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

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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

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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 ///

Sept 04, 2016 @20:07 CET

Dear Ivan,

The potholes you describe, that reflex-like looking at only the moment, is exactly what I’ve been forced to do, having relentlessly driven 16,000 kilometres in the last month alone. The point gets hammered in pretty well along the way.

And I hate it. I hate seeing everything constantly passing by before my eyes, and failing to capture it. It pains me. Then I imagine having a thousand photographers, writers and videographers with me on the road. Then I imagine the depth, the breadth, the ocean of information that also they will fail to capture. 

I calm down. I remind myself it is better to choose wise and slice thin, but deep. As long as my memory holds.

But three years in and almost eight hundred camps later, things are blurring heavily. Pinpoint the next location, drive, arrive, step out of the car, photograph the blue sky, step in the car, continue to the next location. Tyres wearing out. Pain in my bones. I’m tired, my friend. An ever repeating circle. My mind plays tricks on me. Are it thousand seventy-four journeys? Or a thousand seventy-four destinations? I arrived at the same destination twice for the first time.

Maybe this blurring is supposed to happen. Maybe this relentless grinding is the understanding that is offered me. Or maybe it’s a sign that nothing will ever come. Grind all you will. I just don’t know anymore.

I make triggers along the way in any way I can, and I hope that they will spark my memory later. And already, at home now, just forty-eight hours later, I already need these triggers to make me remember what I’ve seen. I’ve forgotten. I’m blurred. And I find myself reliving moments seemingly for the first time, physically divorced from the places I was just days ago. It scares me. How is this even possible? Am I broken?

And on top of that, other fears blocking me from moving forward, afraid to make mistakes instead of just making them. And then the largest fear of all: standing still and losing an open mind.

Aug 29, 2016 @ 10:50 EST

Dear Anton,

I have difficulty with the perspective of middle distance. We privilege urgency of detail, the proximate or immediate, or we reflect and abstract, considering scale and distance from a remove. What falls between feels like blindness.

It may be the incessant claims of a present-driven Internet, in which even the strongest ideas and images are shoved aside by an effusion of immanence. It may be the narrow, reflex-like seeing of the cyclist, spotting potholes, wet leaves, a deer poised to spring across the road.

And then, it may be our need to simplify, to compare and sort, to put to rest the nagging complexities that fill our days. It may be the longing that arises when looking at maps, at globes, at mountain landscapes, at horizon lines. 

There is the middle ground of a long project, a career, a relationship. Far enough away from the beginning that the origin myth is dim, too far from the conclusion to clearly see its contours. 

The middle ground is a description of scenic space in images, an area of compromise, and a logical fallacy, in which we confuse the middle position for the correct answer.

If big data is the obsession of every entrepreneur lusting for exponential returns or world-ordering social scientist, there is also the realm of small data, of the designers of human experience, of the granular examination of our intimate patterns, of historians and deep readers. 

And curiously, the aspect ratio of most photographic lenses privileges precisely this space, for the middle ground is also human terrain. The ubiquitous smartphone lenses that create the distorted faces in our selfies are more suited to capturing theatrical space – from an embrace or a strike, to a conversation, or a dinner party.

This morning, I thought to send you an image of crease marks on skin, and then, of the lines of my hand, and then, a photogram of the mottled, late-summer leaves of my dogwood. Instead, I am looking for a limping stride, for an upthrust chin and a turned head, for the grip of a hand on an arm.

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

Aug 23, 2016 @ 16:02 CET

Dear Ivan,

Yes, often the cinematic feeling is paramount… and I must confess it’s something I too strive for – even in my still images. And now I’m wondering. I’ve actually never been able to put my finger on it, only being able to recognise being pulled by it. Tokyo Story, The Mirror, Inception. Vastly different films, different eras, different cultures, different industries, different everything, all pulled me in completely.

---

It feels like there’s more of a bright future for AR and MR than for VR. The key is the mobile phone with the person in real life used as a means to do things. VR kind of diametrically opposes that, it presumes exiting real life, going literally inside a virtual world instead; basically using the technology as “an end” instead of as “a means”. I think that might be why there’ll always be that gap that you described, impossible to bridge. That context has to be broken out of, lest VR were to stay as a too specific – yet extremely immersive – tool.

