16 August 2017

Dear Anton,

Whether we are in amusement parks visiting imaginary cities and castles, or in the museums and gardens that commemorate those who died in war, the carriage of our bodies is the same. We stroll, we turn and gaze, we sit and watch films or explore interactive displays, we reflect on arrangements of stone and metal, statues of men on horseback, or flowers and trees. We watch each other, confused about how we should feel, and what we know.

I’ve been thinking about your repeated expressions of guilt, of feelings of helplessness and frivolity while others suffer. This reaction is understandable, yet it’s occurred to me that something else is at play. There is the guilt of survival, which memorials, parks, and even preserved concentration camps evoke. But this guilt means not only “I lived while you died” but “I experienced your death as a spectator, a visitor,” and felt the distance between the loss we knew and its public remembrance.

While in Hiroshima a few months ago I learned about the hibakujumoku, the survivor trees that withstood the nuclear blast: weeping willow, black locust, oleander, fig, palm, gingko, and others. I’ve long been fascinated by the gingkos on the street where I live, both for their bright yellow autumn foliage, and for the perspective they offer, back 190 million years, a living fossil unchanged since prehistoric time. Perhaps they offer us another way to confront our losses – not as figures looking back and contemplating the wreckage of the past, but as survivors growing out of it. Damaged, resilient, and turning towards the sun.

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

kusters_jul30_2017
Dear Ivan,

Perhaps sitting on a boat and watching the shore is a better perspective. Often I find myself wishing for more distance and less speed.

Sometimes I stand on the shore, look out to the sea and imagine setting out. Yet too many on this same sea have fled danger, and are looking at land appearing in the distance, seeking safe harbor. My impulse to leave all behind is dwarfed by the fate of those who were forced to do so. By what authority have I gained the space to pause and stare in the distance?

Yesterday I visited a fairy tale amusement park with my two godchildren. After a day of roller coaster rides, we entered into a vast indoor fantasy: an elven world, a gnomic world, a world of stars. We sat in a little hanging cart and floated silently past these carefully constructed fantasies, looking in awe at vast cities and civilisations, as distant, privileged witnesses from the sky. In that instant, I felt the urge to jump into that magic place, leaving behind all greed and cynicism and war. For a moment, the illusion was complete. Then a deep sadness fell over me, a sadness for all of us.

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

Dear Anton,

A few nights ago I was on a ferry, crossing a shallow sound below a sky set with stars. The ferry navigated a narrow channel between sandbars and small islands, its way marked by red and green buoys, and lit by a spotlight on its roof to identify upcoming landmarks. It was nearly empty and the wide metal deck vibrated to the rhythm of the big diesel motor in the hull, and sometimes the whole boat shuddered as we turned into the current. The night was calm, and the water’s surface was disturbed only by our passage.

For the past decade I’ve had possession of an oil painting of what I’ve come to think of as a night battle at sea. It was made by a German expressionist who once had modest fame and was a family friend. The painting is extraordinarily theatrical, capturing physical and emotional tension through slashing diagonal lines, starbursts and aggressively applied strokes of white paint over a black field. At the same time, it’s a subtle and complex composition. Pockets of calm exist on its margins, and finely drawn details of what I take to be the path of burning shrapnel, telecommunications lines and radar towers and space-age flying spheres.

Under the monochrome surface is a base of red, yellow and blue pigment, and with close analysis it seems that there might be a second, colorful image obscured by the battle scene. I sometimes wonder if the artist completed a first work, and then concealed it with another, darker and more violent. Unfortunately I’m unable to ask him, as he took his own life when I was young, leaping off a roof in Manhattan.

On this new-moon night, the water’s surface slick with light before us, turbulent with the froth of the propeller behind, and underneath the faint sparkle of phosphorous. The painting, with its webs of power lines, its arcs of heat trailing into the distance, its roiled seas, a rocky mass that could be a jetty, and its tantalizing hints of color that suggest instead a golden beach, a crimson umbrella, and the deep, azure-blue sea.

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

kusters_Jul13_2017

Dear Ivan,

It seems as if a stage has been set in our conversation. I’m reminded of the master of all stage setting, Charles Chaplin, and specifically The Gold Rush. Seldom has there been a more delicate balance between humor and pathos.

