matteo armellini – simon

[slidepress gallery=’matteoarmellini_simon’]

Hover over the image for navigation and full screen controls

Matteo Armellini

Simon / Story of a Softgunner

play this essay

In these years of virtual reality,
 where children have stopped playing war in the courtyard
 and do it in front of the computer instead,
 there are those who don’t want to miss the adrenalin on the skin.
 Weekly, groups of fans of military tactics come in lost places.
 Wearing uniforms and with weapons in hand, they simulate real battles, 
sometimes recreating episodes of real wars.
 Of course they do it with “toy” guns, rifles that shoot plastic pellets.

What drives these people playing war, at a time when we are bombarded 
with pictures of pain and suffering associated with conflicts?

How could it be that one could confuse the images of a game with images of a real war?

This is the world of SOFTAIR.

The protagonist of this project is 
Simon, aka Sergeant Ramirez, 24th Marines Expeditionary Unit. 
Simon is a young, precarious, man born in the Dominican Republic. Now he lives in Rome in the multi-ethnic neighborhood of San Lorenzo, where
 young people from all over the world live a reality 
made of short-term project contracts and dreams of quick profits.

Softair is a chance at integration. Playing war shares intense emotions with unknown people.
 Despite the fiction, the atmosphere is true and sincere, as are the relationships established between participants.
 Friendship, envy, hate, submission, admiration and loyalty all come to play.

With this long-term project, I am examining in depth 
the concepts of social and sociability, conflicts,
 deviations, and definition of roles, especially in places of male aggregation.


Matteo Armellini was raised in Rome where he currently lives.
 He studied Sociology at La Sapienza University of Rome and Photography and Visual Arts at European Institute of Design. 
In 2008 he started travelling as freelance photographer through Europe, Asia and South America, focusing on social issues and subcultures.
 His pictures have been published in many magazine, such as The Big Issue Australia, The Times, Aftonbladet, Vice International, The Trip, Fotografijos ratas, Freak and Kult Magazine.

Related links

Matteo Armellini

48 Responses to “matteo armellini – simon”

  • Now, here’s a fresh project! A game, shot in true “war photographer” style. Is it real, or is it Softair. Only the photographer (who has let us in on the illusion) knows for sure. There is something disturbing that adults want to play at war with all the images of death and misery from real wars. Begs the question, of course, of what value photos of real wars have these days.

    Great essay.

  • These photographs leave me with knowing what it looks like, but with very little about how it feels like, not getting an understanding about the deeper reason.. captions don’t help either in that perspective, as they are descriptive of what happens in the image.. the photography itself (compositions, framings) is not what I complain about.. will come back and look again..

  • This is a great essay, technically superb, emotionally connected, a bit disturbing, so normal/abnormal for a generation raised on TV reality/reality TV. The shot of the commanders (I assume) in the vehicle is almost haunting–so real, so Hollywood, or so real.

  • I wonder what the ersatz soldier and his girl friend talk about when he returns from “battle?”

  • “Once and for all, get your gun off the bathroom sink. This isn’t Texas!”

  • Nice and interesting set of pictures of a bunch of guys who you wouldn’t let babysit. Really interesting subject and I look forward to seeing what comes next.

  • This would be a totally and utterly impossible essay for me to complete I would be half the time rolling on the floor in hysterics at the mad antics these freaks get up to. These sort of hobbies are always picked up by loners and people with social integration difficulties, I don’t know how but Matteo needs to work on that aspect a bit more because I only sense his lack of integration, it really isn’t something shown properly in the images. I don’t know if Matteo did this intentionally by the type of environmental portraits he shot but the images actually make me feel sorry for these guys, because they seriously need to get a grip on life. But who knows, perhaps it’s better they are busy roaming Abruzzo searching for charlies with a shotgun loaded with paint than prowling some dark alley with a real weapon…
    As Jim mentioned it is a fresh essay and I feel hint of sarcasm throughout it all, because Matteo has made an obvious effort at imitating the typical Irak and Afghanistan PJ “in the heat of the battle” image and produced quite fun essay with a dark brooding feeling beneath it all.

