The Mitsubishi Hi-uni I love most and buy whenever I'm in Tokyo. The Castell 9000 I just found out about, and is a very good second.... the others have yet to convince me.
Time to write again. Let's see what I come up with. Happy holidays....
The Mitsubishi Hi-uni I love most and buy whenever I'm in Tokyo. The Castell 9000 I just found out about, and is a very good second.... the others have yet to convince me.
Time to write again. Let's see what I come up with. Happy holidays....
I'm on a train to Paris.
Somehow, if I can help it, I like most to sit facing backwards. I have no idea why, but it makes me feel more at ease. Visiting friends this time. Super short, just three days. We're usually scattered all over the globe, every one of us busy as hell, with only the occasional skype or imessage or whatsapp to keep in touch. And the occasional tongue-in-cheek over instagram of course... what else...
So once in a while, we'd be kind of on the same continent, with kind of the same flexibility in our schedules.... a message here, a message there... and suddenly it appears it might actually be possible to physically meet up this time. Yes, sure, more often than not, something still comes up and none of us can make it. Yes, sure, we know we've got so much business to take care of that we'll hardly have time to talk. But I'll wager that it isn't the actual reason why we relentlessly keep on trying to meet up time and again. And as much as I now already miss home, I'm looking forward to this one: that split second of looking each other in the eye again after so long, instantly seeing all is ok, and having a drink. This is what it's about.
Oh, and details get filled in at the inevitable late night campfire that follows, of course.
I'm on a train to Paris.
Finally they're here... Limited editions of images from the different projects I've been photographing.
A humble beginning with an edition for three of my projects, and quite an investment of time and money, but I think it is going to be worth it. Most recently, I was able to make a limited edition of prints from the Yakuza project (to accompany the upcoming exhibits). Combined with an edition of my work shot in Mexico on "I was a Dog/I see a Ghost", and an upcoming edition (Q4 this year) of new Dislocate images, that makes three.
So I thought it might be good to combine them all online into one place, keeping things simple and up to date.
All the editions are actually very limited (although the print size is quite large sometimes... you gotta love large prints).... but after a lot of talking with, and advice from, friends, experts in the field and gallery owners, and of course a great deal of soul searching, I think this is the way I should go.
I'm not a full blown art photographer, but I think I've kinda got my act together and once in a while I do want to make available high quality limited editions of my work, preferably in small numbers... so I can keep it personal... and I think - I hope - editions like these ones speak this message and complement everything else I do.
To be honest, yet again I have no clue if this is the right way to go... it just feels like another natural step to take. I'll see how it goes and report back here regularly... check it out: antonkusters.com/editions
And if you're reading this and interested in buying an editioned print, send me a message and I'll give you your password to access the details...
Have a great day today,
P.S. yes, "Sugar" is on the list too... stay tuned! :-)
The best way to start something is to tell everyone that you're going to start something.
Make it public. Get it out of your head and start pitching to friends and foes. Converse. To me, this is not only the moment that the pressure gets on... it's also the moment that ideas come out of my head for a reality check.
I'm sure you know that feeling when for the very first time you talk to someone else about "your new thing", and you feel that, even literally while you're talking, you're constantly discovering holes and illogical things all over the place. No matter how much you've thought it through on beforehand. And after a while, you even start to think: "come on, didn't I realize this, or this, or even this? What on earth was i thinking?". And you see the frowns and feel like going back to the drawing board all over again.
Don't go back. You're fine.
Here's the key: I believe that pitching to friends (and foes) is a necessary process for "maturing" an idea. Some things really only get revealed through dialogue. The people you talk to act kind of like a secret group of touchstones for your idea, and only you know. They help shape. In my case, most of these people don't have anything to do with photography... yet others are seasoned pros... most even don't know they are actually giving me advice... and more often than not, I don't even realize that I'm in need - or getting - advice in the first place.
The only prerequisite is that you have to be open for it happening. And within every single person you're looking for something specific, picking up on body language, hesitation, excitement, the way they react, the words they use, and so forth.
Don't get me wrong, it's not a straightforward "letting yourself be influenced by others"... that would be too far off as well. The spine has to be there first. That's what all the long pondering has been for. And sometimes a pitch works in really weird ways.... I, for one, have someone to whom I regularly propose things to; and if she really hates the project, I know for sure I should go for it. Well, sort of :-)
To me, the pitch is always the most daunting aspect of any project. If i allow it, it can totally make or break my mood or my will to do a project. But I know that I should never avoid it... because realizing at this point that a project needs to change, is much better that only realizing it later on... and possibly having lost lots of time and money.