Yesterday I was talking to children of Holocaust survivors. They, being older than myself and now in their late 60s, are considered what Eva Hoffman calls “second generation witnesses.” As children they received the emotional consequences of the extreme experiences of their parents. It wasn’t a processed, orderly passing on of knowledge It was  signs and eruptions of raw, splintered suffering, ever present in the privacy of their families.

One could say that these children are the unfiltered recipients of their parents’ trauma, their first imaginings and experiences bearing  a complex burden of information and emotion. A transmitted identification with parental feelings and burdens. The difficulties inherited by the second generation was not the experience itself, but its shadows.

A stage has been set I think. For the moment  it is empty, as if leveled by a nuclear blast, yet fraught with expectations and filled with memories. Expectations in the eyes of the audience, who look greedily at what is about to happen, their eyes clouded by the flickering images of their memories.

The the artist creates work as if it were a chrysalis, placing meaning inside, and leaving it to others to  nurture and hatch: the dragonfly, the moth, the butterfly, or the all-devouring, gorging locust.

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

sigal_Jul03_2017

Dear Anton,

I’m in rural Pennsylvania, sitting by a window in a fieldstone cottage, in a hollow deep in the woods, in the precise location where my father died, seven years ago to the day. I’ve not been back here on this date since, and last night I woke wondering if there might be something to theories of seven-year cycles of life, if I’d unintentionally stayed away, and only now returned.

Looking at your photos of white marble and black granite quarries, I understand that they are images of absence. In depicting spaces of removed rock, you show voids, not remains. This is only apparent by comparison: they are the same image.

Commemorating, or moving on, and what meaning we find in objects or absences. After my father died I made a photo of his body. I don’t think I could have said why, other than that it was something I did in a blur of sorrow. Now that act feels somehow transgressive. A death mask used to be a necessary form of commemoration, a way of signaling completion by abstracting death into plaster or stone. But its modern photographic equivalent seems atavistic.

I’ve only looked at that image once, just after I took it, and I’ve never mentioned that it exists, and now it is buried under seven years of image files. Last night I began wondering where it might be and if I could stand to look at it again, and if simply knowing of its existence might be keeping open a conduit to the past, even if that opening is painful. And then I remembered Brecht’s famous line in the Threepenny Opera, “first comes the devouring, then comes the moral.” We act, sometimes without knowing, sometimes in grief, and only later give our acts meaning. And then I thought again of Plato’s story of Leontius coming upon corpses, and allowing his eyes to devour the scene, and then feeling ashamed. And I realized that we gorge upon images with the animal hunger of the undernourished. Only once we’ve eaten our fill do we ask what it is we’ve consumed.

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

 

kusters_Jul03_2017

Dear Ivan,

I am just home from driving most of the Polish-Czech border, trying to find and photograph the blue skies above each of the 95 World War Two concentration camps of Groß-Rosen. The difference in ways of commemorating struck me, and even though I have no empirical proof, it seems that in Poland and the Czech Republic communities have moved on rather than commemorated.As if commemorating might mean standing still, or atrophy. So much so that, when I eventually did encounter a commemorating monument, it caught me by surprise. I’m now trying to understand why.

As I walked through the quarry at the Groß-Rosen concentration camp where prisoners were worked to death, I was struck by its resemblance to the marble quarry in Carrara which we photographed together last autumn. The same cut stone patterns, the same water basin below, the same void left in the mountain, its meaning assigned through the use of the extracted stone.

The process of slicing rock out of the earth is identical. A rock for a rock. I pointed my camera upwards and photographed another blue sky.

The mountain roads in that area aren’t always good. Frequent large potholes required my utmost concentration. As I scanned the tarmac immediately in front of me, everything else receded, the people, the houses, the distant landscape, any understanding, to an endless blur.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographersIvan Sigal andAnton Kusters@ivansigal and@antonkusters on Instagram ///

Sigal_Jun25_2017(2)

Dear Anton,

Of commemoration strategies, the Ise shrine suggests an algorithmic approach. Create a code for us to reenact and embody, in the way of the pilgrimage or the ritual. The instructions are the monument, and the artifacts they describe become symbols offering us paths to meaning.

Recently in Budapest I spent some time at the Archivum, a large collection of materials from Central Europe’s Communist era. Here commemoration takes the form of a system: organization by category, typology, geography and era to enable research, interpretation and intervention.

