On the edge of the hail of bullets.Rafael Heygster’s work “I Died 22 Times” questions society’s approach to war.
Text: Finn Winkler Fotos: Rafael Heygster
When he sees Len’s new pictures on the Internet, student Rafael Heygster is surprised. Proudly poses his friend on it with weapons. The two had met a few years earlier during an excursion to Auschwitz. Len was there looking for evidence of his grandmother’s murder. Now he plays war with his buddies. How does that fit together? Rafael has found a new subject.
Part 1: Airsoft games. While he does not want to tell a positive story about the war game. But neither should his protagonists be portrayed as Nazis or right-wing extremists: “Each of us has a destructive side, but most of us hide it. These people are more honest, they stand by it,” the photographer finds. For him, his images show a process through which war is made consumable in our society. Because on the battlefields of airsoft players there are no mutilated corpses or dead civilians. The war becomes a fun game of cops and robbers, the horror disappears.
Part 2: Weapons fairs. Rafael Heygster can’t let go of the subject of war. To expand his photo series, he travels to arms fairs in Europe and Asia. One of the pictures is causing a lot of discussion: It shows young arms sellers at IDEX in Abu Dhabi. How can such young people already deal with weapons? “For me, the picture shows that the political relationships in the world are often more complex than they appear at first glance,” the photographer counters. According to Rafael Heygster, the sellers came from Ukraine, a country that has had to defend itself against Russia for many years.
With the work “I died 22 times” he wins a number of prizes, it is exhibited countless times. “The project helped me find my voice as a photographer,” says the 32-year-old. Since then, he has been able to make a living from editorial assignments. He often works for renowned media such as ZEIT, Stern or SPIEGEL. In the long run, Rafael Heygster hopes to continue working on more in-depth stories.
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