Hans-Jürgen Raabes mission is to pick up where our attention often falters and fails us. Where we become blind to the realities of other people as we move through life with our eyes firmly shut. Training his lens on people, without pretence and with the simple intent to reveal and capture what is, his photographs are masterful still lifes – to borrow from the expression used by the German media scientist Norbert Bolz. Their power not only lies in their ability to penetrate our rampant apathy, but also in the fact that their simplistic beauty effectively cuts through our perceived need for visual business and action.
When choosing the stages for his photographic studies, Raabe purposely selects places that are both formal and special in character. Whether Myanmar, Lourdes or the October festival, Marrakech or Fifth Avenue – vanishing points of Raabes work are formed by carefully chosen places that represent exceptions to the norm, that have about them that special air of normality or, vice verse, mundane air of being special. The Project is a photographic record of thirty-three visits to these places that aims to capture their magic without making these places themselves an object of contemplation – but simply designating them the ‘stage` on which human live is played out, in all its mundaneness, uniqueness, normality and individuality.
Thirty-three places. Thirty photographs of people per place. Making a total of “990 Faces” – or ‚the Project – and the adventure of what it means to be human.
A portrait of people in the age of globalization—close up to the person, worldwide in scope and with the aim of portraying society through the individual: these few words bring the project started by Hans-Jurgen Raabe in 2010, 990 faces, down to its essence. Using 33 selected locations, which are either the basis of a particular group of people (such as those interested in art at the documenta in Kassel or tourists on the viewing platform of the Eiffel Tower) or distinguished for their special urban significance (such as Fifth Avenue in New York or the ferry over the Bosporus in Istanbul), Raabe designs a photographic project comparable with an episodic film, placing the individual sub-series loosely next to each other while nonetheless linking them through the common focus on a portrait of contemporary society. 1 From the large number of faces available in public places Raabe extracts a few prototypical ones, thus freezing specific moments in the global activity that is today largely characterized by the feature of acceleration.
Raabe’s approach to photography is not only comparable to an episodic film but is also related to film in two other ways: first, Raabe starts each of his sub-series with ten photos of the selected site. Significantly, he calls these photos, which, like the portraits, are mainly characterized by being close-ups, “stills”. In a still from
a film, which photographically captures a selected cut from a scene, one moment is condensed and thus torn out of the ephemeral flow of the projection. Secondly, with the monumentality of the faces Raabe refers to the discourse of the close-up in film. In such a case it represents a caesura, since it both interrupts the narrative
flow and also leaves out the body in order to focus all attention on the face. The aim is “to achieve an emotional effect” in the viewer. 2
Hans-Jurgen Raabe, who in 990 faces wants to help the individual to regain visibility in a world of constantly circulating people, begins with a conceptual approach that he follows in a distinctly poetic manner. His razor-sharp portraits, precisely pictured and sensitively related to the situation, make clear what it means in our society to again pay close attention to the face. In times when the face is located in the field of tension between identifiability for state surveillance agencies and a range of subcultural strategies of disguise and masking, and when emptied artificial faces dominate the world of public images, Raabe’s work in progress is characterized by something anachronistic. But it is precisely in this way of looking, apparently irrelevant to the times, that there is an opportunity to restore to the world the individual who seems to have been lost to the virtual. In doing so, the photographer takes on the role of a medium par excellence: as the intermediary to an “in-between” in—and for—the public. For “faces never exist only for themselves; they achieve their significance through a vis-a-vis, through the interplay between seeing and being seen ….”3. In the recollection of this dialogue relationship the function that was always pertinent to the photographer is restored to him: lifting the individual out of anonymity and the stream of time.
1 In this regard Raabe’s project shows parallels to the film “360” by Fernando Meirelles (GB/A/F/BR 2011).
2 Anton Kaes, “Das bewegte Gesicht. Zur Grosaufnahme im Film”, in: Claudia Schmolders, Sander L.
Gilman (ed.), Gesichter der Weimarer Republik. Eine physiognomische Kulturgeschichte, Cologne 2000, p. 160.
3 Sigrid Weigel, “Das Gesicht als Artefakt. Zu einer Kulturgeschichte des menschlichen Bildnisses”, in:
Weigel (ed.), Gesichter. Kulturgeschichtliche Szenen aus der Arbeit am Bildnis des Menschen, Munich 2013, p. 7.