  • yes…
    go deeper….
    this story is very intriguing….
    are there women who also play?
    what a wild game!?!?!?!?!?
    i have to wonder…….
    want to see more….
    more of Simon, not just in the battlefield…..
    try to understand what drives him….
    great story….
    leaves me thinking……

  • Simon is a young, precarious, man…Really???

    Despite the fiction, the atmosphere is true and sincere…..

    I am examining in depth 
the concepts of social and sociability……….

    Somebody debug the words please.

    The pictures tell me nothing without the words, but the words are badly written and only serve to confuse me. I learn nothing from this and find the pictures of interest only insomuch as they could easily be ‘actual’ soldiers in theatre pictures. Although not especially inspiring ones.

  • John, precarious is, I guess, the translation from the Italian ‘precario’, which means with not stable work..

  • The photography is excellent. Very well shot.

    But as some have stated above, there is nothing else here except what it looks like. I know nothing of the subject except he plays war and has a girlfriend. Without more images looking into his “normal” life, it is hard to know anything about him.

    Also, as good as the photography is from the game, somehow i think it needs something to show it is a game. If these photos were not accompanied by text, you could think that this was real. Somehow there needs to be a visual to show it is not.

    And I think 17 needs to go. There is a time for motion blur and then there is this photo. It works with #6 because there is motion. In 17 it just looks like an out of focus photo.

    I think this is a good project. I find the concept interesting. It just needs more depth.

  • Ok, make that ‘with no stable work’… sheesh..

  • On first look, I find this a very intriguing essay and think the look is well done. I think the written part is pretty well done for this type of thing, a brief summation of what could be a very interesting magazine piece. Apropos to that:

    “… the mad antics these freaks get up to. These sort of hobbies are always picked up by loners and people with social integration difficulties…”

    Paul, my guess is that Matteo’s text doesn’t reinforce your stereotypes because your stereotypes are not what he saw. I’m just guessing cause I really know nothing about war gamers like those, but that kind of guess is consistent with my experience and, more importantly, is supported in the text where Matteo writes about the individual relationships and sense of community.

  • Nice pictures and congrats on getting published on BURN.

    I know firsthand this is a very difficult subject to shoot. I have an essay on my website titled Battlesim which is about a local group of Softair war re-enactors here in Seattle. I planned on making this a larger project but then began to have real reservations due to conflicting aspects of my personality. Did I really want to spend weekends with grown men (and teenage boys) playing “war?” Not really. It was exciting the first few times but then seemingly got more and more shallow and weird as I got deeper into it – which is of course the story but I just didn’t have the drive or passion to continue with it.

    Here at least, it’s a way for certain types of outcasts to have some companionship, fresh air, and fun. Usually younger kids with a few adults (one who was a former Ranger in Afghanistan) who like to “cos-play” to use a Japanese youth culture term. Most are heavily interested in military history and tactics, some are waiting to join the military, and others just want to have fun running around in the woods playing army man. It’s all pretty harmless but definitely brings up big questions about “playing” war etc.

    It also became increasingly difficult getting fresh images that portray it in a different light, though contrasts such as a Nazi war helmet sitting next to a juice bottle on a thermos puts it in perspective, or the teenage boys dressed up as Vietcong chatting with the ones playing US grunts. The players I photographed did WWII, Vietnam, and contemporary scenarios.

    It’s a difficult subject and I think Matteo did a good job though I think a bit more attention to the artifice and downtime of it would be good because it is a large part of it. These guys know it’s just a game, a good laugh and some harmless adrenaline. The whole deep looks, goodbye kiss, off to war, is, to be honest, really off base, despite being very nice photos in and of themselves. That said, to photograph it as an actual war is somewhat of a fresh perspective as re-enactments have been photographed quite a bit – and usually with the focus on the artifice.

    Oh, and those softair “bullets” sting! Shooting a Leica (or whatever) while wearing goggles is a challenge but not an option.

  • I am curious, why plying war? Let’s play brutal rape, or executions. Will be the same game for integration, all this great emotions and adrenaline of course… will be fun

    Very nice photographs.

