There’s a decent chance you know what’s going on inside a gun. You pull the trigger; the trigger releases the hammer; the hammer slaps the cartridge, and out the bullet fires. But what’s going on inside each of those cartridges? That’s what you can see here. “Ammo,” by Sabine Pearlman, is a series of photos of perfectly bisected projectiles. All have some sort of recognizable silhouette–either the short, stubby shape of a 9 mm cartridge, the chunky rectangular body of a shotgun shell, or the long menacing lines of higher-powered ammunition–but inside, we see, each has its own unique architecture.
Pearlman happened upon the cleaved ammo last autumn, when she was touring a Swiss military bunker set deep in a mountainside in the Alps. There were 900 different types of ammunition in all. “I instantly wanted to photograph them,” Pearlman says. She convinced the munitions expert there–the one who had actually cut the bullets in half–to let her document them, and returned shortly thereafter to see it through.
But photographing so many fragile specimens wasn’t easy. “With only one day to shoot and 900 photographs to be taken, I needed a way to expedite the process,” Pearlman explains. “The answer was a well organized assembly line. A local art store cut some sheets of white cardboard to size for me. The day of the shoot, the munitions specialist carefully lifted each cartridge out of a glass vitrine and placed them onto the cardboard. It was important to keep them upright and not spill out their contents. One by one, we slowly moved each specimen into the lighting setup to be photographed.”
Ammunition cross sections from the series “AMMO.” Photo: Sabine Pearlman
The photos reveal not only the diversity of modern munitions, but their complexity as well. At the bottom of each is a primer–the place where the hammer strikes the cartridge. Above that we find a chamber of propellant, in most cases gunpowder. Move up another step, however, and we start to see the range of the ammo manifest itself. Some of the cartridges carry simple slugs, others buckshot. Some are packed with tiny ball bearings; some have miniature, armor-piercing arrows sheathed inside.
Pearlman purposefully left out identifying information for the ammo, hoping to heighten the ambiguity of their purpose and showcase their meticulously engineered designs. Your reaction to the photographs might be colored by your greater outlook on firearms in general, but it’s hard not to find this X-ray look a little bit fascinating.