PhotoLexicon, Volume 5, nr. 10 (December 1988) (en)

Hannes Wallrafen

Camilla Zeguers


The photojournalist Hannes Wallrafen has been documenting seventy complex societal issues since the early 1970s. Wallrafen’s sociopolitical mindset is what motivates him to make reportages on the Third World and the impoverished industrial regions of Europe, as well as on protests and demonstrations in the Netherlands. In addition, he photographs topics such as the cultural life of minorities in the Dutch capital, Amsterdam. In Wallrafen’s photography, people are central. Since 1986, this also includes a new form of group portraits staged as tableaux vivants, shot in colour and large format.




Johannes Clemens Karl Wallrafen is born on 3 September 1951 into a business environment in the city of Mönchen-Gladbach (Germany), where he later attends the Stiftisch-Humanistisches Gymnasium (a prep or grammar school in Germany).


After completing his studies, Wallrafen wants to see the world. He departs for Berlin, and from there, he travels across Europe.


Once Wallrafen arrives in Amsterdam, he decides to stay.


Roaming about the Bijlmermeer neighbourhood of Amsterdam with a friend, Wallrafen takes his first shots with a borrowed camera. He discovers he can use photos as weapons. The medium of photography turns out to be the perfect means of expression for his anger towards the evictions in the Nieuwmarkt neighbourhood of Amsterdam.


Wallrafen is accepted to the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam.


Wallrafen is a photography teacher at the Carmel ‘formative centre’ in Amsterdam.


Following a thorough preparation, Wallrafen undertakes a trip to Tanzania of his own accord, taking along little more than a camera bag. His aim is to photograph the consequences of the socialism introduced in the country.


Wallrafen takes his first photo reportage trip to the battleground of Northern Island.


Wallrafen passes his final exam in the department of photography at the Rietveld Academy. He travels to India on commission for the Dutch weekly Nieuwe Revu in order to photograph the causes and consequences of the flooding there.


Wallrafen documents the revolution in Iran for the Nieuwe Revu. Together with others, he sets up the Noord-Ierland Comité ‘H-Blok/Armagh’ (‘Northern Ireland Committee’), an organisation that aims to pressure the British government into putting an end to the poor conditions in the Long Kesh prison (specifically ‘Block H’) and the women’s prison ‘Armagh’.


Back in the Netherlands, Wallrafen follows the activities of the squatters’ movement and the numerous evictions at buildings that have been squatted and occupied. He also documents demonstrations related to issues of unemployment. He publishes in labor union magazines and in the weekly magazine De Groene Amsterdammer (‘The Green Amsterdammer’) on a regular basis.


Wallrafen takes a second trip to Northern Ireland. In Great Britain, he photographs the mining regions. He does this work partially as an autonomous project and partially as an assignment for Nieuwe Revu.


Wallrafen travels once again to India as well as Singapore and Malaysia. He becomes a member of the GKf (Gebonden Kunsten Federatie, vakgroep fotografie, ‘United Arts Federation, Department of Photography’), after initially having been a student member.


Wallrafen travels once again for a reportage on Northern Ireland as well as the British mining regions. He subsequently travels to Vietnam on behalf of the Medisch Comité Nederland-Vietnam (‘Medical Committee Netherlands-Vietnam’).

Wallrafen photographs the ‘Culturen van Minderheden’ (‘Cultures of Minorities’) in Amsterdam, commissioned by the AFK (Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst, ‘Amsterdam Fund for the Arts’).


Wallrafen takes photo trips to the Middle East, Chile, Peru, and Spain.


Wallrafen makes a reportage in Egypt.


Wallrafen works in Chile, Bolivia, the Middle East, and Bangladesh. His trips to Bolivia and Bangladesh are financed in part by the Novib (Nederlandse Organisatie voor Internationale Bijstand, ‘Dutch Organisation for International Assistance’).


Wallrafen is a board member of the GKf. In 1986, he begins to dramatically alter the perceived reality in his photography by means of his own artistic direction.


Besides reportages for magazines and companies, Wallrafen produces group portraits depicting members of various associations. For this project, entitled De Verenigingen (‘The Associations’), groups are staged in scenes at a specified location.


Commissioned by the city of Leiden, Wallrafen partakes in the exhibition De Verbeelding van Leiden (‘The Representation of Leiden’).