So presenting my ideas to friends, even if frightening... seems necessary. Even though I've taught myself never to get put off completely.... I've often made much more sensible decisions along the way.... and always, always, my projects have benefited immensely.
How do you go about "reality checking" your project ideas? Do you do it at all?
Oh and by the way, I've just switched my site from wordpress to squarespace. Even though I've always been a web designer and I support and use open source whenever I can ( i love wordpress), I feel time has come that I should be focusing on photography and writing, and nothing else. And this platform makes that entirely possible... no small feat to accomplish... kudos to them.
Happy New Year.
Here are some things:
This is some snow. This is a book at the presses. These are the first dummy tests for the "dislocate" books. This is a good whiskey (after having a few). This is some more work done on the "yakuza" solo exhibit in april. And these are flowers for my mother.
....and there's much more to come.
2013 is going to be a good year, I'm sure of it. For all of us... it has to be. My best wishes to each and every one of you... and see you soon.
As you know by now, Dislocate has been playing around in my head for several years. I've always had a feeling about it, but I could never put my finger on it, figure out what it was about, or even if it would ever be or become a project. A while ago I wrote that it was time to really think this one through, that it needed the airplane treatment so to speak... And yes, I'm happy to say that it now feels like I've finally found what dislocate is about. I know, it sounds weird to talk about projects this way, but it really works this way for me: something starts, i see something, hear something, a vague feeling, an itch, it comes into my mind... and at some point I start scratching. I realize I want to get it out, but to do that I must first find what it actually is and define it. More often than not it remains a vague feeling for a long long time (in this case, 4 years)... hopefully at some point becoming clear.
Once the feeling acknowledged and defined, I must decide if it is worth pursuing, worth following up on, worth investing my energy into... worth trying to tell the story and worth making it happen. A lot plays in my head at this stage: will I be able to cope, will it be long term or short term, how much will it cost, will I be able to make money, will I be able to grow as an artist, will my family understand, will others believe in it too....
So goes the story of Dislocate: for a long time I had the feeling of being homesick for no reason. Nothing bad, nothing shocking, but an itch nonetheless. After a while I started paying attention to it and this feeling always seemed to come pretty randomly, strangely not related to any place or time or travel. I found this very weird - for example, I'd sometimes get homesick being at home, and this I didn't (and still don't) understand. Given my family that I love dearly, I should have completely no reason for this.
So... long story short, I've decided this is interesting enough to pursue... and now a part of me is focused on identifying my "homesick moments" and trying to visualize this through images, and write down the story. It feels like a real journey I'm undertaking, because, I guess, if I feel homesick at home, there must be some other place I do feel at home, right?
So I'm going to visit places until I find my true home. Does this mean I'll be visiting the places I used to live, Saudi Arabia and Australia, or the place I live now, Belgium? I don't know, maybe... but I think it would be a testimony to a very limited definition of "place": just geographical.
Places more often are related to people I am close to or connect to: a place as "with a person", wherever physical that place might be or might change over time. I know this sounds kind of abstract, but at this point it seems like the best definition I can come up with to describe the quest of finding where one feels one really belongs.
And I know maybe most people do have the feeling they belong... but surprisingly, many people I talked to about this over the last months, expressed a strong feeling of recognition and surprised me by saying they had actually felt this way for a long time and never felt they could talk about it. Sometimes this crystallized into the feeling of not finding a soul mate, and other times it was expressed in the most literal sense, an immigrant who has no connection to his home country anymore, yet at the same time is fighting to find a home in the new country he is (sometimes not very) welcomed into.
So where is my home? Where is my land? Where is my place?? Who is my place? What sets my mind at ease? Who sets my mind at ease? Where can I belong? How can I find out?
I'm going to explore all this. Going to document all I come across that is related to this. Hard, because I cannot easily "summon" or predict or even plan that feeling of homelessness setting in, just to explore it. It's really hard and often pretty painful. It comes and goes quickly at times, but sometimes can also last for days, completely paralyzing me.
Sometimes little things make me feel at home, like for some reason flowers do. Other things on the contrary make me feel away from home, alone, tiny, wrapped in a blanket wanting to be somewhere else but at the same time knowing that being there is the catalyst for that feeling. Staying at a hotel room for me is always a very strong catalyst for such things, and I try to nourish that, make use of it as opposed to letting it paralyze me. Instead of fighting it, I'm now deliberately letting it. for better or for worse. you'll find images that feel like home, and images that feel like lost... and those images might be surprisingly different for everyone, or even surprisingly the same...