  • So far so good.
    This is a works in progress essay, I understand, there will be more.
    To me, it answers the question “what”, but not the question “why”. I would like to see more pictures,
    how Simon lives, how gets to work, what work does he do? How is his live other than the softair.
    Does he have friends, what do they do?
    and the final question – why? are they missing something in their lives, do they want to compensate for something .. it makes me curious, actually.
    If all wars could be fought by softair, a lot of sorrow could be spared.

    Good work, keep it up!

  • GONGRATULATIONS for being published on BURN…but ahhh…other than that, hmmm…traditional stuff that obviously folks like Jim and Pete would totally love of course..

  • Marcin:)..u made me laugh (as per usual)
    and i will have to agree with Jim’s words: ” A game, shot in true “war photographer” style.”


    Funny thing is I think we actually need to see more of Simon within the games! The whole thing is that there are no intimate moments of him during the game – talking to other players, sharing a smoke, laugh, what have you. It all comes off very clinical, and from my experience it’s far from that. Like the war they are imitating it’s 25% action and 75% waiting around. Just one smile, smirk, or unguarded moment/portrait of Simon would go a long way to humanizing this essay.

    Anyway, it’s a work in progress and I hope Matteo can take away from our criticism to expand this or other projects. And just for the record I’m not saying the work I did on the same subject is any better. It’s equally problematic. It’s a difficult subject as it’s role play of a subject that probably shouldn’t be role played yet is by thousands of young (and old) males in western countries. Is it fundamentally wrong? Quite possibly. Is it harmful or done by “bad” people? No, I don’t think so at all. The people who do truly bad things don’t need to go play a war game – they just do bad things and would probably think this very silly.

  • Charles… thank u…very eloquently written!

  • We’ll see, I could be wrong, but I’m thinking that the criticisms regarding what Matteo “should” photograph say more about the preconceptions of the critics than about Matteo’s actual choices. I’m guessing he didn’t show the things you all expect in this type of essay because either he didn’t see them or that that’s not the story he’s trying to tell (seeing how it’s been done numerous times and created audience expectations and all). But maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part? We’ll see…

    I’m curious what people think about the color palette. On one hand, it’s not easy to pull something like that off technically. On the other, that warm color desaturated, heavy blue green look is rather popular these days. I guess I admire the skill, and it works with these images, but it may be a bit too much what I expect to see. ha.

  • I looked at the images before reading the text. From the images, I wasn’t sure if it was real or play which, I suppose, is a good thing. And the images are generally well made. But reading the text, little of that was apparent in the images – none of the motivation for them playing these games, none of the sense of camaraderie of interaction, none of the relationships. The focus on one particular soldier, conveyed through so many portraits, prevents us from gleaning the social dimension of this “world”. The image of the commander and the images including the girlfriend do little to give us that dimension which, from the text, sounds like the overriding interest in this story.

    While the images are well made in and of themselves, I don’t feel they work within the framework of the supporting text at all.

  • What no Nintendo? Playstation?………. “On the other, that warm color desaturated, heavy blue green look is rather popular these days…….”……ahhhh see! atleast play station for photographers is alive and kicking

  • i was the only fool that bought a “dreamcast” back in the day…:(

  • This is actually one of the strangest photoessays I’ve ever seen. If one saw it without any captions
    one might think that there’s a war going on somewhere in Europe..being fought by very,very calm
    serious people. Beautifully shot and quite surreal.

  • Congratulations, Matteo. I like your topic, although I think a day or two shooting this topic would be about all I could bear. I am in the field with only my iPhone on which to view this, I left my reading glasses home and spent all day yesterday on the sea ice in bright sun without sunglasses, am nearly snow-blind and I can only see tiny, blurry, images, so I cannot comment on the photography itself.

  • congratulations on the work, overall I’ve enjoyed this essay, there are some great singles. You’re images are also a play on contemporary “war” photography, (the inclusion of the night vision goggles for example) and in this regard, I found it to be very interesting. However, I find the sequence of the images to be too linear in narrative (particularly the beginning and the end).

  • fetishists?
    some pigs innards spread over the wounded might help..

    where are the civilian casualties?
    not sexy?


    I don’t care what you say…. Frostfrog’s comment above is by far the funniest post EVER on BURN.