---

Since what seems forever I’ve had trouble “thinking about” while experiencing, and I chalk it up to the fact that I’ve always thought I was pretty naive, and therefor easily completely pulled in. Even now still I can – and constantly do – lose myself in good cinema, art, books and what not, often afterwards recalling “being taken along for the ride” more than my critical thinking. So much that I regard my being swept away as a yardstick for success.

Of course I know this holds no ground. But I can’t help myself. Maybe I’m not cynical enough. I’m imagining that “swept away” thing as something elusive that can’t be created directly, instead only by successfully making the elements that it’s composed of, and then intricately balancing them, never fully controlling them. Storytelling. Structure. Narrative. Connections. Depth. Aesthetics. Timing. Relevance.

Imagining this, gives me some solace. And damn, I totally missed that Perseid meteor shower, even though I knew it was coming.

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

Aug 18, 2016 @ 10:52 EST

Dear Anton,

Virtual reality has been a persistent idea underlying our conversation – an image field that completely covers our sight, and all sound and movement, functioning as a totalizing force over our perceptions. As with your images of blue skies, or our color fields, lensless eyes and cameras. The current version of VR we’re offered by the market, it seems to me, asks us to surrender our awareness, to allow our senses to be occupied by the apparatus. It’s a delicate moment, or should be, because we are required to place trust in the device and in the producers.

Most recent VR experiences I’ve seen try to exploit the functions of the technology to expand control over the user. I have yet to see one that seeks to hack the technology, to expose some critical distance between giving up sensory control to the apparatus, and how we think about what’s happening to us while we’re enveloped. Instead, the critical thought, if there is one, comes sequentially, with reflection after the experience.

This gap we can term the conceptual gaze. It is, in short, the difference between what we are looking at, and what we are seeing. There is something either naive or manipulative in the push to make sensation the primary measure of a filmic experience, in aspiring to make looking and seeing the same thing. The end game is a sensory deprivation tank, or a cell for solitary confinement. And indeed, someone has already made a solitary confinement VR – which is either the height of manipulation, or perhaps, if done properly, the conceptual gap that we seek.

I spent last week on Lake Michigan, and some time lying on my back on a dock in a lake, the water below me casting an underglow onto the sky above. For a moment, or a while, I felt as if I were floating unmoored in a field of blue, and I lost my sense of time. Later that night, in the same position, I searched the sky for traces of the Perseid meteor shower, for the light that reportedly comes from 1079, 1479, 1862, those burning bits of rock, our evidence of time. 

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

Aug 12, 2016 @ 09:38 CET

Dear Ivan,

I stood at Flossenburg recording the silence at the grounds of the former concentration camp, like I've slowly been doing all along. After I was done, in the distance, I heard the sound of children playing. I didn't make much of it, until I realised that many post war houses are built literally on the former camp grounds here. Families. Life going on. The camp is of course monument, remembrance, as it should be. But those houses are maybe the single most powerful statement to be made in light of this all: here is life, and it chooses to go on. The simple act of living being the deepest ‘acte de défi’ possible to what this camp represented: the act of destructing life.

But indeed, on to lighter thoughts.

As per your advice I started reading “Tokyo Year Zero” by David Peace, and – the heavy topic aside – I’m very much taken by the style in which he writes. He seems to capture things that I've encountered many times on my travels to Japan, in a very unique and refreshing way. His novel also made me think of Watabe Yukichi’s wonderful book “A criminal investigation”, which verses the same subtleties of post-war Japan, but through images.

And of course, my mind now makes connections between the two... How can I not see Yukichi’s investigator as Peace’s detective Minami. Both set in Tokyo. Both about a criminal investigation in post war times. Both are crucial to better understanding a reality. That relentless inner voice.

Understanding becomes vividly different when actually immersed in the reality of what one wants to understand. And oddly enough, virtual reality is an incredible tool for this. How it feels to stand in a refugee camp with no context other than you’re running from a war. How it feels to be led into a concentration camp to be worked to death without hope. How it feels to walk through the ruins of a firebombed city in search of sanity.

Most probably I myself can’t help categorising either. But maybe simply knowing I’m doing this is enough?

