Intimacy, Loss and Hope: Inside Florian Hetz’s Beautiful 2020 Photo Diary

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AIKOPhotography by Florian Hetz © Paper Affairs and the artist

“I hope it’s an invitation into my world,” says the Berlin-based photographer, as his deeply personal new book AIKO is released

For German image-maker Florian Hetz, photography is much more than just a career. A few years ago, completely burnt out from working seven day weeks in TV production, he fell gravely ill with encephalitis – an inflammation of the brain which caused him to lose vast chunks of his memory. Picking up the pieces in the wake of this ordeal, the camera became an unexpected and vital lifeline. “My whole brain basically got fried,” he tells AnOther. “But that’s how I started to take photos. I realised if I take little photos – of daily situations, of people, of people’s hands, of a cup or a shoe – I could remember.”

Hetz’s illness was a catalyst for a drastic change in his lifestyle, forcing him to learn how to live life anew. “I got out of the hospital and cancelled my whole career,” he remembers. “It sounds always stupid when I say it, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me. Most people are really good at this; they grow up being mindful. I needed this really harsh reality check.” For the self-proclaimed “workaholic”, it’s meant a rebirth into a gentler, more fulfilling way of life.

Working at the notorious Berlin nightclub Berghain on the weekends to cover rent, Hetz’s love of photography naturally blossomed over these slower, explorative next few years, in which he published two monographs, The Matter of Absence (2016) and ZWEI (2020). His latest book AIKO is a poignant and deeply personal work, which sees Hetz return to the practice of daily photo journaling. This time, he was documenting 2020 – a period marked by struggle for so many, not least of all for the photographer, who sadly lost his father.

“To put it really simply, it’s my year, my 2020,” says Hetz. “It’s an introduction of these daily observations, I would call them. Since the hospital, I always carry a tiny little camera in my left pocket, and the new book is taken more or less 70 per cent with this little camera.” 

Encompassing street photography, still lifes and sensual nude portraiture, the book is structured in a series of rhyming pairs – where a blue doctor’s glove matches the blue graffiti on concrete wall, or a peeled and half-eaten grapefruit the gentle curve of a naked back. Exploring themes of “letting go, acceptance and hope,” Hetz stresses the book is not a sad one, even though it documents a difficult time. 

“It’s not sad,” he says. “The book is not about death in that sense, though part of it is. In a way it’s a little bit of a tribute to my dad … There are these little moments of beauty. There’s a photo in the book where the sun is just hitting a pair of hands. And it’s this moment in spring when the first light comes, and your whole body is yearning for that summer. We all want to go out, you see all these people on the street staring in the sun. It’s about that – these little moments that, for me at least, give me hope.”

For Hetz, an intensely private person by nature, he hopes the book offers an invitation to enjoy these glimmers of beauty in daily life. “I hope it’s an invitation into my world and my way of seeing things,” he says. “If someone can look at it and see these little things, appreciate the little things that I appreciate, then I think it’s already a big step for me.”

AIKO is published by Paper Affairs and is out now.