Feb 04, 2017 @ 12:07 CET

Dear Ivan,

The boy stands on the stage. Silent. Mute. He cannot speak, yet he has a world to say. His arms limp beside him like a shirt hanging to dry on a day too hot with no wind, the sun beating down making everything heavy even that one white linen shirt that always moves in the slightest of breezes like little ripples in a pond now stays still as a statue commemorating, contextualising present with past. The spotlight blinds him.

The audience disappears before his eyes. He is alone now. Inside himself. Time slows down until things barely seem to move at all. The audience caged captured. This very instant, this microscopic moment in time, in these too young and powerless arms, in these blind eyes, in this mute voice, the boy holds an impossibility. Breathing halts.

Then he begins. Carries and shapes the weight of an entire world. For what he feels. The audience resists, unwilling to hand over what they remember once shaping carrying in the same way. They see reflected their own blindness, their own powerless arms, their own mute voices. They see the boy fighting like they fought. With everything he’s got. They see he gives it all.

The boy stands on the stage. But he does not wait to be given to. He has already taken what is his. He is already speaking. He can already see. His arms are already powerful, already shaping the world to come. It is the only way. Standing on many shoulders, he trusts with his life, and demands the same.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal and @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Jan 28, 2017 @ 11:35 EST

Dear Anton,

What happens to us when we can no longer trust the curators? We know that, in our webs of perception and interpretation, we necessarily apply our own filters, and we misguide ourselves, for truths are difficult to find and slippery to hold. As curators and editors we are fallible, and we struggle to compare the visions we have to all the others we encounter.

And then there is the issue of intent. While we are wise to our frailties, our failures of vision, some realize that they can benefit by manipulating others. And because each of us is granted only a peephole through which to see, we cannot clearly perceive the manipulation surrounding us. This is the situation we find ourselves in today, and it leads to the corrosion of trust of our networks of perception, and then of each other.

This corrosion undermines our attempts at collective action. It is precisely this moment that leads to isolation, frustration and confusion, and that cracks communities. For even after a day such as the Women’s March, in which millions peacefully disavow the rising fascism of our current authorities, the next choice will be harder. Some will opt for appeasement, which will shift the norms of acceptable behavior. Others will chose violence, and argue for its justification. Either path might lead to further restrictions, such as the shameful controls on asylum and migration we are everywhere seeing, and the criminalization of protest, and checks on the use of public space, and the pervasive surveillance of our communications networks, all of which only accelerate mistrust.

Yes, we force meaning onto reality, as you say. And already, and always, those meanings shift our futures in ways wondrous, consequential, and sometimes devastating. Even as we debate and argue over whose vision will dominate, we know that no one truly is in control, and that our struggles will play out between conflicting visions for how we should live.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal and @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Jan 18, 2017 @ 09:22 CET

Dear Ivan,

We need life curators to survive. We trust them to pre-process that part for us from raw data to information to meaning, so we can spend less energy having to do it ourselves. And vice versa, we fulfil this role in certain ways for others, too. It’s a simple and effective survival system which saves time and energy, and scales well. We give our trust to others because we need to, and we will do so time and again, because it works.

Life is indeed a dream. Only once in a while we get the chance to stand in our treetop, push that fig leaf aside and have a clear view of our true context and reality. All other times, we’re wading through the molasses of reality itself, with never a full sense of the complete context surrounding us. But then again, it would be impossible to be fully aware all the time. It would be intolerable, impossible to process. We’d be stifled by the thought of every possible catastrophic butterfly effect we’d set in motion. We’d be essentially rendered still, immobilised and impossible to move, for fear of future history.

So our mind unfreezes us by turning a blind eye to realities that we know are there, but that take up too much processing time to continually keep on our foreground. We learn to guesstimate the boundaries within which we wade, and our awareness of overlapping contexts, our ability to think inside a different one and our willingness to do so, defines us.

We could conclude that we’re continually in a dream of sorts inside this reality. Like a kaleidoscope we apply our Personal Great Filter to everything we see. We force meaning onto reality with great ease, changing and colouring it along the way, shaping ourselves subconsciously over a lifetime, continually adding to or subtracting from the weight we carry, giving us wings or chaining us to the ground.

