With „Free Fighters“ Helena Petersen focused on a threshold of interpersonal relationships between humans: in 2009 she photographed muscular men throughout the East German province in a chest portrait, exposing their naked, often tattooed torsos before and after an apparently archaic battle, which takes place within a cage and has little restricting rules and regulations as for instance found within traditional boxing.
We are not spectators of the fight itself but of its physiognomic aftermath. Some of thes fighters look quite battered, others seem to have put away the beating more successfully. The underdogs were not keen at being photographed after the fights, and in one case Petersen voluntarily declined asking the looser for his second portrait. Thus there remains a void, contrasting from the otherwise rigid series of the diptych. By withholding the information, who was victorious and who lost – this is in some ways only decided imaginatively by the observer.
Throughout this series the observer is able to compare and contrast the men and their facial expressions, which for instance fluctuate between testosterone driven aggression and utter exhaustion or between exited anticipation and triumph, with each other. Before/After portrayals are well known out of the cosmetic industry, advertising for plastic surgery or from Andy Warhol adaptions of such visualisations. Within the contextualisation of the „Free Fighter“-Scene they appear somewhat alienating. In a improvised photo studio, quasi within the battlefield and in front of a neural white background, the protagonists are decontextualized.