Book Review: Sehnsucht by Michael Horbach & Hans-Michael Koetzel
By Miabelle Salzano
Sehnsucht, from the German term for “longing,” is a book that returns to the roots of photography. Nevertheless, its purpose is to show viewers places they have never seen before, sights that most people in the United States would not be able to imagine. Swedish collector Michael Horbach has put together a collection of photographs that display the cultural richness of communities in Cuba, Argentina, and Somalia (among others), despite the material poverty in these countries. In his preface he quotes photographer Anders Petersen claiming that “there is no photography without longing.” Horbach claims that when he traveled the world he felt a need to understand the people and places he was visiting. As his understanding of other cultures grew, his passion for social justice inspired him to reimagine a better world. With Sehnsucht, Horbach searches for a way that people of all backgrounds and cultures can live together in a dignified way.
Horbach gives us a glimpse of the interactions that take place within and between different communities. Whether it be people working together in a controlled chaotic system of labor or a child heating up water for a friend, there is an element of happiness and synergy in each photo despite the material poverty they often depict. Other images are portraits of ordinary people living in these communities, in which we are able to observe the differences in health care and living standards in places like Germany or the United States.
Photographs of vast landscapes reveal the poverty and devastation of the areas depicted, but also the natural beauty these countries as well. Horbach wants us to question what “improving the quality” of the lives represented in these photographs actually means. Does this entail the spreading of wealth, or the spreading of humanity? What makes us human is our ability to self-reflect. With the current political order creating the current social condition by encouraging only economic growth, we should be trying to develop our humanity instead. As Horbach has done with Sehn Sucht, we must also measure these photographs and their meaning “against the utopia of a better world.”