No reality will stand between us and what we want to see.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Jan 10, 2017 @ 11:24 EST

Dear Anton,

It seems to me that our information age has entered a period of profound nostalgia. With the growth of digital networks overlaying our societies, we have the ability to communicate with any individual or group, and we have bypassed the imagined sense of a center fostered by our previous, mass communications structure. While the disequilibrium accompanying our networked communications is a powerful force in the structuring of our societies, in our discourse we often see a longing for a time with less complexity, and moral clarity.

Our current period is marked with a sort of hysteria around our perception of events, how they seem to be accelerating and compounding at rates beyond our ability to comprehend them. As if every story we tell is overwhelmed the clamoring of millions of other voices, and we can no longer hear ourselves.

Our diagnoses of this phenomenon often seek to narrow and name causality. We blame technology, or monopolistic companies or industries, or foreign powers, or intelligence agencies, or deceptive advertisers, or vigilante mobs, or mainstream news media. Each effort of analysis may be narrowly true within the frame of a specific argument, but zoom out to examine the larger arc of our discourse, and we see instead our moral anxieties; it turns out that our diagnostics themselves contain pathologies.

In response, we double down on verities. we idealize the storyteller, the truth-seeker, the investigative journalist, the ascetic living in a tiny apartment. Anyone who seems to have the qualities of a seer, who can penetrate our abstractions and complexities. The idea that one true story might change a life, that we might transform or actualize ourselves.

And what might be the alternative? If abstract analysis leads us to blame impersonal forces, and individual stories and details seem irrelevant? All I know is that I woke this morning to a voice in my head, life is a dream, life is a dream. And then I thought, what then, is a dream? And then I fell asleep again.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Jan 05, 2017 @ 11:39 CET

Dear Ivan,

I’ve often fallen victim to this moral anxiety as well, fruitlessly trying to be efficient and “organised”, with the myth being that one can be in control by doing so. It seems to be closely related to the recent adage of “being busy” that people use. I often catch myself feeling that same anxiety whenever I can’t display a kind of “busy-ness” I see others displaying.

But “being busy” isn’t a statement of an actual reality, rather a wish to be perceived a certain way. It is unfortunately a most meaningless statement, at best masking other things, basically trying to avoid social disproval.

Again that “wish to be perceived in a certain way”, made clear by our hopeful actions to achieve status within the group, historically literally the group of people physically around us, now effectively a worldwide group of billions on social media. Yet it seems that our continuous and superfluous attempts at constructing a reality around ourselves haven’t evolved in the same way as the complexity and magnitude of the context we’re communicating in.

The same problem existed in The Great War of 1914-1918: the (then) new weapons of destruction introduced a new previously unimaginable scale and way of killing, and we simply did not know how to cope. Our strategies and tactics were ancient by comparison, reminiscent of the ways we used to wage war long before that. They hadn’t evolved in the same way. I found it very interesting to learn that this massive discrepancy between weapons and tactics is one of the principle reasons for the death toll in World War I.

We refuse to accept that we actually have no clue what we’re doing. Maybe wisdom is just that: not knowledge by itself, not that elusive Homo Universalis last embodied by Michelangelo, but the understanding that we are extremely limited in our knowing. Wisdom might be a sensitivity of understanding not things, but the why of things.

I’m having coffee and staring at the tablecloth pattern before me.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal and @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dec 29, 2016 @ 12:58 EST

IMG_7232.JPG

Dear Anton,

As I think about your cranes and presses, of their finely tuned efficiencies, and how we contort ourselves in order to operate them, it seems to me that the machines we build have become engines for our moral ordering. Maybe they are the embodiments of our inner Victorians, and that would make sense, for it was among the products of 19th century industry, the great iron arcades and train stations, that the Victorians worked, wandered and played. And it was also the Victorians who took early colonial systems and mechanized them, from the building of railways across India, to the rational cities that signified colonial authority. The British built the ordered ranks of Civil Lines, neighborhoods for their expatriated, and then New Delhi, a new governmental center planned with geometric precision in the model of Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City, perhaps the epitome of the rational separation of work from living.