We'll see where the journey brings me, but I certainly can see now already that it'll be intense. First chapter is chosen: "Tokyo/Brother"
I hope the above made some sense... if not, don't get to upset... more to come soon... just wish me luck :-)
Have a great day today, a
Anyone who knows me, knows I'm always open to meaningful collaborations. Primarily as a photographer of course, but also, in other ways, in projects I simply believe in. For example, for BURN Magazine I designed and built the website, and collaborate closely with David Alan Harvey all the time. I speak to him almost daily for anything that comes up. We do cool things together. And he's my mentor. Plus, most importantly, we've become great friends in the process. I don't think it's farfetched to say that both David and I are having a noticeable effect on each others' lives, and support each other's careers with great faith.
Over the years I've come to learn that the "natural" rhythm of every single project I'm doing (and every single project that I'm involved in) always seems to be totally unique. for me, the art is to be able to not only find and respect those rhythms, but also to balance them all in the best possible way in the rest of my life, mainly trying not to "urge overkill". In a way, to find projects that naturally fit into my life, as opposed to trying to press(ure) projects into my life, let alone trying to press my life into any project. There are so many wonderful and interesting things to do in a lifetime.
I'm really glad I can balance between Dislocate, BURN Magazine, Yakuza, Heavens, and Sugar. And along the way, in turn, each will get center stage, and hopefully, every time one is finished, another will take over or a new thing will simply appear. In a way I feel that working at this kind of finding and balancing, is key.
Oh, and also: always be prepared to leave behind interesting things that don't work out. Hmmm. Might be interesting to write something about this too...
Stay tuned for more. Really. I have a feeling that Yakuza was just the beginning.
Question: how do you all manage the balancing act of everything interesting going on in your life? Do you let a lot of outside pressure in? What would you define as outside pressure and what not? Would, or should, income and security have a big impact on choices?
Sorry that I've been gone for a while... it's the first time in years that I've been able to relax my mind a couple of weeks, and in hindsight it has been necessary: I've been able to take some much needed important decisions, decisions that have been delayed and delayed even without me realizing it, and with a relaxed mind have come to surface and have been easier to contemplate... And of course I've started preparing for the fall when things will get up to full speed again with many especially exciting new things that I want to tell you all about, not only things related to the Yakuza project. More on all this soon...
In the meantime, I thought this one would be fun: the ten images that most narrowly did not make it into the ODO YAKUZA TOKYO book.
The story goes as follows: during any book design process, one has to be prepared to meet unexpected circumstances, and it's not uncommon that even at the last instant, things can change completely. In my case, my - what I (and the printer) thought was the - definitive book edit had always been 98 spreads with images, plus 6 spreads for the chapters (plus pages for text at the beginning and the end).
And then it happened. Right at the very last second, when the printer was making the final impositioning for the plates, we both noticed we had made a major calculation error in the book. I had designed part of one book section too many. Simple page count error. Basic rookie mistake. I've been professionally designing books for years, how could this have happened. This could turn out to be a disaster.... because this meant, that in effect, I would have to cut images from the book, and I had to cut them fast. There was simply no choice. The only other option would be to literally stop the printing and re-think the whole book paper, cover, book thickness, weight, binding,... not to mention the extra costs involved... and to delay the book launch by several months.
So I chose to push ahead. Cut the images. And what could have easily become a disaster, in hindsight, actually turned out to be something good. For some reason, I was able to identify the images that had to go, very quickly... having spent months with the edit, somehow it appeared clear in my mind what had to be done. And indeed, leaving those images out, turned out to make a stronger edit.
Of course, after cutting the images, I had to re-look and re-do the entire sequencing, and this in turn leading yet again to be forced to drop out another couple of images. Damn. In total, I decided cut exactly 10 images and changed the sequencing, dividing into more (but smaller) chapters... extremely tense moments I can tell you, especially because I think I only had 2 hours to complete the job, prepare a new hi res pdf and deliver it. The presses were ready to go. And you don't ever want the presses to be waiting for you, trust me.
Even with the pressure looming over me, I still recall those two hours as something extremely positive, as very exciting, as an opportunity to make the book better still. I'm so glad I didn't choke and pull the plug. It was like someone had whispered in my ear: "Anton, you now have 2 hours to make your book better, and it's your last chance... go for it".
Judge for yourself... what do you think of these 10 that didn't make the cut? I know showing them out of their original sequence is not ideal, but I hope it'll work.
have a great summer all, and more soon, I promise!
