When ordinary is extraordinary. For sure, Rob Hornstra’s characters are ordinary but at the same time far from ordinary. And yet, they are you and me, your neighbor, the shop keeper at the street corner, your cousin, as long as they carry a Kalashnikov and fight to survive in difficult circumstances or impossible climates in Russia, Iceland, Abkhazia or elsewhere. Fotomuseum Den Haag offers a large retrospective of his work around Europe. A gallery of portraits of ordinary hard working people with a plus: a past, a history, a background. The photographs are impeccable and strengthened by the stories that go with them. A child in a shelter, poor paysans in a remote village of Abkhazia, survivors of terrorism, nostalgic of the good old days of the nazis or communism, or simply butchers at their store staring at you with blood all over and a big knives in their hands. What sentiments about mankind? one reaction could be to want to escape as far as possible and let everything behind with a feeling of helplessness or one could be to want to read all these stories, reflect, and form compassion for your fellow human beings, wherever they are, whatever their backgrounds, their nationalities, they are humans, like you, with their history, fears, desires, limitations and beauty. In that sense, these ordinary people are extraordinary. Hornstra follows the work done by August Sander who relentlessly portrayed the German people in the early twentieth century, but the colours, the actuality of Hornstra’s photographs make it more vivid and straight in the face than the beautiful vintaged black and whites of Sander. The small sampling below shows only photos taken in Russia, but I could also have selected pictures taken in Iceland, The Netherlands, or elsewhere, and these would have provided the same sense of profound connection with humanity.

Natalya, Sochi, Russia, 2011 ©Rob Hornstra
Aleksandr, Makhachkala, Russia, 2012 ©Rob Hornstra
Sveta, Moscow, Russia, 2007 ©Rob Hornstra
Victory Day, Moscow, Russia, 2008 ©Rob Hornstra