Toronto specializing in contemporary photography

War Sand

War Sand

About the Work

When the combat ceases, that which is does not disappear, but the world turns away.
– Martin Heidegger

Wartime sacrifice on the beaches of Normandy in 1944 is History: massive casualties, but great success. Allied soldiers, numbering in total over 156,000, penetrated into German-occupied France on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and stoutly held their positions despite repeated counter-attacks by German divisions. But where does memory end and History begin?

Donald Weber’s War Sand (2013-2017) is a powerful and poetic rumination on historical decay. It examines the evidence that D-Day actually took place; it explores the tidal processes of human memory, and considers the terror of war in its undying timelessness.

In June of 2013, Weber walked the beaches of coastal Normandy, the same month of the Allied invasion, collecting hundreds of sand samples from each of the five D-Day landing beaches (Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword). “I got the idea for the project from my grandfather, a veteran,” Weber says. “He told stories of British frogmen coming up from the sea at midnight to scoop beach samples from the Normandy coast. All very hush-hush, it was a secret investigation that was a prelude to the invasion. I decided to continue this story and collect my own sand samples to analyze.”

Weber sent his samples back to Canada. Utilizing the new science of micro-archeology, the sand was studied under a powerful scanning electron microscope (SEM) at the Queen’s University Physics Department by Dr. Kevin Robbie. What the microscope revealed, hidden amongst the natural sand grains, were tiny traces of Allied and German war material, evidence that, yes, something cataclysmic had occurred at these sites. Fragments of human bone, brass, steel, titanium, and iron are still there, some 70 years later, transformed by the action of the sea waves and the sun’s heat into an array of micro-artifacts that span the divide between technology and nature. While most are oblivious to the fact, Weber and Robbie estimate that as much as 5 per cent of the sand content of these beaches today is made up of shrapnel and detritus from that fateful day in June.

What does this gritty sand tell us? It becomes a speculation, a matter of interpretation of history, and a marker of time.

Like the ocean, human memory is protean. It erodes the scale of reality at two levels, both elevating war into narratives and dissolving it into tiny fragments. When history ends we are left only with a mysterious relationship between myth and micron.

Later in 2013, Weber returned and for the next three years photographed the beaches as they are today, taking in all views (looking out, up, down, and back). He gives us a spectacular array of undulating seascapes and moody landscapes; corroded pillboxes and monuments, seaside towns and beaches; and ever shifting images of the weather and clouds.

In addition to the micro-artifacts, Weber incorporates a drone to take aerial macro-images of Normandy’s battle beaches. As he explains: “The resulting images of foggy seascapes and odd wave formations suggest an opposition between unreachable infinity, and the stories we locate in this unknowable setting. Here, at last, the edge. The place of final opposition between matter and idea, meaning and noise, pattern and silence. This littoral edge is the line where War Sand has invested all its efforts.”

The Standard Model of physics gives us particles, frenetic and disparate. Einstein’s Relativity Model offers the elegance of universality and its laws. Facts and interpretation. Neither model confronts the open sea as Weber’s poetic large-scale sea-photos aim to do. The open water, the open question. The limitless sky above the seawater plays with erasure and entrance. The cloud-photos both veil fate and suggest the possibility of rapture. That is, if we care to contemplate such things.

War Sand gazes unflinchingly at that which is. The view takes in children playing on the beach in summer, a simulacrum of the cyclical combat harking back to the Normans, and before them, the Vikings, and before them, and them.

That which is always there – immanent, unceasing – is the real subject of Weber’s War Sand. At its very core lie questions of truth (historical, experiential, material) and our ability to know anything of it.

View works by Location | View works by Type

Utah Beach (selected)

Omaha Beach (selected)

Gold Beach (selected)

Juno Beach (selected)

Sword (selected)

Pointe-du-Hoc (selected)

Availability & Pricing

The above is a small selection from the larger project. Current prices range from $1,200 – $3,500 depending on size, and increase as the edition sells. Please contact the gallery for more information, including current availability and pricing.

Request Info


Embedded, Circuit Gallery, Toronto, Canada, 2014
War Sand, Cortona on the Move, Tuscany, Italy, 2017


War Sand, Polygon, 2017
Photography by Donald Weber, with texts by Larry Frolick, Kevin Robbie and Donald Weber
Design: Teun van der Heijden, Heijdens Karwei, Amsterdam
Format: 7.6″×11.4″ (195×290 mm)
398 pp., fold-out map insert, 195 colour images
Language: English, French and German
​ISBN: 978-0-9959377-0-3
[ Learn more, see spreads, and purchase ]

Back to Top