As Tᴚoɯɐuo says, to "look [someone/something] in the face" is a figurative device implying "to have intimate and direct contact with". However I can't recall seeing it used (figuratively) for anything other than perilous situations, for example:
He looked death in the face
He looked fear in the face
He looked danger in the face
And so on, although I would say "death" is by far the most popular usage. Another variation:
When you are on the front lines, you must learn to look into the face of death and never blink.
"Looked death in the face" doesn't only mean that the person has been in mortal peril.
In the Harry Potter books, only those who have witnessed someone else die ("looked death in the face"), are able to see Thestrals, the skeletal, horse-like, flying creatures which pull the carts that take the students from the train station to the school.