CNN Photos

War games all too real for ‘Young Patriots’

They look like miniature soldiers with their machine guns and army fatigues, but their soft skin and peach fuzz betray their innocence.

For one week, boys, ages 10 to 14, come to a military summer camp in Mogyoród, Hungary.  The military lifestyle fascinates some. Others get dropped off by their parents, many of whom are Hungarian nationalists, so they can learn about the harsh realities of adult life.

The goals of Military Tábor are to introduce children to a military lifestyle, teach them the basics of military training and discipline them, said Spanish photographer Oriol Segon Torra. He spent a week documenting life at the camp for his photo series “Young Patriots.”

Segon Torra said he became captivated with military camps for children after seeing Fabrice Dimier’s photo series “Putin’s child soldiers.” He set out to share his own perspective from a European military camp.

“One of the things that motivated me to document this was to take pictures of things that I cannot understand,” Segon Torra said. “These kids, without a doubt, have a personality shift within a week.”

The children sleep in army tents, wake up around 5 a.m. and perform drills first thing, just like soldiers, Segon Torra said. They are trained by active members of the Hungarian army.

Everything from the clothing to the weapons they use is real, standard issue from the army, the photographer said. The ammunition is real, too; it’s just full of blanks.

But when blanks are fired, the shots sound like “real war,” he said.

One of the photos from the series shows a boy in the trenches. “He is scared, really scared. I think one of the reasons is that he hears the sound of the war.”

Segon Torra said, “Ten years is too young to live through something like this.”

The small-town photographer from Spain shielded his emotions from the children at the camp. But when he came home, he said he cried after processing the whole experience.

“I stayed there only for a week, but I shared all the time with the children. I lived in the same tents, I ate the same stuff that they ate, and I was really involved with their way of living. It was not easy.”

One of his goals in this series is to show people the contrast between these youths at military camp and the “collective imagination we have about European society” as a culture of peace, the photographer said.

Segon Torra said he wants people to feel the same way he felt when he saw Dimier’s jarring images. But he’d like people to draw their own conclusions.

“I try to tell the story of a transformation: the kids’ testimony during a turning point in their lives, the sudden transition between childhood and adulthood instilled by the rigidity of a value system based on competitiveness,” he said.

- Christina Zdanowicz, CNN