A conversation with a friend

As you might have noticed, for some time now, friend photographer Ivan Sigal and I have been having an open conversation with each other on Instagram (and on our respective blogs). It's great fun, and even though we had no idea where we were going with this starting out, we sense we're doing something that we both need to do.
 

by Ivan Sigal - read the full post here

by Ivan Sigal - read the full post here

by Anton Kusters - read the full post here

by Anton Kusters - read the full post here

The exchange of thoughts, thoughts about images, thoughts in general, images about thoughts, images in general. Here there is no new work to be promoted. No cool status updates to be done. In a way, through our dialogue, we're gaining – and at the same time offering – insights into our own thinking, our own preconceptions, our worries, our incessant looking for maybe not even answers, but just understanding a little more. If there ever were a true behind-the-scenes: these are things that actually occupy much of our thoughts and shape our work, without being our work.
 

by Ivan Sigal - read the full post here

by Ivan Sigal - read the full post here

by Anton Kusters - read the full post here

by Anton Kusters - read the full post here

And the kicker for me: up until we started doing this I had no idea I was actually hugely missing doing this. It feels like writing letters by hand in a pre-digital age. The tempo, the time required. There's something quite unique about those regular short bursts of introspection for writing and the accompanying simultaneous dialogue.
 

by Ivan Sigal - read the full post here

by Ivan Sigal - read the full post here

by Anton Kusters - read the full post here

by Anton Kusters - read the full post here

Now that we've been at it for a while, we've decided to contextualise it a little...
Ivan wrote a perfect abstract that encapsulates very well what we're doing:


 
#image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters, posted both on Instagram and on the participant’s respective websites. It is an experimental public dialogue that sets simple rules, and allows the trajectory of the discussion to proceed in inductive fashion, image by image, and text by text.
image_by_image is constructed as a weak or fragile narrative, based on associations of word and image, of fragment and concept, of reuse and reflection, of frank acknowledgement of struggle, doubt, skepticism and humility before the power of ideas and the claims of images. It is rooted in philosophies of anti-authoritarianism and a mistrust of grand narratives.
The rules of image_by_image are that each participant posts no more than 1x per day and no less than 1x per week, and that each post have one image and a maximum of 2,200 characters of text. It has emerged that the images are often fragments or details other images, or rephotographed through screens, lightboxes, scrims and other surface textures. The images work at several levels - as notes, as referents, as counterpoints, as punctuations, as divergences.
Our emerging practice with image_by_image is to enliven the consideration of images in social media, explore their meaning in dialogue with concepts and our shifting understanding of them through associations across time and history. It is a rebuttal to the assertion that images in social media are necessarily one-dimensional pictograms. It is also a way of stripping back social media speech to the simple level of the exchange of ideas, rather than the mimicking of self-broadcast through the social media tactics of sensation, self-promotion, and aggressive projection.
Over time, themes have emerged on image_by_image based on the common concerns of the participants. We consider history, memory, memorialization, travel, tensions between narrative and conceptual images, the processes of making art, and the challenges of our respective projects. We traverse the psychological geographies of Nazi Germany, the former Soviet Union, Japan, Europe, and the United States, as well as the tenuous journeys of migrants and personal memoir.
 

Needless to say, I encourage you to follow us. 

image_by_image can be found on Instagram at the #image_by_image hash, 
following
@ivansigal and @antonkusters, or at their websites:
http://ivansigal.net/category/image_by_image/
http://antonkusters.com/image-by-image/

Land of Shadows

Starting to work with friend and musician Jan Swerts on a new project. Built on quite the promising premise, which I can't disclose just yet, I think this collaboration will amount to some interesting stuff over the next 12 months...

By the way, his – undoubtedly excellent – new album "Schaduwland" (land of shadows) is set to be released in October.

The Blue Skies Project | Hinzert

The Hinzert concentration camp was established in 1938 to construct the Westwall. There were 27 sub camps connected to the main camp. Originally, it was a police detention camp, and officially came under the control of the SS-WVHA on February 7, 1942. Hinzert was unique among concentration camps in the sense that it had an autonomous Gestapo (secret state police) interrogation squad inside the camp (which was uncommon, as the concentration camp system was run by the SS, an entirely different organisation).

