Always there in body and spirit, Paul Hansen is a photojournalist who has covered everything from wars to royal weddings. His warm and penetrating gaze has garnered him numerous awards and respect from colleagues and viewers alike. Fotografiska has the great pleasure to present a generous selection from Hansen’s extensive production in an exhibition entitled Being There running 8 September through 19 November and coinciding with the release of an eponymous book published by Max Ström with texts by the photographer.
Faith, hope and love. The well-known marine symbol captures the essence of Paul Hansen. Not because this award-winning photographer grew up on the west coast of Sweden, in the sleepy suburb of Partille, far removed from the roar of the sea and the buzz of the coastal town, but because this is what characterizes his entire work: faith, hope and love.
“When we visit places afflicted by natural disasters, war or other predicaments, we are temporary guests in people’s misery and we do it for a reason: that the misery should cease. I see myself as a guardian of stories that people entrust me with. By disseminating the pictures I hope to influence the decision makers to change the situation. The people we portray know this and we photojournalists are almost always welcome,” Paul Hansen explains.
Sometimes, however, it can be the other way around. Like when a crowd of people in Cairo, who had gathered to register the death of their family members killed by the state security forces, wanted him to photograph and document the large number of casualties. The authorities had tried to obstruct the registration in order to cover up the killings. While photographing, he was attacked by a loyalist crowd.
While reporting from Mosul, Hansen was shot by a sniper, which made headlines all over the world.
“People often ask me how I cope with my job, always being exposed to danger and suffering. There are many answers. One is that in comparison to the people I photograph my level of exposure is negligible. I have a safe home to return to. Another answer is that I encounter so much warmth, love and commitment that exist in parallel with the hardship people are experiencing. Sharing these moments is a great privilege.”
Characteristic for Hansen’s photographs is the feeling of presence they convey.
“For me it’s always about personal encounters with unique individuals. ‘Who is the boy in front of me in the alley, how does he live his life, what is he thinking about?’ It’s never about photographing someone who represents something. There is a saying that good photography makes your hands sweat, it’s visceral. In order to capture these moments one has to listen with one’s heart.”
He describes how these extended missions, when he can focus on and delve into the issues at hand, also function as complements to the stressful life of a photojournalist, constantly on a mission to capture and deliver images to the newsdesk. Here he also “listens with his heart”, as, for example, when he captured the Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden beaming with happiness as she danced with her bridegroom Daniel Westling from Ockelbo.
Hansen is a long-standing staff photographer for newspapers such as Dagens Nyheter, Expressen and GT. Over the years he has received numerous awards, including the Swedish Photographer of the Year award eight times, the POYi Photographer of the Year twice and the World Press Photo award in 2012.
He knew early on that he wanted to leave the rather bleak public housing project of Björndammen in Partille where he grew up and where it was a matter of keeping your head down. Today he often writes the texts for his photo reports, and they sparkle with the same kind of commitment that radiates from his images in his tireless quest to report from conflicts, battles and the everyday struggles of ordinary people.
“I realize that my background has shaped me and created an urge to bring to light injustice and indignity. My point of departure is that we are all part of a larger context, we are in the same boat and the bell tolls for all of us. In such circumstances, photographs are a valuable instrument for fostering understanding. The picture of a dead boy washed ashore in Turkey provoked a powerful shared feeling that he was ‘everyone’s boy’. I believe in the goodness of people and I’m tired of the extreme right who cynically described the outpouring of emotions throughout Sweden following the terrorist attack on Drottninggatan in Stockholm as some kind of corny ‘love marathon’.”
The exhibition Being There, 8 September–19 November at Fotografiska, coincides with the eponymous book published by Max Ström, divided into themes such as Frozen War (Ukraine) and Epicentre (Lebanon, West Bank, Gaza), with texts and photos by Paul Hansen.
“We are proud and happy to present a selection of Paul Hansen’s enormous and varied production here at Fotografiska. Hansen has always wanted to remain in the background, so despite all his awards and his great success, he is rather unknown. In this exhibition, however, we are able to glean an insight into what life is like on the frontline, documenting calamities, without succumbing to cynicism or losing hope for humanity. His commitment is profoundly inspiring and so is his world-class photographs,” says Johan Vikner, Deputy Exhibition Manager at Fotografiska.