On the edge of the battlefield.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. In the images, his friend proudly poses with weapons in front of the camera. The two had met a few years earlier: They were on an excursion to the memorial of the concentration camp Auschwitz. Len was there seeking evidence of his grandmother’s murder. Now he plays war with his friends. How does that fit together? Rafael has found a new subject.
Part 1: Airsoft games. On the one hand, Rafael 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 how war is made consumable in our society. Because on the battlefields of airsoft players, there are no mutilated corpses or dead civilians. The battle becomes a fun game of cops and robbers, and 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 discussions: 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, and it has been 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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