Action Man lives, thanks to photo-technology

It is perhaps every small boy's fantasy to be a soldier - the only dilemma being who gets to play the hero, and who the enemy. The artist Paul Smith has got around this by using photo-technology - and becoming not just the hero and villain, but also whole platoons of infantrymen.

Smith, whose work from the "Artists Rifles" series has just been bought by that patron of modern art, Charles Saatchi, portrays himself in a variety of battle poses, shooting, stabbing and dying, some of which appear somewhat camp.

"My work is intended to mock the fantasy notions we have about war and the soldier hero," he explains, in a text accompanying the photographs. "Part of its intention is to illustrate the divide between reality and the romanticised vision one has of battle."

Smith displays what he calls his "constructed fantasies" with reference to what created them - plays, comic books, paintings, documentary photographs and war films.

"Acting as every figure within this work, I have courted the military ideal where there are no individuals, just the unit, brothers in arms," he says.

Smith, who is 28, spent a number of years working as a photographer for the armed forces. His photographs, which he describes as "mainly handshakes and medal presentations", were used in two publications for the Army in Germany - Sixth Sense and Forces Echo.

Occasionally he covered big training exercises - the pictures from which gave him the inspiration for the "Army Rifles" series. These he describes as "opening up the divide between the reality and fantasy of war".

Smith says that his first idea of what a soldier should be came from his toy Action Man; and some of the paintings, which feature Action-Man- like poses - look almost humorous.

But Smith is keen to stress that he would never mock the soldiers themselves.

"I wish to extend my deepest respect to those who have died in the very real mass carnage that war, in all its forms, brings."

Jenny Blyth, curator of the Saatchi Gallery, commented: "Work by young British artists such as Paul Smith confirms that there is life after Sensation."