Today we aim our models of efficiency at ourselves, not only our time-saving tools but our stratagems to enforce a pace of work, or to deny ourselves access to our endorphic pleasures. We have apps that sound alarms if the user falls below a certain word count, or cause earlier writing to vanish, melding efficiency with fear of failure, and creating a particular sort of moral panic. And yet we find that our non-ordered selves leak out of our systems; the more we enforce discipline for a time, the more difficult it is to maintain control later – we binge, sleep, drink, fight, dream.

I wonder, in all this, how the idea of wisdom even fits. And I start to think that the kaleidoscopic visions that we celebrate for their seeming ability to shift our perspective might also be a kind of trick we play upon ourselves. Maybe they are just another mechanism we employ to enforce a kind of order upon our atavistic selves, as light is broken into fragments and shards, and then reconstructed into something we can see and name.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters. @ivansigal and @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dec 14, 2016 @ 11:31 CET

Dear Ivan,

The crane in the distance turns slowly, delivering its load. I’ve always been partly perplexed by cranes, not because of my youthful wish to be a cool crane operator, but because they just never seem to actually be in operation all that often. You see them move once in a while, on some days, and even then they move quite slowly. Observations from a distance of course, we know that the efficiency of using a crane is many factors larger than continually hauling things by hand.

I used to work at a printing press as a pre-press operator and graphic designer. The sheetfed offset presses in the next room had in my mind a much simpler efficiency gauge: they needed to be kept running 24/7. every minute a press didn’t run, one could tell exactly how much money we were losing. We quickly learned not to make any typesetting mistakes.

The huge presses up close with their deafening sounds churning out 12000 copies per hour, or the tiny crane in the distance moving slowly, seemingly lazily. Both equally fulfilling their efficiency potential, the difference only being my coincidental – and one could say ignorant – viewpoint. So it's all about my perspective then, how I look at things, from which distance I look at things, where I come from, where I’m going, who I am.

Cranes and presses are easy. But what about people, society, culture, family, history? The unavoidable conclusion is that there’s no possible way that I could be looking objectively at anything at all. I myself am by definition subjective, a complex ever-changing aggregate of the influences bestowed upon me since birth.

I fly through my reality with much the same sensation of speed, connecting, asking questions all the time, trying to understand, all the while bombing with my judgements, and that incessant worry that I am not as wise as I should be. 

In the cockpit the sun blinds me. I press the shutter and release another bloody blossom maker, and hope for salvation.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal and @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dec 08, 2016 @ 16:22 EST

Dear Anton,

Something about flying makes us feel vulnerable. Perhaps it’s obvious – the effects of speed, of altitude, of proximity to others. Recently on a flight I watched a documentary on the making of Steve McQueen’s gorgeous, doomed film about Le Mans. McQueen was obsessed with capturing the feeling of speed, and devised unusual technical solutions to mount cameras on cars. Watching his sequences of the jittery blur of the guardrail, the rhythmic flash of road markings, the swooping curves, intensified by the shaking and whine of the flight,  I momentarily lost my balance.

The theorist Paul Virilio describes this condition as dromographic, an unsettled euphoria triggered by the sight of static landscapes while moving at speed. This is the perspective of the passenger, of the voyeur, of the driver and the pilot, and creates in us feelings of attraction and loss that lead to emotional catharsis.

In Marinetti’s Futurist manifesto he asserts that “a racing car… is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace,” referencing a statue of the Greek goddess Nike. It is the Futurists who show us how to perceive speed by displacing the sequential narrative with the shifting perspective of the viewer, or the camera, or the pilot.

I read recently that Mussolini’s son Vittorio flew bombers in the Abyssinian war. He describes an attack: “I dropped an aerial torpedo right in the centre, and the group opened up just like flowering rose.” It’s an extraordinary cinematic evocation: the propeller’s hum, the bomb’s long arc, the bloody scattering of victims, the plane’s onward course, and the fragrant, corrupting equivocation of killing and blossoming.