Hinzert was originally built for 560 prisoners, but in reality continually housed between 800 and 1,200 prisoners during its existence. In total, estimates are up to 20,000 prisoners. Official camp records accounted for almost 300 deaths. This death count was extremely low because Hinzert was not only a small camp, but most of the time it also acted as a transit camp, with prisoners arriving there only to leave to another destination a few days later.  But even so, researchers have found the official death count to be too low, with a more realistic figure being an estimated 1,000 victims.

On November 21, 1944, the Hinzert camps came under jurisdiction of the Buchenwald concentration camp, and was dissolved on March 2, 1945 when U.S. troops reached the city of Trier.

source: USHMM Encyclopedia of camps and ghettos, 1933-1945; Indiana Press

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The journey to Hinzert is part of a series of journeys that I'm undertaking to photograph the blue skies precisely above the (last known) location of every single one of the 1,075 concentration camps that have ever existed, as part of an photography/book/installation project called The Blue Skies Project. The project has proven quite immense and almost impossible to hold on to single-handedly – with staggering logistics to match – but I'm hanging in there.

What's on the table vs. what's on the horizon

These 360 books weigh 396kg. At this point, I was happy that my table was holding up. All of them individually signed and wrapped, and everyone here at home had chipped in to prepare and pack in just one day. The next morning we drove two full cars to the postal center to bulk ship everything.

Things went really smooth... and these were just the pre-orders for May 1st. Needless to say I'm ecstatic. Hopefully this third edition of YAKUZA will go the same way as the previous ones.

Seeing all this weight on my table reminded me of something else too. The feeling that over the past years my focus has slowly been drifting into "taking care of the things that I have", versus focusing on "making new work".

What's on my table now (the projects that I've completed), versus what's on my horizon tomorrow (the projects that I'm embarking upon). I know there's tremendous value and importance to taking care of each of them... and personally I couldn't function adequately without either one. It's a case of grass greener on the other side: whenever you're on one side, you tend to long for the other side.

A part of me wishes it could stand up and boldly claim "I'm one hundred percent focused on tomorrow", and I guess, in a way, it's true: always looking for new opportunities, remembering things that catch your eye, things that you care about and want to talk about, things that happen along the way. I've got folders and notebooks full of opportunities to be taken. That's fine, and they're a treasure. 

But it's the part that comes right after: shaping the idea so that it becomes a project, becomes possible, becomes reality, leaping out from a thought in your mind to something that's actually happening, and that people will be interested to see, hear, or read about.

On top of that, the landscape of storytelling has changed so much in the last few years, the language of photography completely being rewritten as we speak, it's not a case anymore of what we - as visual storytellers - can or cannot do. It's become a case of how much we are willing to adapt, unlearn old things and learn new things along the way.

Alongside all that daily struggle of adapting and making happen and moving forward, there's just one thing we must always do: keep our horizons distant.

It's hard to maintain that balance. 99 percent of the time you probably must look close, take care of the day to day, the realities that are in front of you NOW. Adapt. Make it happen. Move. But every once in a while, you need to climb a tree or a little hill and look into the distance, at your horizon. Enjoy the moment. Is it still far. Is it still like a dream. And don't forget to look back also, see how far you've come. It's always much further than you think. Plus it kinda puts things into perspective.

And then climb back down, adjust course if necessary, continue.... and enjoy. It's all about the journey after all.

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In a way I feel very much that now after 5 years I've only just started out, just traveled enough to consider myself actually starting out – if you know what I mean.  I used to climb up my tree, look out and only stare forward in the distance and dream and look at an horizon so far and vague that I could barely make out what it was. Recently I started looking back as well. Perspective. Makes me realise that it's all worth it.

The horizon's still far, but that's okay. Horizons always look so good. I guess they're meant to be.

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I had an hour long interview on Belgian national radio (vrt - Klara) last week about my life and my projects, and how I approach both of them. Talking about jumping, insecurities, doubt, luck, happiness, working hard. I'm sorry, it's in Dutch...