Hey. As promised, and as a follow-up of my grandfather's story, here goes the original concept of The Blue Skies Project. In a next post, I'll talk about the realities that set in during and after my first journey to Oświęcim, Poland, to the Auschwitz concentration camps, and how it changed me.
The Blue Skies Project was conceived as a book+installation project, in which I personally try to make sense of the Nazi Germany concentration camp system from 1933-1945. I attempt to understand and show my feelings about and vision on the massive suffering that has happened... and hopefully, in what I create, I can in a tiny way help to never forget.
I intend to visit every known Nazi camp and sub camp (following the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) and make an image of the blue sky exactly above each location. A blue sky, and nothing else. A clear view on each sky, sober and blue, yet burdened with holding the memory of the ones who suffered below.
Standing on the very same places as the victims, and looking up at the very same sky that they must have seen, I feel those skies should belong to them.
The truth of these images lies in part in the faith the viewer must have in who I am, that he/she knows I actually have done this. Just, and only because I say I did. That truth is my word that this happened, yet at the same time is no direct physical proof... again a parallel with history, as so many camps were destroyed to cover up their existence.
Because what am I, if I don't have my word?
The list contains 1.078 camps, located all over Europe (look here for an example of a map to sense the magnitude), the overwhelming majority of which have been destroyed and don't exist anymore. I will attempt to document each heaven and publish a book with 1.078 pages and 1.078 blue images.
This book, containing only blue skies and a reference list, will appear too senseless, too abstract and too large and too heavy and too much to hold and comprehend... But that's exactly my point: The Holocaust is too much to hold, is too much to comprehend.
It is too much.
I want to make this book because I've always wished there existed already such a book, because I've always wanted to buy such a book and give it a place between all the other books in my room, as a reminder, to carry it along with me in my life, as a weight that we maybe, maybe, all should be carrying on our shoulders.
I know the research will be immense to locate every location exactly (it already was when I tested going to all 42 camps linked to Auschwitz), and setting myself the maybe too narrow sliver that the sky has to be blue is not making my life any easier either.... And the installation that will surround the book, well... that is even another story.
And the part of how on earth to fund this project, which will be massively expensive, and can I justify this cost in the name of an art installation? Would that money not be better spent elsewhere?
What are your thoughts? I realize that I am blowing a conceptual bubble that is very very thin... reducing an incredibly massive and the "heaviest" of topics to its barest minimum and hopefully its essence... but I'm doing it purposely, as it is my vision on this.... and at the same time I can't help but thinking: isn't reducing to the maximum actually the only possible way? And isn't the only goal that I have - being that I contribute in some way to the continuing awareness and prevention of the Holocaust from being forgotten by looking at it in a way that (I hope) is different - justification enough to go for it?
That evening, I set out to drive 1.100 kilometres to photograph forty-two blue skies. I was to be a first grand field test for The Blue Skies Project.
I've been told that a good visual story is one that leaves sufficient "blanks" so the viewer can fill in and latch on... Not leave too little to the imagination, but also not leave too much; try to make it just right.
In this case, wanting to photograph 1,075 abstract blue skies seemed to be a little over the top: the idea is actually so abstract that it simply leaves everything to the imagination. Even photography itself. I'd be demanding a lot from the viewer. The work becomes a very, very delicate bubble in support of the story, even if it was quite deliberately done that way...
But might it be just too thin? Will it hold? The heaviest of stories paired with the simplest of photographs?
It seems like I might be venturing off into installation territory for this one. Not a bad thing per sé, not bad at all... but quite a break from my previous work, I must confess.
Reducing to the essence... Man, I don't think I've ever reduced anything to this extent.
That's the thought process I'm struggling with now: shaping The Blue Skies Project into something possible. Because The Blue Skies Project is me adding my little tiny drop, however small, to never forgetting the Holocaust. Because I believe we should not forget. And I'm scared that we might be. And if an installation turns out to be the best vehicle to bring this message across, well, then...
Hmmm... I just realize that the above might sound overly cryptic to everyone - maybe even to me. I guess I should describe the concept behind The Blue Skies Project pretty soon. And show a photograph too.
First on my to do list. Promise.
But now, sun's setting, spring's started, evening's beautiful. Today's given, tomorrow's never promised. Enjoy the now.