  • “The Army might screw you and your girlfriend might dump you and the enemy might kill you, but the shared commitment to safeguard one another’s lives is unnegotiable and only deepens with time. The willingness to die for another person is a form of love that even religions fail to inspire, and the experience of it changes a person profoundly.”–Sebastian Junger “WAR”

    I have just returned from having taken my son, Dima, to see Tim and Sebastian’s “Restrepo”, so I am very much in the pain and adrenalin and morning by which their film has cast itself upon me.

    I’d seen the film, alone, upon its release when the Tim’s death, like that of ‘Doc’ Restrepo and the others who die within the film’s year-long stay in the Korengal Valley, was something unimaginable and had someone even dared to mention something as far-fetched and wrenching, I would have thought only in the morbid imagination of a hollywood film. And yet, life is both more cruel and more basic than our negotiations and justifications. It is difficult to look at this essay 2 hours after seeing the film without seeing its important connection to the truth of what happens in war and what happens and what lay at the heart of Tim and Sebastian’s film.

    I took my 17 year old son to see it this afternoon, as a local theatre was showing ‘Restrepo’ for free for the entire day as a way of honoring the legacy and courage of Tim’s life. On an attempt prior (rented DVD), the film’s first 30 minutes were too unnerving. This time, on a clear and thinly-beautiful air’d afternoon, he was willing to sit in the dark and spend 2 hours jolted by noise and death and blue skies and dusted hills. What surprised me the most about the audience was that it was made up almost exclusively of elderly men and women (mostly weeping 3/4’s of the way through), rather than the young PJ’s and photographers and students I’d expected. My son was the only teen. The movie shook and angered and saddened him, deeply. We walked for 40 minutes before we spoke.

    ‘what a waste and why the fuck all of that dying. even the cow.’

    To begin with, like most here, I found this a thoughtful, provocative and challenging essay. Strongly photographed but what I find the most powerful about the work is its intelligence and concept.

    What is profound and power for me about this essay is not that it shows us the ‘why’ of these military simulation and war games. What works for me is that, at the heart, is something fundamental about us, about war, about loss, about men, or rather young men. There is no denying the extraordinary rush and euphoria that comes with war. As explained by Steiner in the beginning of Restrepo, there is no high like being shot at. As unnerving as they may sound, it is that truth and that simplicity that needs to be understood.

    This essay, in many ways, not only evokes (for me) the entire tradition of War Photography (shit, many many of these images look like EXACTLY like moments from Restrepo but from the entire archive of pictures in my head from Iraq and Afghanistan, including the use of a night viewer shot) but the simulation of the game and the ‘simulation’ of the pictures forces us to question, or rather forces me to question my entire emotional response and need for war photography. For while these pictures and these games LOOK like the real deal, they can never be. No one leaves ‘bleeding out’, no one’s parents leave broken, no one leaves behinds friends and colleagues and children and relatives. The game finishes and the lives go on: the exact opposite of what happens in war. It is this brilliant undermining of both our expectation (visual expectation) and the depiction of it that I find not only challenging but also important about this body of work. It’s not only a meta-question (the same way the games themselves question) but offers us a look into the world of one young man….all that American imagery in the Italian valley…..

    and i don’t ‘NEED’ to be told why….i just need a window into this world….and it saddens…not because these gamers exist…but because of the lives they simulate….but is this only because Afghanistan and Iraq…and Libya and Ivory Coast and Somalia and Chechnya are so close to us now and the reenactments of civil war and wwii and middle age wars are long gone….they all speak to the spectre of both the brute need to be pumped up by the blood coursing…….by the high of the proximity to death…by the high of surviving….but the irrefutable bound that exist between people who face death, even in simulation, and get out of there alive, if only for now….

    a game for them and for us….

    were it a game for the child being held by her grandfather in the×632/wpp/00/JPEG_-_winners_2007/2007014JL.jpg

    thank you for sharing your thought provoking story

  • that picture i linked to above, of course, is from Tim Hetherington’s WPP award-winning work in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan….sorry for forgetting to write whose work it is…