Enjoy jour day today,

The Blue Skies Project | Mittelbau-Dora

The Mittelbau concentration camp was the last main camp created by the SS-Business Administration Main Office (WVHA) and the only one not named after a specific place. It officially came to being on October 28, 1944, but its origins stretched back to the foundings of a subcamp of Buchenwald, code-named "Dora" on August 28, 1943.

In a system of 27 subcamps attached to Dora, most of the prisoners worked in the construction of underground and aboveground facilities, the most known a conversion of tunnels into an underground V-2 factory called Mittelwerk. About 6,000 of the 40,000 inmates were directly working at the production lines of building actual V-2 rockets, at a speed of approximately 20 ballistic missiles per day.

During the last phase of Mittelbau's existence, large numbers of starving and severely ill prisoners started arriving from Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen, which had been evacuated shortly before. This marked a significant change in the death toll of the camp; the influx was so high that the arriving new prisoners could not even be registered, and the crematoria could not handle the dead. Prisoners were sent elsewhere on transports and death marches, which only worsened the problem.

About 20,000 people died at Mittelbau during its existence. On April 11, 1945, elements of the U.S. 3rd Armored and 104th Infantry Divisions reached Boelcke-Kaserne and shortly thereafter discovered the Mittelwerk tunnels and Dora. Operation Paperclip (the operation to exploit German science and technology) had its origins here when the U.S. forces were able to capture and remove large numbers of missile parts and personnel.

source: USHMM Encyclopedia of camps and ghettos, 1933-1945; Indiana Press

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Mittelbau-Dora is part of a series of journeys that I'm undertaking to photograph the blue skies precisely above the (last known) location of every single one of the 1,075 concentration camps that have ever existed, as part of an photography/book/installation project called The Blue Skies Project. The project has proven quite immense and almost impossible to hold on to single-handedly – with staggering logistics to match – but I'm hanging in there.

The Blue Skies Project | Wewelsburg

The Wewelsburg concentration camp was the smallest autonomous main camp within Germany. Prior to this, it was a subcamp from Sachsenhausen. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler used it for his personal building project "Wewelsburg", a renaissance castle to become a large ideological-religous center for the SS. He exploited concentration camp labor for the necessary renovations and expansion of the castle, following the principle "Vernichtung durch Arbeit" (destruction through work). He had to not only camouflage the camp from the Allies, but also from the SS-Business Administration Main Office (WVHA), who did not regard the project as "vital to the war construction work" and could cut off economic support. When US troops arrived in the city on April 2, 1945, they were surprised to find a concentration camp there.

source: USHMM Encyclopedia of camps and ghettos, 1933-1945; Indiana Press

---

Wewelsburg is part of a series of journeys that I'm undertaking to photograph the blue skies precisely above the (last known) location of every single one of the 1,075 concentration camps that have ever existed, as part of an photography/book/installation project called The Blue Skies Project. The project has proven quite immense and almost impossible to hold on to single-handedly – with staggering logistics to match – but I'm hanging in there.

YAKUZA - third edition

As of now, you can pre-order signed copies of the upcoming third edition of YAKUZA.

Great news... as of now, May 1st 2016, the third edition of YAKUZA is available to order.

Many of you who missed out on buying the first or second edition, have emailed me throughout the years (yes, it's been *that* long) to please let them know if I'd ever have a chance of printing a third edition... and I've always promised that I'd try hard to make it happen... and here we are. Finally.

The design is ready, and the book is scheduled to go in print in two weeks. And I'll be able to ship books starting May 1st. Of course, I'll keep you informed with a printing update along the way... so you won't miss a thing.

I'm happy to finally make this book available to a wider audience, and at the same time maintaining respect for all of you who bought the first and second editions (frankly, without you all, I simply wouldn't even be here...).

Super exciting....

 

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Driving home

Not so long ago my brother and I took a cab home in Tokyo. I filmed the passing view in a really basic way, and I'm pretty sure the cab driver pokes his nose at a certain point. But every time I watch it, it always seems to evoke something, calm me down, and make me lose track of time.
Music credit: Homeward Angel by Moby.

The danger of a black hole | "Getting Things Done" vs. "Getting Things Out"

I use notebooks extensively to write down my thoughts, to think about projects, to sketch, to jot down ideas... and I've always thought this way better than anything digital for the same purpose. There are great singular apps that are really focused on GTD ("getting things done") – and I use them too of course, they're fantastic – but I think writing and sketching in notebooks is simply for a different kind of situation, one that does not need to be solved by "getting things done". 