And this brings to mind a film I saw recently, of a Syrian boy whose community was the target of a bombing. He’s being interviewed, the camera shakes and pivots, he speaks of his dismembered grandmother, gestures to the rubble, to the sky. And then he inverts Vittorio’s line. Of his family, he says, “all of them were so beautiful, they gave off the scent of musk.”

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal and @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Nov 27, 2016 @ 13:43 CET

Dear Ivan,

Time is indeed appearing to slow down. The deep Japanese “mono no aware” feeling of the cycle of life and acceptance of fleeting moments arrives in full force, gently nudging me to introspect and take stock.

This stock taking relies on the same rationalisation we use for the world around us, trying to make sense of it. We just turn it inside out upon ourselves and how we fit in. It’s a cue to climb up that tree we talked about a few times already, to see your path past and your hopes forward.

But this rationalisation suffers. We can only understand what we can describe with language, and we also have an impossible draw to move solely in those parts of the world that affirm our already existing beliefs. It is a circle not necessarily flawed but always in danger to be. Checks and balances, just like for those who govern us, are needed here too. Are we deluding ourselves in blind optimism? Or are we stifling ourselves believing to be powerless by outside factors only? However hard I try, I cannot simply choose to break out of the bubble of my own continually fluid reality.

And once in a while a tiny event pushes me momentarily out of my bubble and makes me see things differently. Those events are rare, and those moments offer to see an impossibly complex different take on reality as a whole, one seemingly more true, more balanced.

In those moments I can see the actual complexity of my reality, but I cannot hold on to it long enough to fully flesh it out, dissect it, take it in, learn. But then again, by doing that I would be using the exact same flawed rationalisation all over again which those moments dispel. So I learn to accept the gentle sadness of having recognised a moment soon to pass.

I can’t wait for the snow. I love the fleeting, equalising veil it lays down over reality. The colonised, the broken, the hibernating.

Oh, by the way: Hamilton or Rosberg? I like them both.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal and @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Nov 20, 2016 @ 13:29 EST

Dear Anton,

The snow has arrived early in northern New York, near the mountains, where I am now. All the tropes of wintry comfort are here: the hissing fire, the hush, the spindrifts, the weighed branches embowering us in the forest, the glowing windows of distant neighbors. I would like to say that I am slowing the tempo of my mind, and that with the cold we could adopt the seasonal pose of rest and darkness. Though now does not seem the time for hibernation.

The frenetic claims and accusations in the registers of our civic life, the smug victors, the sorrows and recriminations of the defeated. In all this we may read too much meaning into the results of our flawed politics, of our imperfect systems for choosing our leaders. For we are less empowered in our elections than we would like to believe. A vote is a weak proxy for our hopes, or for bridging the gap between needs we perceive and the systems we create to address them. Saying this does not mean the possible effects are less drastic; that the decisions we’ve taken won’t pull apart the current world order. We have seen societies break too many times to delude ourselves that some abstract historical force will guide us to safety and progress.

To your point about the next wave of categorizations of what some perceive as a new demographic, I read recently that the Latin root of colonization – colere – is to cultivate, classify or order. And it seems to me that we don’t just build categories and systems for our societies in order to subdue and manage them, but that we colonize ourselves with our rationalizations and plans. That we worry and rub our edges, and fit ourselves into the descriptions we receive, or create for others. And what of the people who refuse categorization? Will they be broken?

And then the counterpoint, we humans as animals in our burrows and warrens, seeking warmth and safety, twitching and sighing in our dreamy sleep.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal and @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Nov 10, 2016 @ 11:35 CET

IMG_7875.jpg

Dear Ivan,

In light of yesterday’s events, there is undoubtedly a lot to say. Where to begin. I’ve been silent for an entire day yesterday, thinking. I had hoped that the worldwide trend set in motion since several years would not manifest itself powerfully enough to actually overturn the 2016 US presidential election.