In Istanbul, Wallrafen makes a series of staged group portraits that comprises people from the public sector.

In July, Wallrafen departs for three months to Colombia.


Hannes Wallrafen began to photograph as a highly motivated reporter who covered topics of injustice and socially unacceptable situations. After working for fifteen years as a photojournalist with this self-appointed task, he no longer wished to depend on random external factors. For this reason, in recent years he has evolved to become an all-round photographer who reverses the roles. Instead of limiting himself to actual events, Wallrafen meddles with a situation to present his own personal vision of reality.

Wallrafen’s career as a photographer begins in 1971, when venturing out with in the Bijlmermeer neighbourhood of Amsterdam with a friend who takes photograph. Unable to resist the temptation of testing out his own creativity, he borrows a camera. The medium fascinates him because it allows him to transform his emotions, e.g. his anger when it comes to social injustice, into meaningful images. Because he likes Amsterdam and wishes to pursue photography further, Wallrafen decides to enrol at the Rietveld Academy, where he is admitted based on his initial work. After an important formative year, he enters the academy’s photography programme. With Michel Pellanders, a student in the same year, Wallrafen works on projects such as a reportage about the NDSM shipyard in Amsterdam. In the early 1970s, the teachers at the academy support the general notion that little money is to be made in reportage photography. Consequently, the emphasis lies on studio work.

Hannes Wallrafen’s preference, however, lies with documentary photography. As yet involved in his study, he decides to take a reportage trip. Inspired by a series of articles on how socialism has been introduced in Tanzania, he flies there with little more than his 35 mm photographic equipment. Prior to this journey—as well in advance of his future travels to third-world countries undertaken on his own initiative—Wallrafen does major preparation work. He first marks out a trail using political texts, from which he draws up a list of points for his story and collects data for a plan of action. The anger that motivates him to photograph socially unjust circumstances goes hand in hand with a feeling of solidarity, allowing him to depict people always while preserving their dignity. In the process, he tries to fit as much as he can into one image. Sometimes he crams his rectangular images completely full of information; in other cases, an occasional subtle gimmick is concealed in a simple compositional arrangement. Wallrafen works in a focused manner, but never allows himself to be entirely influenced by his direct observation. He sees himself as a photojournalist and feels his photos require a written text: by combining text and image, the message concerning injustice has a greater impact. In most cases, his photo reportages are furnished along with a script of his own on which the magazine’s copywriter can base his story.

The crisis in Northern Ireland holds Wallrafen’s interest. In 1979, he decides to publish the H-Blok/Armagh Bulletin with this region as its topic, in which he clearly expresses the dehumanising events occurring there in text and images. With the same sociopolitical motive, he travels to India, Vietnam, Chile, as well as other ‘battlegrounds’, in order to capture what he sees in telling images. Wallrafen always has a feeling of moving from one theatre to the next. This schizophrenic situation in which he finds himself can sometimes be confusing. After all, the event taking place in front of his eyes—such as a mass demonstration—is the harsh reality in which he, as a spectator, plays a part. While taking photos, however, it then becomes a scene from which he momentarily removes himself.

By the early 1980s, Wallrafen is one of several photographers who frequently run into each other on the street at political events, squatters’ demonstrations, and evictions. This ever-evolving group likewise meets regularly at an Amsterdam café or someone’s home to discuss social documentary photography. Together they philosophise and work on collaborative publications. This leads to idealistically conceived publications, such as Het feest dat Wiegel wilde (‘The Party that Wiegel Wanted’, 1980), on the topic of Queen Beatrix’s coronation, and Mijn moeder vindt het ook (‘My Mother Thinks So Too’, 1982), about the peace movement. Another product of this collaboration is ultimately the magazine Plaatwerk (‘Plate Work’). Several photographers from the group, including Hannes Wallrafen, Lex van der Slot, Han Singels, and Hans van den Boogaard work together on a publication of the ‘Studium Generale’ of the University of Groningen, entitled Sociale Fotografie (‘Social Photography’).