Writing and sketching by hand is more geared towards what I would call GTO, or "getting things out" (of my brain) in the most easy and efficient way. And to me, nothing beats paper and pencil at this.

IMG_0138.jpg

Of course, there are also many great ways to keep your notebook organised, most notably the all encompassing Bullet Journal and the deceptively simple Dash/Plus System... and I'm sure there must be many more. And of course I've tried these. But again, they're not solving the point described above: they're great for Getting Things Done, but not geared towards Getting Things Out. I think GTD should happen in different moments than GTO, maybe even effectively one leading to the other, as natural extensions of one another. 

IMG_0142.jpg

You shouldn't be bothered with organising in any way while trying to put ideas on paper, while trying to think about a concept, while getting thoughts out of your head. It's already hard enough to get them out of your head (however disorganised they are), you shouldn't be forcing your brain to think along the lines of a system (any system) while the priority is simply to get things out. Organising those thoughts has to be done indeed, but should only come at a later stage.

It would be like photographing and having a perfect contact sheet at the same time... it's kind of impossible... unless you're pure genius of course.

With photography it's exactly the same thing: a story usually gets built later. When you're photographing, you shouldn't be worried about the structure. Letting things flow, and having just the basic plot of the story in your mind is more than enough. Not only will it give you tremendous freedom, it will also allow other angles to pop up because you're open to things happening along the way. I'm speaking of long term projects here, because I keep in mind that if I find something or things go off in a different, maybe better direction, I always have the chance to come back again next time.

On the other hand, if you know you only have one shot, the chance of a lifetime right there and then, then for god's sake, please make sure you get the shot.

And eventually, slowly, you will start connecting dots, building structure. But still, I'd recommend to approach and err on the side of "disorganised writing/shooting and connecting dots later", as opposed to "setting yourself a rigid structure and employing rigid writing/shooting". Obviously both are valid approaches, and some days you'll favour one over the other, but in my case, if I can stand the uncertainty of maybe not delivering, I like the former much more. It's like taking little leaps of faith every time. In a way, being rigid about not being rigid.

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Now this brings me to the next problem: How can I organise my thoughts after the fact? Weeks later, I can hardly tear pages from my books and bring elements together. I have kind of a feeling that a notebook should not be (substantially) altered afterwards, in order to respect the spirit and the time it has been written in. But on the other had, I need to be able to revisit my thoughts in a semi-efficient way, so as not that these notebooks become little black holes that suck up my thoughts only never to release them again.

Enter the little round stickers.

Deceptively simple, I just add a little round sticker on a page by something that I need to remember, or need to come back to. more stickers means more important. That's all there is to it. Nothing more, nothings less.

Come to think of it, photographers sometimes used to use these very same stickers to mark the selects on their contact sheets (although the red crayon/marker is probably the superior solution there)

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To summarise: always be aware of the difference between getting things done and getting things out. They both are necessary, but warrant a different approach and should be avoided being mixed up. To "get things out", I try to do this:

  • create the shortest possible path: avoid everything that stops or hinders the pure flow from your brains to the paper. I barely even use a title or a date, I keep on forgetting
  • the shortest possible path means the thing you know best and can do instinctively: writing, sketching, pen or pencil on paper. Everything else is just a collection of micro-interruptions to your thoughts getting out.
  • the importance of turning a page, and sharpening a pencil
  • make sure your environment is conductive to what you are doing, but remember: it's not always what you think and it changes often: locking yourself away in a cabin in the mountains is not by definition going to make you think better. Thinking is a social, interactive process, and every project, even every mood, can warrant a different physical place. Just be aware of this, it's very subtle.
  • to facilitate revisiting thoughts – a crucial phase – use red dots extensively. Also, every time when revisiting, be prepared to move, remove or add red dots as realities might have changed... hence the stickers.

cheers,

a

p.s. In regards to GTD, so many people much smarter than me have written about this... I would say: pick and choose your system, change regularly just to flex your brain. In this realm, going digital really shines, and many apps are really amazing..