Visitors to the Santa Monica Beach stop and look at the Arlington West Iraq War Memorials on Sunday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

PICO BLVD — Arlington West — the makeshift cemetery that volunteers construct on the beach near the Santa Monica Pier each Sunday as a memorial to troops killed in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — is by now a familiar part of the landscape for most locals.

Now, six and-a-half years after its debut in Santa Monica, the mock graveyard itself is getting memorialized.

Photographer Mathieu Grandjean, who spent two years, from 2005 to 2007, documenting the mourners and peace activists who come to the monument, has collected his work in a self-published book. In conjunction with its release, an exhibit of his work is on display through Sunday at the UnUrban Cafe on Pico Boulevard.

To Grandjean, the power of Arlington West is about its combined meaning as a symbol of mourning and a symbol for peace.

“They create this memorial of course to honor the American soldiers who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan … [but] their commitment is also to prevent war and create a dialogue about war and the needs of the veterans,” he said.

Grandjean, originally from France, became fascinated with Arlington West shortly after the group Veterans for Peace launched the project. His coverage of the cemetery became part of a larger undertaking he calls “Backdraft,” which he said is an effort to document the psychological consequences of America’s wars.

For the project he’s spent time mainly with private organizations that seek to assist veterans struggling to successfully re-enter civilian society.

For a preview of Grandjean’s work, visit

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