Yep, I forgot to take off the film cover. But funny that I still remember exactly the image I *wanted* to make. To me it is still there,...Read More
Hey. The day before yesterday I had the honor of being one of the speakers at a TEDx conference in my hometown. It was my first time attending TEDx in the flesh, and also my first time up on stage, getting a slot of 18 minutes with nothing else besides an automatic slide show of my images behind me and full house in front of me. Yep, I was nervous. The speakers that hit the stage before me (and after me) inspired me a lot, presented many many great ideas, ways of thinking different or looking at the world in a different way. Indeed, a truly inspiring event. Of course I ended up talking about a million other things than what I had planned for, and could not cover all I wanted to say. A tiny part of me feels I missed a chance there, but the biggest part of me is happy that it went well, that I could hold a creative audience's attention, and that the one point I did manage to make, seemed to come across.
I guess the video of this talk will be online soon, and then I'll add it here for you to see.... Here is the link to the talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-y4GCM60Vak and, as a comparison, I thought it might be interesting to share the original intended talk I wrote and practised but was not able to fully "transmit" to the audience, so to speak.
Not that it is that different from what I intended, but it's great fun to see them side by side. In part of course because time ran out much quicker than I imagined - I gotta take that one into account next time, and in part because I forgot a million things standing up there being nervous on stage with nothing but a mic on me. Funny to analyze your own memory in this way, what you remember, what you forget...
So, without further ado, this is the integral text of what is was planning to say...
[TEDx talk, Feb 4, 2012]
it's 3.30 am.
I'm sitting in the car next so Souichirou, my contact within. I have permission to photograph, and it's my first time on the road with them. He's driving the car with his boss in the back seat, who's asleep. We're on our way to Niigata prison, where two family members are going to be released that morning. Twenty cars driving to welcome their brohers back.
It's almost a 4 hour drive from Tokyo, and along the way Souichirou is explaining to me the finer points of yubitsume, or finger shortening. "you cut off one digit of your little finger yourself," he says "to lend power to the statement you want to make. Most often that statement is an apology. Then, on a white napkin, you offer that finger piece to your boss, begging him to accept it, and your apology with it." I find myself nervously checking if he's missing any digits himself.
He continues "if you fuck up, you will have to apologize." Somehow, looking in his eye, at his hands, I have *no* intention of doubting that.
Turning around towards boss Nitto-san in the back seat, who in the meantime has woken up, I lift my camera to my eye to make an image. But he's looking at me so menacingly, that I simply do not dare. I literally start putting my camera back down. Souichirou, in the driver's seat, in the meantime, is telling me, not being able to speak English, "picture OK, picture OK", making it clear that i should not be afraid.
I lift the camera up again but I'm so nervous that I accidentally press the shutter release button before I can compose the image.
That was my first day in the field with the Yakuza, the largest organized crime syndicate in the world.For two years I photographed them. And yes, I had to learn to walk on eggshells. All the time.
To be honest, I have no idea how I pulled it off. It's the single most asked question by friends and strangers alike when they see my book or my images or hear my stories: "how the hell did you pull that off?"
how did you get in? how did you manage to independently publish a book and a magazine? did you design it yourself? how did you attract so much press attention and publications worldwide? how did you pay for all this? there must be some "key" to it, no? do you even speak Japanese?
No, I don't. And no, I didn't know how I had done it. And I got asked these questions so often, that I started to become curious myself, started to think back and see if there was a pattern of sorts. a secret. a key. I mean, I must be doing *something* right. Right?
And I sure would like to know what that is, so I can replicate that for future projects....
It took a long time to think, to finally see it. And I think I have the key now, I think I do. Well I could be wrong of course, as I am wrong about many things, but at least I can say that my theory has been proven right *once*...
So after the friendly golf tournament between two clans, mainly a cover to discuss business on various levels, the family members all go into the bath house to relax. Kaicho, for all intents and purposes the day to day Godfather, invites me in. Completely naked with a towel in one hand constantly wiping off the steam of the lens of the camera in my other hand, I enter the bath area. a dozen members are showering, bathing, relaxing. Huge tattoos, tremendous works of art, are on everyone's backs. So there I am shooting - naked, remember; have you ever done that, it's very weird to have your camera gear in your hand and be shooting but not to be wearing anything. Makes you, uhmmm, in a way, quite conscious of your own body. So there I am shooting, wiping, shooting, and one of the family members behind me starts to laugh. Joined by another. and another. After a few minutes everyone's smiling and laughing and commenting on something that I do not understand...
And then Kaicho walks up to me and says with a big smile, pointing to the really tiny tattoo of a sun on my back which i had done years before, "nice little baby tattoo"... only to burst into even more laughter.