Yet, I had also resigned to the realisation that in that case, said reality would be completely ignored by the victor, only making matters worse for society in the long run. In conclusion, and in hindsight, it seems like this was the only possible wake up call left.

I do not know what to do with this wake up call. I have many ideas of course, but there are probably much smarter people who will do better things and make better decisions. In the end I do believe, even if this turns out to become a darker age – which I somehow doubt, but then again, who am I to judge – that whatever is happening is absolutely to society’s benefit in the long run. The pendulum swings.

My only fear is that political organisations are now re-making the same mistake they always have, frantically working to accurately describe this “new found demographic” (for lack of a better word), that they then can – at best – connect to, or – at worst – electorally exploit.

This “new demographic” will soon thought to be analysed and understood, the people quantified, and put into a box. A new definition will be found, cutting through the traditional lines of income, gender, race, sexual orientation, class and what not. The feeling of someone proclaiming they understand you, being the very reason for the uprising in the first place.

What if we would stop trying to categorise, for a little while.

I’m leaving for Amsterdam now. Visiting dear friends, and looking to purchase a bicycle with a good personality.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal and @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Nov 03, 2016 @ 05:12 EST

Dear Anton, 

It’s early, today in New York. I woke thinking about velocity. The speed of a pulse, of a neuron firing, of the city’s oscillating hum, of jet engines, their comforting whine. The tempo of each could be a measure. It’s been a month of travel: Madrid, Barcelona, Carrara, rural Pennsylvania, New York, soon, California, which is to say, a month like others. I’m in one of my favorite New York rooms, a cavernous brick space with high ceilings and a constellation of lightbulbs above, in a building where I worked years ago, when it housed New York’s public television station. It just occurs to me that this might have been a studio. The reconstruction of this building its own wave pattern, a slower oscillation, the rise of cities, their crumbling.

I was thinking about your comparison of the pace of a relationship with other rhythms: of your work, of the body’s decay, of cesium-133. And here, a giant flickering screen in a corner of the room, and on it appears an old friend who’s running for Congress. Her politics ask us to slow down, to consider the local, to prioritize the human. It occurs to me that despite our differences, most people still follow a common human rhythm built upon relationships, even in extreme circumstances. I wonder whether the ideologues we’ve been discussing admit friendship in their lives, whether the techno-social dreams they’ve pursued sustain relationships, or shred them.

In all this, I’ve realized that the last image I sent was precisely of velocity. I had been thinking of it as a tunnel with no light. Even as I was writing about speed, I was blind to the evident presence of speed. Another wave, another tempo, this one subconscious. And nearby, in the periphery, the giant screen, the flickering and pulsing of our politics, the jump cuts blindingly fast, in reds and blues, television hosts shouting us into submission, their skin orange, their teeth chemically white.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal and @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Oct 27, 2016 @ 17:29 CET

Dear Ivan,

I ran into a long lost friend recently. We run into each other regularly, but not very often. Let’s say, once every couple of years. Just long enough to have some bigger things to catch up on.

I often worry about not having the means to create as much as I’d like to, forcing me to shelve my mind and hopefully preserve it. And when projects finally get into that execution phase, I always feel like they have a speed that is alien to reality. I know it’s really only me and my perception of time, and my inability to not constantly be weighed down by the immediacy of things. Why does everything always seem to stand still yet move so fast.

And then I meet my friend, and it’s been about two years. How’ve you been? OK and you? OK too, and what are you up to these days? This and this… and you? This and this… and while she’s talking and I’m talking, she smiles and I do too. We realise that all’s well, that we have our ups and downs yes of course, but that we’re also slowly moving forward in a meaningful way.

The dark monster of immediacy is a paradox to me. Time itself is a constant thing, that cesium-133 atom oscillating relentlessly 9,192,631,770 times per second ticking away tick tock - do you realise that we only live for about 4500 weeks - but experiencing time moves in different cycles. Looking back on a life, I wish there were a way to measure those variable cycles. Sometimes slow, sometimes fast, maybe they should be called years instead of what years are now.