  • sorry, i realize my comment (sorry pete, past the 100) is convulted and poorly written…what i meant to suggest is the power of this piece is that it cannot be, never be, just as the war games themselves, ‘truthful’, and thus how truthful is our pictures too of war…for we’re still just playing, those of us who swallow pictures, look at them, read about the war….and even war here focused on the ‘soldiers’, and all the scattered death, civilians mostly now….this piece questions us, or rather, forces me to thing about all this…and that is it’s power, for me….simulation appearing to be as powerful as the reality…and that is a lot to chew upon…just as this young man’s life, shorn of it’s difficulty in living in italy, somehow gets a different meaning ‘out there’ amid the ‘bullets’…

    especially over the last 10 days, i’m glad that david/anton have showed it….

    now, let us not forget that child her the arms of the afghan elder above….

    though we shall forget, alas….

  • Once again well written and thought provoking, BOB B…….

  • Congrats on the publication in Burn Matteo. Nice idea, and some very good shots, particularly the opening rifle and portrait in the bathroom mirror: marvelous. Like Eva though, I think the captions, by simply stating the facts, lack something. Might be interesting to use dialogue, record snippets of conversation to use with the images (just an idea). Also, I am interested in the technicalities of what seems, to me, a peculiar and oddly regressive activity. Do the ‘plastic bullets’ hurt badly, or even cause some tissue damage (a picture of a colourful bruise might be apposite)? Do people get hit in the face often (those goggles seem pretty rudimentary)? Do ‘real’ soldiers play these games? Do serious accidents happen often? Do people cheat (these hits can presumably be ignored or denied, unlike paintball bullet-marks)?

    Apologies if you’ve already answered some of these; I’m in a bit of a hurry so haven’t read all the comments.

  • presumably somebody could just walk up and take the opposition flag, and ignore / avoid the pretension..

    i would, and wish there was some irony in the photos for that reason..

    it seems as though the photographer is part of the theater.. circle complete.. reality eluded to.. inviting the suspension of disbelief.

    .. the smells and chaos .. not real .. the tension.. not real .. the photos .. ? hmm

    this seems the “perfect war” for both photographer and subjects..
    plastic impressions of that which has been seen in films and news broadcasts..

    perhaps the boundary between reality and fiction does blur, yet not because of the “aesthetic”, but because what we see in the TV “war”.. what we see which could actually make some people want to pretend they are in a war..
    i mean – just how distanced are we from that thrashing floor?
    too distanced perhaps.

    tv reality blurs with young mens wants.. it is perhaps to all our regret that we have not fought for a just cause.. not had to..
    the distance between the fact of war and the media war being so great – is it a sane fantasy?

    “A man goes to knowledge as he goes to war, wide awake, with fear, with respect, and with absolute assurance. Going to knowledge or going to war in any other manner is a mistake, and whoever makes it will live to regret his steps.”
    Carlos Castaneda

    there is no knowledge beyond the superficial here, and no war beyond the suspension of disbelief.. and so there is no substance.

    i would walk through the enemy laughing a round belly laugh, pluck their flag from the ground and go home for lunch.. and say:

    “..ya know what? – you weren’t in rome maaaan…. you don’t KNOW”



    since English is your first language , i can understand why you might not give a “A” in English to someone who has learned it as a second language…how is your Italian?

  • PETE…

    yes, hilarious…particularly since he was not trying to be funny…

  • Bob, we must have just missed each other before or after-ward of the 3:30 show I attended. I watched Simon yesterday morning, and had it in mind through Restrepo. Also running in my head during the screening, a line Leonard Cohen wrote: “Soldiers are to men what whores are to women”.

    We are fascinated and repelled by war and war games. We can admire soldiers’ courage, but pray our children needn’t become one. There is a playfulness in Restrepo among the cast; their anxiety and impotence in the face of the reality of death re-inforces the feeling just before (via the contrast) that they were playing. Even among the village elders, who to me seem to calmly accept the collateral damage of their dead, are so irked when the money they ask for for the death of the cow is countered by a caloric equivalency. They are players, too.