Looking back I see that I have had an extraordinary amount of luck during this project. Too much luck actually. The kind of luck you can't prepare for. Like the bath house story I just told you... as funny as it may seem, things like this happening were so crucial to build up trust, break barriers so to speak, and ultimately, go deeper.
And the more I though about it, the more it became clear to me that the concept of "preparing for a project" had to be redefined for me. It had to be way much broader than what we would think.
If I look back on Yakuza, the key elements that made me "be prepared" so to speak, were long and far apart:
my parents were expats, as kids we got exposed to foreign cultures right from the start
i played golf as a teenager, and again around 30
I went to university to study political philosophy, and witnessed the birth/explosion of the Internet
I have a little sun tattoo on my back
my first job was as a graphic designer at a printer
my brother Malik moved to Tokyo, Japan about a decade ago
my second job was as a web designer at an ad agency
in 2001 i started my own company with friend and kindred spirit Luc, and worked hard for 7 years to create a cool independent team of professionals
in 2008 I met Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey, who became my mentor
Retroactively, I call these "key elements that make me be prepared", because each one of these elements can be linked to a crucial moment in the project. Like my little tattoo and the bath house.
Or my brother being able to lead the negotiations. Or my graphic design years translating into designing book dummies. or the mentorship of David Alan Harvey teaching me the two thumbs up approach. Or the web design company that I run with my friend Luc, that gave me room to pursue this project in the first place. So many things.
But it's of course obvious that you cannot call these elements "preparation", simply because, well, this kind of thing happens independently of any project. This is not "preparation", this is your entire life.
But what if that were the key? What if, your life were your only true asset that can adequately prepare you for your projects?
I mean... this gives a whole new meaning to "it's all about the journey, not about the destination"
In august of 2010,... --> Tell the story of the covert training camps, secret location, sleep in the room with the young recruits and talk about the immense duality that is Yakuza.
What would the images of the training camp mean to me if I had not experienced them first hand? Let's be honest: if I had to choose between experiencing the training camp, or simply having the pictures, I think the former will always win, hands down.
What I actually want to say is: after so many people asked how I could pull it off, and after looking back and thinking about it for a long time,
I found that the person you are and the support you have around you IS the preparation for any project to come, IS the preparation you need for whatever you want to do....
The surprisingly simple search to find and identify your "elements", your strengths *and* your weaknesses, and worship them as the most important thing in your life, knowing they will help you. And trust me, if you let them, they will.
All the rest is practical stuff. (note to self: the practical stuff, at all times, needs to be done relentlessly at 100% with zero margin for error)
In life, it's all about the journey. I guess we all know that, I know that, and yet at the same time I feel it's the hardest thing in the world to do, to learn to focus on the journey and just enjoy the ride.
But I keep on trying, and sometimes it works out.
thanks for listening.
Meet my late grandfather, Antoine Libens. Alfons Libens & Jeanne Degros were his parents. But everyone called him Gaston. Gaston is the reason that I 'm starting my next long term project: The Blue Skies Project.
The Blue Skies Project will become a personal journey, me trying to make sense of something unimaginable. Something unspeakable. Something that took place in Europe 70 years ago, before I was born.
I feel the need to personally understand and place the huge and unimaginable injustice done to so many millions during the years of the Holocaust. A darkest page in human history, yet a page never to be forgotten.
It all started with my grandfather during WWII, when he was a geography student at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium.
One night, when Gaston was home asleep, Nazi soldiers raided the house. In the middle of the night they banged the door and forced their way in. His mother woke up from the noise and pushed him out of bed and out the bedroom window onto the flat roof. The soldiers were on a mission to round up and deport all university students who were member of a certain fraternity, with members active in the resistance.
It didn't take long before the soldiers entered Gaston's bedroom. Though it appeared as if the bed was unslept in, one of the soldiers felt the warm mattress and deducted that he must be hiding somewhere in the immediate surroundings. Outside in the meantime, Gaston had been unable to find a hiding place on the flat roof, the only thing in the nearby being a glass dome shaped window in the roof, behind which he desperately tried to tuck himself away as much as he could. One of the young German soldiers, about the same age as him, opened the bedroom window and climbed out onto the roof.
It was impossible not to spot my grandfather.
And indeed he did. My grandfather peering through the glass, acutely aware that he could as well just be standing up and in plain sight, and the German soldier looking straight back at him. Then It happens. They lock eyes for an instant. Both men in their late teens. Both men black hair. Both men look at each other for an eternity, in which they seem to realize something more, something bigger than that wretched war.