Aug 08, 2016 @ 09:03 EST

Dear Anton,

It’s probably not a good idea to read about the Holocaust before bed. I had thought to shift to a lighter topic today, but I dozed off reading the following passage (Snyder again), and it’s too relevant to your last note not to share: “Our contemporary culture of commemoration takes for granted that memory prevents murder…The dead are remembered, but the dead do not remember. Someone else had the power, and someone else decided how they died. Later on, someone else still decides why. When meaning is drawn from killing, the risk is that more killing would bring more meaning.”

Not to say that your project, which is clearly about memory, is making any kind of definitive claim to commemoration. If anything it’s contesting standard representations: war museums, statuary, and their uses as instruments of history. And I like that you are noting, as you travel, the narrow particulars of place, the gravel underfoot, a painted metal picnic table outside the highway rest stop, the yellow flowers in the car park.

This morning I woke thinking about categories and why we make them, about how they were used to such devastating effect by the Nazis, and by the Soviets. Stalin both insisted on classifications of individuals within society, and continually shifted and blurred the lines between those categories. Affiliation with a class or later on, an ethnicity became both profoundly important and dangerous, for too great an attachment to one form would condemn you at the next phase shift, when you suddenly found yourself cast out of a protected class, or when your class was simply exterminated.

As to why that’s relevant: I suppose I’m wondering how it is that categories sit so uneasily with us. That you are cutting across genres and practices with this work. Affiliation with a category still poses mortal threats for many in this time, as for others in the recent past. 

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

Aug 06, 2016 @ 22:46 CET

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Dear Ivan,

Yet again in a lone hotel room on my travels. Glad they exist of course, but sometimes one longs for a little change.

I started The Blue Skies Project to try and understand. I went to Auschwitz four years ago, trying to comprehend what my grandfather would have faced if he wouldn’t have escaped the SS raiding his house that night. There in Oświęcim that winter morning between the camp barracks, the snow barely covering the earth below, a thin veil not hiding, a thin cloak not sheltering, I looked up at a cold blue sky.

Many must have looked up at that same sky, without hope. But what if the perished were still up there. What if I photographed that sky, full of them, what would the chance be that I’d have literally photographed every single victim? Impossible, of course. Yet I already felt their presence.

Since then, I've been traveling. Experiencing the reality down here, the memorials, the houses, the streets, the fields, the forests. 1075 camps. The life that goes on below. And every time I look up, standing on that very ground, and look directly at every victim. Tiptoeing and reaching does not bring me closer, yet I catch myself doing it, every time. Days of silence.

We have the benefit of hindsight, of course. That’s why the film “Son of Saul” is so gripping to me. Choosing that particular camera point of view, over-the-shoulder, extremely narrow, exactly as it was for the deported: nobody could understand the broader context of what was happening. László Nemes powerfully makes that clear to us, forces us to look and understand as the victims did. Without hope.

I bought a chair yesterday. A chair to take with me, so that when I see a place with a distance I can stop, sit, and stare into it. Sitting and staring into the distance once in a while, is a good thing to do. I think I’d like to sit and stare into one of your sunflower fields someday.

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

Aug 04, 2016 @ 14:21 EST

Dear Anton,

I read today that Hitler proposed to kill “anyone who even looks at us askance” (Snyder, Bloodlands), and suddenly understood something else about your project to photograph the blue skies above Nazi camps. Your choice to photograph obliquely to your subject is also a kind of askance view, a side-glance. In that, you are performing the inverse of Hitler’s threat, looking with suspicion upon your subjects by refusing to look at them directly. It’s no surprise that in the vacuum created by the space between your subject and the direction of your gaze you would find something akin to silence.

While in Ukraine a few weeks ago I was told a story. When the Malaysian airliner MH17 was shot down by the separatists in November 2014, its parts spread out over kilometers. The story goes that many of the pieces fell into fields of sunflowers, which are ubiquitous in that part of Ukraine. People hacked through fields of flowers searching for the wreckage of the flight. I photographed many similar fields, both because they were visually compelling, and because they were conceptually all that remained of the wreckage, a yellow blanket that hid the remains of a crime, at least for a time.

Now, when I look at those pictures, I struggle with what feels like a too-easy displacement of one object for another. And when I looked online for images of the crash, I found few that featured flowers, and none prominently. Perhaps the presence of flowers grew in the mind of the storyteller, until they acquired symbolic value. Thinking now, about their long necks and inclined heads, perhaps we should imagine nothing other than a need for sunlight.

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