    I was also wondering about the role the photographers had in the events documented in the film, and what their motivations were. I’m trying to recall whether there are/were any war photographers who actually grew up in a war zone, or are/were they also like the men of Restrepo, seeking adventure? It was a feeling I got listening to a lecture Louie Palu gave last year at Ryerson. The excitement of playing, engaging, or covering a war as a counterweight to normal living.

  • This is well done Matteo. Congratulations on your publication here. Good solid work.

    It seems men and boys have been playing war forever. This I suppose is just the logical extension of it. Chess and other board games, tin soldiers, team sports,..all mock war. Is this moronic fascination just a part of the (male) human make-up? Tribalism, and warfare seems to be an evolutionary adaptation, like the territorial behaviors of animals. Thanks for the sad reminder of how base and pathetic we humans are.

    Jeff. Courage?, gullible foolhardiness and testostrone fueled bravado.

  • I like this essay, the mood, the photos are technically perfect… to much.
    I mean, softair is just a fake, a game not the reality.
    Depicting this world in this way we run the risk to confuse the meaning of the real war by considering the war like a game at the risk to loosing the contact with the reality.

    The war is a serious matter, a terrible bad business, may be to much serious than a play.



    “…how is your Italian?”

    Beh, il mio italiano è una merda, come è mio cinese o spagnolo. Ma poi io non vedo che cosa ha a che fare con il prezzo del pesce comunque. A proposito, questo è stato fatto con un traduttore online in modo che probabilmente anche schifo.

    and besides, David, it wasnt about grammar. My grammar sucks(as you know). It was about an ‘awkward’ translation slipping through. On a piece that seems to rely quite heavily on the words it accompanies to flesh out the meaning and intent of the piece.


  • Good work.
    Softair is only a game but some pictures look like pictures taken from a real war.
    It is also a interessting question.
    Why does people play war? I do not know it.

    Great Essay.



    smiling..yes, that is about how i speak Spanish!!

    we have grappled with the language problem here on Burn…at first we thought we should edit and “translate” but then decided it better just to let it go in the author’s own words even though less than perfect English…trying to get out what some “really mean” would be a full time job for three people..i am sure you understand….yet on this particular essay, things just ain’t so complex..pretty easy to see what this story is about after all, no matter what the author said, albeit perhaps less articulate than you would have been…

    cheers, david


    people “play” war because men quite obviously love war…one of man’s instincts is to kill…mankind would stop war if they really wanted…they do not want to stop war….that is rhetoric only….i see large men in full camo and trucks and boats and guns guns guns all over the place to shoot one little duck…satisfies something in them….men in power start war….these men who start war are of course distanced, but it must be one helluva aphrodisiac because it has been going on since we were cave men….and everybody knows being in a combat zone is an adrenalin rush second to none….survivors feel “alive” as in no other way….war movies have always ranked high….so playing is just like real….my suggestion would be to play instead of get real…all the so called “advantages” of appealing to primal instincts and needs without any of the disadvantages….

  • Yes, good point David; war games beat war any day, or at least they ought to in a sane (i.e. utopian world).


    You are right when you say it is better to play wargames instead to fight in “reality”.
    But when i see little children playing with guns and such things, i have to think about the kids in Africa for example who are forced to be soldiers and i don`t get it why we can`t told our children to stop it.

    You can get an adrenalin rush in a lot of situations, you don`t have to play war. But it is their own way, i don`t have to understand it, only to accept and respect it. A different way would be to fight with your own hands and not with a gun, the caveman had no gun…

    But are we still so primitiv that we have to play such things to be alive? I hope not.

  • David
    “better to play war games than to fight in reality”

    I wonder. Or does it ? Do all those violent movies, TV, video games, paint-ball, “soft”guns, extreme fighting matches really provide out-lets, or do they merely de-sentitize, fuel and encourage aggressive behavior? Good clean fun for red blooded young men (and older ones who refuse to grow up)? I’m repulsed by it all.

  • Hi Matteo,

    Thanks for showing these to us. Definitely an interesting subject, and well shot.

    Like many others here I found the way it was presented / edited (as an action story without a large dollop of irony) as interesting as the photographs themselves.. It threw up all sorts of questions, whether deliberately or not! :-)

    Certainly thought provoking. Thanks again.

Comments are currently closed.