In the 1970s, photojournalists such as Willem Diepraam, Hans van den Bogaard, Hannes Wallrafen, as well as many others are working with 35 mm and applying the standard high contrast coarse-grain technique. Wallrafen is not consciously inspired by others, yet there is no denying a mutual influence shared by contemporary colleagues. Through a more austere design, a shot’s climactic moment becomes more powerful during this period. By either intentionally applying or excluding aesthetics, Wallrafen highlights the individual character existing in his work. Elements of form and line play less of a role then when compared to, for instance, the photos of Daniël Koning. With Wallrafen, a facial expression or gesture tells the story, possibly strengthened by the symbolism of a dove held captive, a row of soldier’s hats, or the violence of a jet of water. There is no place for blaring misery in his work, as encountered with Peter Martens. What we see is nothing more than life: plain, bleak, and impoverished.

A gradual shift in Wallrafen’s choice of subject matter after the age of thirty indicates his radicalism has been replaced by his astonishment at the strength that enables people to survive in difficult situations. This is to be observed in Wallrafen’s series Culturen van Minderheden (‘Cultures of Minorities’). He maintains his faith in photography as a means to influence people’s mindsets. At the same time, however, Wallrafen is no longer satisfied with the visual material dictated to him by the circumstances in which he finds himself: randomness too often plays a role and occasionally deprives his images of their expressiveness. Consequently, he increases his options by introducing artificial light. He also exercises a greater influence on the image itself by adding or removing what seems relevant to him. In doing so, he ensures a certain accuracy in his shots. These days, by experimenting frequently with studio techniques and large-format shots in colour, he obtains insights that also help him to enrich his 35 mm reportage technique. Wallrafen is learning to reconcile reality with playfulness and to manipulate that reality substantively.

The development that Hannes Wallrafen experiences in his photography runs parallel to that of other photojournalists of the 1970s who work with aesthetics. In the 1980s a remarkable shift occurs with respect to ideas concerning social photography. Disappointed by the expressiveness of the photographed moment, young reportage photographers begin to consciously seek a greater aesthetic in their photography. For a number of photographers belonging to the previous generation—including Taco Anema, Hans Aarsman, and Hannes Wallrafen—this shift leads to staged photography, usually executed in colour with technical perfection. Following a period of factual depiction, it appears as if a phase of imaginative representation has arrived for these photographers. The spontaneous emotion shown with regards to life’s harshness, as expressed with stark black-and-white contrasts, is now followed by a thoughtful composing of the image, in which the technical possibilities, e.g. the large format and brilliant colours of high-quality film material, are used to their full potential.

The same photographers devote special attention to the group portrait, as an example of grand-scale artistic direction. References to the staged group portraits shot by Paul Huf in the 1950s are clearly discernable. That Huf’s group portraits appear in the November 1985 issue of Plaatwerk is therefore no coincidence.

In the series of group portraits on which Wallrafen begins in 1986, he composes his image by positioning people according to a scene sketched in advance on paper. In the series De Verenigingen (‘The Associations’), he unites rather ordinary people in their free time. For group portraits photographed in Istanbul, Wallrafen has brought together people who work in the same profession, a concept conceived by Paul Huf in the 1950s for his portraits in the newspaper De Telegraaf.

The complicated scheme of Wallrafen’s current group photos takes him to areas of pure visual aestheticism. During these shots, a form of communication arises in which he figures as a director, narrator, and stylist. The photos no longer hold a compelling message, but function as a document of the present-day zeitgeist.

As a genre, the group portrait boasts a long tradition. While Wallrafen clearly approaches his portraits as a director, he still manages to preserve a liveliness reminiscent of painted Dutch group portraits of the seventeenth century—paintings that are natural in appearance, but as well actually based on carefully conceived compositions.

The strength of Hannes Wallrafen’s work lies in his analysis, interpretation, and registration of what moves people. He seeks those sources from which people draw vitality to carry on with their existential struggle and subsequently depicts them in a concise and intriguing manner. The cyclical motion of time is perhaps reflected in Wallrafen’s development: the revolt and unrest of the 1970s is transformed into a more stable pattern in the 1980s, in which the photographer has assigned himself an alternative role.


Primary bibliography

H-Blok/Armagh bulletin, vanaf 1979.

De Engelse staalstaking, in De Groene Amsterdammer (6 februari 1980) 6, p. 28.