The soldier steps back inside saying "Nein, er ist hier nicht."... the cue for my grandfather to make a run for it. Over different roofs, several houses down the road where he jumps off into a courtyard.
Unfortunately Gaston jumps straight into a dog pen, waking up the dog who starts to bark loudly. It's about 2am now. Gaston frantically tries to keep the dog quiet, eventually succeeds, and stays in the pen literally for several hours, waiting. Hours later, he climbs out of the pen. As he walks back to his house, at the end of the street around the corner, he suddenly gets pulled into a house by one of his neighbors... a woman suspected to be collaborating with Nazi Germany. She pulls him into her house, whispering "Antoine! Hide here, wait, they're still staking out your house waiting for you to return...".
My grandfather's life got saved twice that night. And by two of the most unlikely people to do so.
A tiny story of hope in what were the darkest of days for millions.
(From that moment onwards, everywhere my grandfather went, he was always shown a secret escape route or hiding place... everyone in town and at the university knew they were after him, and all worked together to keep him safe. In the end, he survived the war not being deported.)
I'll be going into detail as to what I intend to do and how I intend to do it, and seek your wisest advice... I'm full on in the research phase now... the photography, the concept, the reason for the title, what I hope to achieve, my fears and aspirations, my sadness, my journey, hopefully my determination to be able to finish this project as i envision it, as that is what I fear the most: emotionally, this might just actually weigh too much upon my shoulders...
I have no answers. But maybe, just maybe, I could provoke good thought.
Lest we never forget.
For years now I've used the concept of a light table for my site. And for me, it stood the test of time. My content was simplified to the max, just one single timeline, and in one glance you could see what was going on with me and my work at any given moment. It even simplified the way I would work in the field: "create the story, Anton, don't think about anything else".
But lately I've been struggling to fit in the different types of things that I do within a story, and at the same time the different ways that I'd like to communicate within a story. The site had just one timeline, and therefore just one possibility. I could not hold any attention to things that had to remain out there longer than being the most recent post, and there was no visual difference between "am important post" and "a little b-roll image".
I ended up posting farther and farther between, always trying to make a new post at least as important as the previous one.... but that obviously quickly became something of an impossible situation.
Now... A New Year, new resolutions, and also time to change this... sorry about the tech talk below, but I need to get this off my chest.
My main goal is to keep my images on my own server, and to have multiple "streams":
That's all i wish for... plus the usual good SEO, integration of social media (fb, twitter, etc) and a shopping cart.
I chose to shop around for the best possible premium theme I could find with a good mix of typography and room for images (the so called "photography themes", while great for images, sadly often neglect the text/typography part). No need to reinvent the wheel... let me focus on the content instead. There are so many amazing themes out there that are a perfect base to start from. I ended up purchasing the Echo theme by Onioneye over on themeforest. Nice and light and I suspect perfectly suited for my needs.
This is the structure for my way of working, which I hope will stand the test of time as well: each project has its own overview page, its own blog category (with posts on a timeline, a blog like we all know), and also its own product category (also with posts, but styled differently, as "products"). Sounds pretty obvious now that I read it, but it took me a while to figure out :-/
antonkusters.com/projectx/ will be the landing page for a project (like YAKUZA), where I describe the project in general terms, show a few images, and link to the following two things: the projectx-category in the blog section, and the projectx-category in the product section:
antonkusters/category/projectx/ projectx category in the blog section
antonkusters/post-about-something-going-on-in-projectx/ single blog posts will always be only %post-name% to optimize SEO as much as possible (since WP 3.3 this has no more performance issues)
antonkusters/portfolio-category/projectx/ for all the work/products (tangible things, like the ODO YAKUZA TOKYO book) that are part of projectx
antonkusters/portfolio-category/product-typex/ for all the work/products (tangible things) that are categorized as a product-type (books, prints, publications, exhibits,...)
antonkusters/portfolio/productx for a specific product (which obviously always must belong to a project)
I could have (maybe should have?) made a distinction between "pages" and "posts" by adding /blog/ for all posts. But I want blog posts and (timeless) pages to be as important as one another, thus on the same level URL wise, and SEO wise.
Enough with all the behind the scenes tech stuff. I guess I just needed to write this to seek your opinions, and to get it out of my head as well... Tell me, what do you think, does the above sound like a good structure to build upon? If you want to show multiple long term projects, talk about each of them along they way, and each yielding different "products" at different times?
