RIP Hannes

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If you start looking into the world of the photobook you will encounter a large number of passionate people. In that group there are a few that stand out for even more, people who live and breathe photobooks, people who won’t tire of making them and looking at them and trying to sell them — while telling you how they’ll stop making them and looking at them and trying to sell them.

To say that Hannes Wanderer, who at the age of 60 died unexpectedly on September 9th, 2018, was one of these people is an understatement. Hannes was the driving force behind Peperoni Books, and he also ran the shop 25 Books. He was particularly adept at switching back and forth between sheer enthusiasm for a new book and telling me in elaborate detail how he would get out of it all soon. Of course, he wouldn’t. Another book had to get made.

I’d make a point of seeing Hannes in his store every time I was in Berlin, even when I knew I was too broke to buy another book. I’d never regret it. Inevitably, I’d leave even more broke, with another book or two in a bag. Only an android would not to be swayed or affected by Hannes’ enthusiasm for the books he was selling. And it made no difference to him whether the books he’d be talking up were his own or not. There was no ego involved, there was no attempting to be cool, attempting to show off — there just was this unwavering love for what ink on paper could do if it was used to reproduce pictures.

Hannes could be intense. To see him tell people about books was nothing short of miraculous, though: what easily could have been intimidating or maybe weird never was. His intensity was not just coupled with unbridled enthusiasm, there was also this overwhelming generosity that he extended to everyone who entered his orbit. In a world dominated by takers, Hannes was a true giver. He would happily share what he knew (which was a lot) without any pretense or second thought. He didn’t try to sell you books as much as make you just as excited about them as he was — even if that meant that more often than not, people would walk away and buy the book online to save a few bucks (something that he would make the topic of conversations as well).

There are two types of people in the world of the photobook: those who met Hannes and those who didn’t. You will have no trouble figuring out if someone met him: those who did would inevitably come away transformed in some strange way that I have been trying to figure out over the course of these past few days. There was something magnetic about the man. You would go to his store, and you would do that even if you had just met him elsewhere because of course there would have been some reason to go, even at a time where ordinary stores would already be closed. Hannes would somehow always have a case of beer and various soft drinks at hand (“help yourselves!”), and then it would be books, books, books.

I never walked away from his store thinking I had bought a book to be nice or wondering the next day why the hell I had bought what I had. I’d love what he sold me, because he didn’t sell me books, he sold me other people’s stories. And even those I didn’t buy — it’s the books I’d pay for, and everything else would be for free, given to me by this most generous man.

The world of the photobook (and, by extension, photography itself) would be in a much better shape if there were more Hanneses. There used to be one, and now there’s none. I still don’t know what to make of that.

Rest in peace, my friend. I’ll miss you forever.