‘Laten zien, dat ‘die andere wereld’ zo raar nog niet is’, in Catalogus tent. Foto’s voor de stad. Amsterdamse documentaire foto-opdrachten 1981-1982, Amsterdam (Amsterdams Historisch Museum) 1983, ongepag.

Dick van der Peyl en Hannes Wallrafen, Vechten voor een vrij Palestina. ‘Iedereen probeert het op zijn manier want je blijft Palestijn’, in Onze Wereld 26 (augustus 1983) 8, omslag, p.3, 21-28.


images in:

Nieuwe Revu 1978-heden.

Auteur onbekend, Noord Ierland, leven in verzet, Amsterdam 1979.

Het feest dat Wiegel wilde, Wageningen 1980.

De Groene Amsterdammer 1980-1985.

Catalogus tent. Het Portret door 35 Nederlandse fotografen, Amsterdam (Canon Photo Gallery) 1980.

Lorenzo Merlo, New Dutch photography/Hedendaagse fotografie in Nederland, Amsterdam/Antwerpen (Kosmos) 1980, p. 100-103.

Samsom 1980-1984.

Vrij Nederland 24 mei 1980.

Skrien (november/december 1980) 101, p. 20-21.

Janny Poley, Sociale fotografie, in Perspektief (mei 1981) 7, p.9.

Sociale fotografie. Studium Generale, Groningen (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen) 1981, p. 114, 120, 121, 122, 123.

Troef (september 1981) 5, p. 2, 12-14.

Onze Wereld 24 (oktober/november 1981) 10/11 ,p. 23.

Auteur onbekend, Mijn moeder vindt het ook. De bewapening, het antisemitisme en de vredesbeweging in beeld, Amsterdam (SUA) 1982, p. 1, 8-9, 11, 18, 19, 57, 58, 59.

Onze Wereld 25 (maart 1982) 3, p. 33.

Sociale fotografie. Studium Generale, Groningen (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen) 1982, p. 136, 142, 143, 144, 145.

Elegance (juni 1982) 6, p. 48-50.

Onze Wereld 25 (juli 1982) 7, p. 41-42.

Onze Wereld 25 (september 1982) 9, p. 37.

Onze Wereld 26 (februari 1983) 2, p. 23.

Onze Wereld 26 (mei 1983) 5, omslag, p. 3, 12-13, 15, 16, 17, 18-19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25.

Unidad (zomer 1983) 10, omslag, p. 22, 23, 24.

HN-Magazine (Hervormd Nederland) 39 (23 juli 1983) 29, p.30.

Onze Wereld 26 (augustus 1983) 8, p. 9, 40, 43-

Stern (20 oktober 1983) 43, p. 104-105.

Onze Wereld 26 (november 1983) 11, p. 17, 19, 21.

Onze Wereld 26 (december 1983) 12, p. 46.

Jaar te kijk 1983. Een selectie uit meer dan 2000 foto’s die meedongen in de jaarlijkse wedstrijd om De Zilveren Camera, Amsterdam (Elsevier) 1983, afb. 34.

Rodrigo Egaiïa en Jan Joost Theunissen (red.), Chili, een landenmap, Den Haag (Novib) 1984, omslag, p. 1, 2, 8-9, 11, 12, 14, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 34-35.

Kees Schaepman (eindred.), Vietnam, een landenmap, Den Haag (Novib) 1984, omslag, p. 1, 11, 12-13, 14-15, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31.

Het Vrije Volk (weekeditie), 17 maart 1984, p. 25.

Onze Wereld 37 (mei 1984) 5, p. 26-27.

Onze Wereld-21 (september 1984) 9, p. 26-27.

Onze Wereld 27 (september 1984) 9, p. 35.

De Volkskrant 22 september 1984.

Onze Wereld 27 (december 1984) 12, p. 48, 49.

Onze Wereld 28 (januari 1985) 1, p. 9.

Onze Werelds (februari 1985) 2, p. 23.

VPRO Gids (24 april t/m 3 mei 1985) 17.

Onze Wereld 28 (mei 1985) 5, p. 12.

Onze Wereld 28 (juli 1985) 7, p. 16.

Onze Wereld 28 (augustus 1985) 8, p. 28, 29, 32-33, 43.

Onze Wereld (Wereldnieuws) 28 (november 1985) 11, p. 1, 30, 31.