Yes... I know... I should be concentrating on the thing the REALLY matters... creating new work. But for me, knowing that I have the structure behind my work down, gives me tremendous peace of mind to go out an do what I love.
Even if I know that above all, creating new work scares the heck out of me. Standing in front of that fresh empty new canvas, knowing that yes, NOW, I have to deliver. But that's food for thought a next post.
Damn.... I can't wait to get out there.... and I hope you'll be joining me in my journeys in 2012. I sure as hell love having you around. I promise I'll post much more often this year :o)
My best wishes for this new year, may it make your wildest dreams come true,
In the mean time, my switch to squarespace has rendered this post obsolete. Well, sort of... I still use three "journals" to : a general "news" (me talking about my projects), "appearances" (listing everywhere my projects - and I - appear) and "things" (listing the things I create within any given project, like a book, posters, an exhibit,...) Of course all of these journals are categorized by project whenever needed.
It’s been 3 months now since I’ve been home, and I’ve started wondering about some things. Even though I'm full on taking care of the distribution of my ODO YAKUZA TOKYO book and images and having great fun doing it and meeting the press and other super interesting people (more on that one soon), I’m starting to feel the need to slowly get into new projects. Broaden my horizon. Deepen my photography. Read more. Learn more. My great-grandparents, even though I never knew them, are right now in my studio looking at me and telling me I'll be fine, but that I've thought things through long enough now. Time to get to work.
Beirut is playing The Rip Tide.
It’s a funny state of mind I'm in... I recognize it so clearly from three years ago, when a little voice in the back of my head made me decide to go for the YAKUZA project. Just as YAKUZA was only inside my head then, right now all these new ideas are only inside my head. Some of them nothing more than a feeling; a longing to learn more about something. A deceptively small and fragile thing. A seedling.
And the hard part I know will begin right now: to try and shape those little ideas into something tangible, into hopefully that real thing, to take it out of my head and put it out there for everyone else to see and become real.
To me, the best way to actually start my new projects is simply... to tell everyone that I'm going to start them.
So there you go. Make it public. Get it out of your head and start talking to people about it. Make those first pictures and show them. This is the moment the lingering stops. The moment my great-grandparents tell me: good, at least you're doing something now. And it's also the moment that the ideas that will forever remain ideas, suddenly hide and stay inside my head, while the "possible" ones come out and maybe become reality.
You know that feeling when for the very first time you talk to someone else about a new project? And while you're talking you instantly feel that, no matter how much you thought it through, there are holes and illogical things all over the place. You feel nervous and scared and almost ashamed laying out that little seedling of an idea.... it seems like your confidence is gone all over again... you stutter.
But doing this is so necessary for me. I feel that an idea can only be really put to the test through dialogue with others.
I need to do this with people who understand what you’re doing, yet at the same time are not too personally involved. And I need to do this repeatedly. It’s like I have to have a secret group of human touchstones to talk about different aspects an idea. Some people don’t have anything to do with photography... others are seasoned pros... mentors... and mother of course... and some who do not even know they are giving me advice in the first place. It’s all meant to happen naturally. And after a certain time, when the feedback has sufficient mass, I'll stop being scared and slowly start to believe the project might be possible. I'll be able to voice my idea eloquently. This is the moment when I start believing that the idea can be "possible"... From then on, considerations become more practical and real and that's when I hope everything hopefully will be able to fit within my daily life and duties and existing projects... Like anyone, I don't live in a bubble, however attractive that would seem.
Of course, seeking feedback from all of you here is a crucial step in this all, and something I'll be going into over the next couple of weeks: laying out these new projects and talking about them, sharing my excitement and insecurity at the same time. You guys will be the ones to see my thinking all come together. And maybe see it fall apart too... So hold your hats...
As a teaser, here is a sampling of what's about to come, off the top of my head. All are working titles, and I might be forgetting some, or some you might have heard of already:
YAKUZA original prints and posters as part of the YAKUZA project
Dislocate my personal long term photographic project, back in full force
Heavens a long term photographic project - collaboration
My Machine a mid term personal photographic project
Skippas a mid term personal photographic project
Twelve a short term photographic project - collaboration
... ...and more will pop into my head I'm sure...
I know, it seems impossible to start all these in one go... it would be like an explosion... some projects are light and full of life, some are extremely dark and heavy and full of death... but I'm in no rush... we'll see what works out. One by one, slowly....... I for one am SO super excited. Looks like a photographic new year's resolution in a way... smiling... and hoping I'll be at least able to start the massive and incomprehensible "heavens"... that's the one to look out for.
Bon Iver playing Perth now.