And now I’ve arrived at my first atomic half life. Everything from here on halved like carbon in ever increasing speed, every time murderously halving the time I have left. Immediacy yet again.

A new manifesto. I hereby declare that time is precious, but not too precious. We’re only permitted to realise this preciousness every so often, so as not to be constantly frozen by it, frantically trying to hold on to something that is meant to be forever slipping through our fingers in the first place.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal and @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Oct 20, 2016 @ 18:31 EST

Dear Anton,

Manifestos, it seems to me, tend to close off dialogue. Commandments, cut into stone. Declarations of intent, of ideology, of scope which say: the thinking is settled, and now it is time to act. I wonder if it is possible to construct a manifesto that admits continued discussion of its fundaments. That might be a solipsism, or a snake eating its tail.

We could for instance consider the implicit structure of a conversation, and seek to make it manifest. As an inductive or incremental search for meaning. As layers or accretions of thought. As actions which then lead to ideas, rather than a grand statement, and then action.

Precedent for this approach exists, though it, as with so much else, has political associations. For instance the Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo posits the idea of “weak ontology” or “fragile thought,” which proceeds in steps. Vattimo’s also a Marxist politician seeking to reclaim communism from the Soviets, and willing to advocate for political violence, for instance in his support for Hamas. Others, perhaps less troubling, include Antonioni’s fragments, passages, and weak narratives. Or the tempo of slow food movement, started by another leftist Italian, Carlo Petrini.

Curiously, and in opposition, Futurism’s violence against the past is expressed as speed: “We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed.” I guess it’s no surprise that the dueling manifestos of the Italian Communists and Fascists should seek opposing metaphors. More interesting that some on the left have moved away from grand narratives – after all, industry and speed are also hallmarks of Soviet Communist imagery.

And of course, “eternal speed”, like endless space, can’t be measured, as it exists without time. For we use time to measure distance – the rotation of the earth, its orbit around the sun. Odd then that we experience time as a progression towards the unknown, as distance that can’t be measured, because we only know its length in hindsight.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Oct 6, 2016 @ 12:12 CET

Dear Ivan,

Glorification of the future is something I’ve been coming across a lot lately, especially now that I’m reading up on Metabolism, the Japanese architectural movement that literally rose from the tabula rasa that Japan was confronted with - and sought out herself - on many levels in the first half of the twentieth century.

The Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, Japan’s outright imperialism in the 1930s and the firebombing and atomic bombing of cities in 1945 all created vast, empty, laden landscapes.

Metabolism, rooted in non-political left-wing ideals, saw in these happenings an opportunity to rebuild the future as they envisioned – and hoped for. An architectural utopian dream of New Urbanism in a sense, with at its core the almost biological self sustainability and adaptability to change. The ever present existentialist concept of impermanence in Japanese culture. Nothings lasts, so be ready to change along the way.

Architect Kenzo Tange played a key role by lifting up Japanese architecture beyond the then existing duality of Functionalism vs traditionalism, essentially laying the foundations for the movement he was spearheading. Metabolism disappeared after Expo ’70. Its greatest success, its core ideals becoming part of “mainstream” thinking about architecture and urbanisation, was also its inevitable demise.

What struck me most is that they published a manifesto in 1960. A statement made up of four essays by four members, each presenting their thoughts behind an architectural concept.

A manifesto… it’s something we shy away from nowadays, for fear of making statements that we might need to recant. But maybe we need to have more of these theoretical artistic public statements again.

Not to promote our work, but to talk about our intentions, our motives, our beliefs. make bold claims of changes that we strive for, not changes that need come true, but show a commitment, a deep original thinking about this world we live in.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Sep 30, 2016 @ 14:51 EST

Dear Anton,

As with your imagined farewell in Kyushu, the Russians sit in silence prior to leave-taking. I have often sat that way, on suitcases or on the edges of chairs, near the doorway. I wonder about your absent couple and their memories, the outward-pointing slippers suggesting a departure, and whether they even recalled that gesture, years later. Something about the wash of light in your image of their house reminds me that forgetting can bring relief.