Iran 7 jaar revolutie: gebroken beloften. Studium Generale Delft, 7-10 februari 1986.

Onze Wereld 28 (december 1985) 12, p. 25.

De Tijd 12 (6 december 1985) 14, p. 60-65.

Bondig 23 december 1985, p. 28-30.

Onze Wereld 29 (februari 1986) 2, p. 11, 35, 36.

Onze Wereld 2Q (maart 1986) 3, p. 36, 37, 38.

Onze Wereld 29 (augustus 1986) 8, p. 41.

Onze Wereld 30 (februari 1987) 2, p. 40.

Onze Wereld 30 (maart 1987) 3, p. 14.

Jeugd en Samenleving 17 (juni 1987) 6, omslag, p. 383, 386-387, 390, 395.

Jaar te kijk 1987. Een selectie uit bijna 3500 foto’s en dia’s die zijn ingezonden voor de jaarlijkse wedstrijd om De Zilveren Camera, Amsterdam (Canal House Publishers) 1988, afb. 169.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Magazine (29 januari 1988) 413, omslag, p. 26-33.

Secondary bibliography

Jan van Halm, De grafisch ontwerper als journalist, in Museumjournaal 24 (juni 1979) 4, p. 169-167.

Bas Roodnat, Een brandpunt van non-conformisme. Amsterdam gefilmd door Ed van der Elsken, in NRC Handelsblad 24 september 1982.

Herman, Zwart op wit. Nieuwsfotografie in de media, Amsterdam (Lont en Raket) 1984, p. 73-76, 173 (met foto’s).

Auteur onbekend, Chili in foto’s, in Foto & Doka (mei 1984) 5, p. 39.

Arie Bergwerff, De foto’s van Hannes Wallrafen, in Voetnoot 2 (december 1985) 10.

Cees Straus, Hannes Wallrafen. Cultuur is ook Drumband Albert Cuyp, in Trouw 29 januari 1987, p. 17.

Frits Bruins en Linda Roodenburg (red.), De Verbeelding van Leiden, Leiden (SMD Informatief) 1988, p. 8-9, 94-101 (met foto’s).

Eddie Marsman, De Verenigingen van Hannes Wallrafen. Portfolio, in Foto 43 (januari/februari 1988) 1/2, omslag, p. 68-75.

Elma Drayer, Compositie Istanbul. ‘Het was zitten en theedrinken en laten zien dat je het serieus meende’, in Vrij Nederland – Bijvoegsel (16 juli 1988) 28, omslag, p. 18-26 (met foto’s).


GKf, vanaf 1981 (bestuurslid van 1986-1988).


1987 2e Prijs, categorie buitenland, Zilveren Camera 1987.


1980 (g) Amsterdam, Canon Photo Gallery, Het Portret door 35 Nederlandse fotografen.

1980 (e) Amsterdam, De Moor.

1981 (g) Groningen, USVA-pand, Etnische minderheden in Nederland.

1981 (g) World Press Photo.

1982 (g) Amsterdam, De Populier, De kwaliteit van arbeid.

1983 (g) Amsterdam, Amsterdams Historisch Museum, Culturen van Minderheden.

1983 (g) World Press Photo.

1984 (g) De Zilveren Camera ig8j.

1984 (e) Rotterdam, Museum voor Land en Volkenkunde.

1984 (g) World Press Photo.

1984 (e) Amsterdam, Fotogalerie X4½ .

1984 (e) Amsterdam, Canon Photo Gallery, (reportagewerk, zwart-wit fotografie).

1987 (e) Amsterdam, Canon Photo Gallery, Amsterdam voor het buitenland.

1987 (g) Athene, Photopia, Ten Dutch Photographers.

1987 (e) Amsterdam, Muiderpoorttheater, De Verenigingen (rondreizende tentoonstelling).

1988 (g) De Zilveren Camera 1987.

1988 (g) Leiden, De Waag, De Verbeelding van Leiden.


Amsterdam, Roei Sandvoort (Hollandse Hoogte), mondelinge informatie.

Amsterdam, Hannes Wallrafen, mondelinge informatie.

Leiden, Prentenkabinet, bibliotheek en documentatiebestand.


Amsterdam, Gemeentearchief.

Amsterdam, Stichting Beeldende Kunst.

Den Haag, Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst.