Rafael Heygster
"I Died 22 Times"

Rafael Heygster’s photographic work depicts and scrutinises the ways society deals with war beyond actual battlefields. For this project, he has visited the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi, a weapons trade fair where potential clients are presented with the latest technology in the arms industry along with theatre shows, buffets and pyrotechnic displays. He has also gone to airsoft playgrounds and photographed people who spend their free time playing war against a backdrop of tanks and body bags. Germany has officially been at peace for more than 70 years; however, war no longer appears only as military conflict acted out on battlefields. Rather, it appears in society again and again in abstract form. All the scenarios depicted have one thing in common: no one dies. War is presented as something entertaining and harmless – and thus experienced as something that can be consumed.

1. The door opener: Can you describe a formative moment in your career as a visual journalist?

The decision to become a photojournalist was the best step I’ve taken. So many great things have happened since then. To me, photography is the key to the world. Of course it’s hard, but working in visual journalism makes me happy.

2. The decisive moment: When did you first encounter your topic and why did you decide to cover it photographically?

Since a class trip, many years ago, to the former concentration camp Auschwitz, which is now a museum, I have been friends with another participant on the trip whose great-grandmother was killed there. Years later I saw that he regularly publishes photos of himself in military uniforms and with weapons. Airsoft is his hobby. I started photographing it and have stuck with the topic.

3. The future: What could the visual journalism of the future be like?

I think it’s important for visual journalists to not just reproduce things that already exist, but to have their own attitude towards the world and be both honest and curious. And to be open to the unfamiliar – be it people or new visual narrative forms. Then visual journalism will be timeless.

*1990 in Bremen, Germany
After completing his studies of cultural anthropology and political science, Rafael Heygster studied Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at Hanover University of Applied Sciences and Arts and the Danish School of Media and Journalism in Aarhus. The focus of his work as a freelance photographer is the relationships between individuals and their social, cultural and ecological environments, for instance the ways society deals with war beyond actual battlefields, or with long-term psychiatric treatment. www.rafael-heygster.com