You may know that Ezra Pound wrote many of the Cantos in Rapallo, on the Liguria coast. It wasn’t long after he moved to Italy that he dedicated himself to Mussolini, and I was reminded, reading his stanza in your last note, that the Italian Futurists both influenced and were inseparable from fascism. Marinetti, the author of the Futurist Manifesto, wrote “art…can be nothing but violence, cruelty, and injustice,” and in this he was expressing approval, for he also described war as “the world’s only hygiene.” At the same time, the fractured assemblages of futurism cracked the pictorial approach to images, just as the many-voiced narratives of modernist poets taught us to view history prismatically.

How it is that the glorification of the future by these artists is attended by support for mass violence is an enduring puzzle. For in principle I also approve of the shattering of received narratives. Perhaps the problem is not modernity, but the nature of its glorification. It is one thing to observe the slow degradation of memory or the collapse of wooden buildings into ruins, as with your rural villages in Japan. It is another to actively seek their destruction, to forcibly erase memory. Though it is hard for me to not see nostalgia in an image of a wooden village decaying in the woods.

And Pound, captured after the war, going mad after being held for weeks in an outdoor American prison near Pisa, in a steel cage that prefigures Guantanamo Bay. I imagine him there, half-feral, decanting his verse to the open sky. 

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Sep 25, 2016 @ 20:42 CET

Dear Ivan,

For the longest time, something didn’t sit right with me about those slippers on the porch of that abandoned house in Kyushu. Why were they there in the first place? And why were they still there then? it made no sense. Only much later did it occur to me that it was a subtle yet powerful statement of powerlessness.

It must have been a final gesture. And that gesture must have been understood by every curious visitor after: that abandoned house, torn down by the elements for years, slowly falling apart, and yet the slippers stayed there, untouched on the doorstep, left in peace, a metaphor for something I didn’t fully understand.

The meaning of the wooden entrance sill, the agarikamachi, was always subtle but crucial. It was the precise intermediate threshold where one stepped up onto, up from the kutsunugi-ishi (the shoe-removing stone) and then moved on to the raised wooden board floor of the room. The entrance sill, a symbolic delimiter between two boundary spaces; there’s no way that these slippers were a coincidence.

They resonated with me that morning. I managed an image, but it seems impossible to express the full depth of this final act of leaving one’s slippers behind to almost imperceptibly express an uncertain future. Maybe I should invent a new language like the Voynich manuscript you mentioned, or Xu Bing in his Tiānshū and Dì Shu books: a book that nobody can understand, followed by a book that everyone can understand. What a feat.

I would have loved to be there with the couple on the day that they were leaving, and sit together. Have a final cup of tea, open the sliding shutters of the veranda, and stare into the distance together. The impermanence of a moment of perfect symbiosis between the inside and outside world. The Imagism of Ezra Pound comes to mind, stripping to the barest essence in the same way:

“Do not move
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀Let the wind speak. ⠀⠀
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ that is paradise.”

I’m sure the birds sang beautifully that morning.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal and @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Sep 21, 2016 @ 17:19 EST

Dear Anton,

A few days ago I visited the Beinecke Rare Book Library, at Yale University. The building is an opaque cube, as the architect used thin sheets of Vermont marble in place of windows. Light filters through the marble, creating a subtle external pressure, and a cool glow that triggers a sense of activity outside the silent archives within.

The books are housed in a multi-story, climate-controlled glass casing, a second hermetic barrier to protect the collection. While the  library is famous for its Gutenberg Bible and its Audobon’s Birds of America, I was drawn to the documentary ephemera of artists, writers and historical figures. The building is metaphorically a marble skull which preserves jostled and careworn scraps of thought, layers of stone and glass to mimic bone and myelin. The objects here include sketchbooks, handwritten memoirs, letters, engravings, music manuscripts, film and glass plate negatives, lantern slides, photographic silver prints, ambrotypes, tintypes, daguerrotypes, autochromes, holographs, posters, pamphlets, maps, codex, ledgers, illustrations, stamps, papyri, tankas, tarot cards and many other artifacts.

A quick scan of the catalogue reveals the letters of O’Keefe and Stieglitz, the handwritten memoir of a “haunted convict”, court sketches of the Black Panther trial, glass stereotypes by the photographer Carleton Watkins, the letters of Ezra Pound, the scrapbooks of the Italian futurist Marinetti, a syllabary in Cherokee, and the infamous Voynich Manuscript. The library has thoughtfully created hi-res digital scans of that book, filled with watercolors of unknown botanicals, astral diagrams, progressions of nudes encased in womblike spheres, cosmologies, drawings of medicinal herbs, and an undeciphered, looping handwritten text. As I was drawn into its riddles, I began to see this book, focused on the vegetal, the sexual, the metaphysic, as something wild, captured by the Beinecke’s platonic proportions, as a rational mind resists the improbable.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Sep 14, 2016 @ 20:30 CET

Dear Ivan,

Incipient age indeed… maybe we should measure our age, not in years and the expectancies that come along with them, but in the frequency of irreversible things happening to our bodies and minds, the little resignations we make along the way, subconsciously stacking one on top of another until suddenly we realise and wonder.

This year was one of them. Three different mechanical defects. On three separate occasions a physician told me there wasn’t much else to do but to accept. A too early decay. Nothing life altering or life threatening or anything like that, but large enough to have to make adjustments. And so it goes.

It would be fascinating to x-ray an entire mountain. I picture a mountain like a head, the quarry like a mouth, the marble like a chipped tooth. Surveyors have had a difficult time estimating the remaining marble left inside the Carrara mountain because of all the rubble, but consensus is that at the current rate of approximately a million tonnes cut away every year, there still is marble left for several centuries to come.

And of course your fig leaf makes me wonder what’s behind it. Fig leafs seemingly block our views and paths, but this is actually only true because we always feel the urgency to know what lies ahead. But having a perfect view of our future path won't make us calm down. It'll only make us want to change that path, because we’ll never be content with it anyway.

Maybe it’s the general attitude of walking towards something instead of walking away from something that resonates with me. Again, the difficult balance between history, present and future. Memory, feeling and hope working together intricately. Who we are and who we want to be, and how desperately we cling on to the image we have of ourselves and the path we want for ourselves.

The changing of a season. Accepting myself, not so perfect as I imagined, having turned my lensless eye on myself. Walking.

// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal and @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Sep 10, 2016 @ 13:58 EST

image.jpg

Dear Anton,

I realized this morning that we in this hemisphere sit on the shoulder of a season, and that as with other phase shifts, turbulence is likely. Your prismatic energy at the end of your most recent trip reminds me that passions without objects scatter and dissipate. They are what we exhale, what we have exhausted. Perhaps this makes space for what comes next, but letting go can leave us bemused.

In like manner, a few weeks ago, without warning, a tooth chipped. Then the next day, my jaw displaced, a disc sliding forward and leaving me unable to align my teeth, or chew. A common ailment, but this time they didn’t realign, and this felt somehow significant, as if I had reached some juncture. I recalled the common reading of dreams about crumbling teeth symbolizing loss of control, decay, incipient age. And then I noticed that it was almost autumn and I had seen the first wooly caterpillars of the season.

After some time I visited an oral surgeon, who made a panoramic X-ray of my jaw and skull. For this, he used a type of rotating digital imaging system known as a pantomogram, which encircles the subject’s head and creates a tomographic composite, which is then flattened into two dimensions for diagnostic analysis. Tomography, or imaging by sections with a penetrating wave, allows us to see the structural underpinnings of objects. I started thinking about our mountain of marble in Carrara, and how we might X-ray an entire topography, what devices or approximations would allow us to see inside that scarred, dissected hillside.

The X-ray showed, among other things, a wearing of the edges of my jawbones from use. And with that I remembered that I had preserved a fig leaf that I used to make a photogram several months ago. I had been watching its progression as it dried and curled, yet retained its chlorophyll. Its surface now marled, its veins climbing the ridges formed by its desiccation.

// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters. @ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///