November 22, 2016Read More
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
May 15, 2016Read More
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.
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 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.
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.
From the 21st of March to the 25th I'll be teaching the photography students of LUCA School of Arts in Genk (BE) during a special project week.
We'll be dealing with many behind-the-scenes things like self publishing, how to deal with a long term project, how to connect to and grow your audience, how to run it like a business,... and of course how to work your @ss off and get lucky.
The Bachelor and Master candidates will also be shooting an assignment during the same week, and we'll be mounting a pop-up exhibit on Friday with the results.
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...).
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.
Kind words by Ben van Alboom in De Standaard dS Weekblad for the opening of my exhibit in Antwerp:
January 23 - March 12, 2016Read More