people who use the Mil-Sim sites.

​Alistair Robinson, programme director for NGCA, said: “We are really pleased to show Craig’s work as part of our newly-refurbished Collections Gallery. The Collections Gallery gives visitors the opportunity to see extraordinary works the NGCA has acquired over three years, alongside our main exhibitions.”

During Craig’s tour of West Belfast in 1991 as an Evidence Photographer he took pictures of scenes of crimes and weapons or explosive finds. But he also concealed a camera in his chest webbing and would take unofficial pictures while patrolling the streets of Belfast in an armoured Land Rover and on foot. In doing so, he created a unique perspective of a soldier’s view of Belfast during The Troubles.

“I really shouldn’t have been taking those pictures, but I felt it important not just to take the pictures I was told to, but to also document my experiences in what in effect was a war zone. I wanted to capture how in many ways the streets were immediately recognisable, the same architecture, the same houses as I was used to, but in a completely different and dangerous context,” Craig explained.

After leaving the Army, Craig decided to study for a career in photography, graduating with a degree in photography from the Kent Institute of Art and Design in Rochester, and then a Masters Degree in Photography from the University of Sunderland.

​​•The NGCA, which moved into the ground floor of National Glass Centre last year, is open daily between 10am and 5pm and entry is free.