The core of this archive is Radio Free Europe documents, including yellowed texts of period newspaper clippings and carefully sorted reports typed on Hungarian, Czechosloviakian and Polish typewriters. Yet it is the graphic and visual materials and ephemera that make this collection unusual: black and red posters from the Polish underground; metal canisters of films from the Hungarian Interior Ministry that demonstrate how to conduct surveillance and disrupt demonstrations; color photos of mass grave exhumations in Bosnia-Herzegovina together with associated forensic artifacts; a selection of newspapers published by post-Soviet ethnic minorities such as Dagestani and Tatar; Hungarian samizdat journals and gallery proofs, together with the squeegees and silkscreen frames used to produce them.

Of all these objects, I was most drawn to the unidentified and unsorted materials. The haphazard stacks of large, beat-up, black-and-white photos of tanks entering what might be Košice, Czechoslovakia, or the many rolls of uncut, unidentified photographic prints salvaged from the main photo processing lab in Budapest in the 1980s. These rolls, kept in gray archival boxes, show unidentified people standing around campfires, sitting uncomfortably on hard sofas, or smiling in their undershirts. They show toy trucks in a yard, chickens, a blurry dog or lamb. They show clouds. They show a blue sky.

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

kusters_jun22_2017

Dear Ivan,

The irony of ruins that shall be preserved forever is in stark contrast with the deeply ingrained Japanese understanding of the impermanence of things, the circle of life, the passing of moments, most visibly embodied by the yearly bloom cycle of the cherry blossoms and the continuous rebuilding of the Ise Grand Shrine, which has been identically reconstructed every 20 years since 692.

Sixty-two times this wooden shrine has been remade in an elaborate ceremony, with identical materials and unchanged building techniques, on alternating adjacent plots of land. And every time, five years in advance, carpenters start preparing the hinoki cypress wood.

Monuments are usually built and erected with durable materials designed to last generations. In contrast, the Ise shrine is forever rebuilt. One looks at the shrine, knowing it is not the same. It is forever new and forever ancient simultaneously, born and reborn from parent to child, from child to grandchild, a continuous, unbroken line across generations.

And then there is the truth of Japan’s geology, on the crossroads of shifting tectonic plates in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Every day could be our last. The next one could be the big one. And the cherry blossoms return, forever impermanent.

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

Dear Anton, I'm staying in a rickety long-term occupancy hotel in Montreal, a room with walls painted too many times, a stink of tobacco, and obscure violence done to the electrical outlets. These streets are filthy in the way of American cities, piles of trash, cigarette butts and a sticky residue of beer on the sidewalks. Recently I spent a week in Japan, a country of few trashcans and yet spotless public spaces. People will carry their waste with them all day rather than toss it in the street. A discipline that is perhaps born out of a willingness to internalize rules, with many self-reinforcing cues, penalties and rewards. Of the rituals in Japanese public life we can count the visit of children to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Tour leaders organize their charges, dressed in dark trousers and skirts and white shirts and red or yellow caps, in neat ranks on the plaza, or sheltered under the raised concrete shell of Kenzo Tange's famous building. The children sing mourning songs and take photos in front of the ribs of the dome of the Hall of Promotion, ground zero for the nuclear blast, which bears a plaque stating "The ruins shall be preserved forever," apparently unaware of the irony. Inside the museum, we perform venerations to objects of memory in photographic and virtual form. We crowd around images of clocks stopped at 8:15, mushroom clouds, blast shadows, and atomic wind. I spend most of my time watching an animation of the descent of Little Boy. The projection plays out upon a topography of ruin, the visitation of the bomb in long zoom, riding down into Hiroshima like Dr. Strangelove, the shattering of the world in technicolor, fading, as clouds lift, to a black and white aerial photo of a destroyed city. Many of these photos are sourced from the US military. The images of Hiroshima's destruction are a piece of victor's justice, and it seems to me that they impart seemingly contradictory lessons: both of the innocence of civilians killed, and a warning about the consequences of disobedience. /// is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters. @ivansigal @antonkusters ///

Dear Anton,

I’m staying in a rickety long-term occupancy hotel in Montreal, in a room with walls painted too many times, the stink of tobacco, and obscure violence done to the electrical outlets. These streets are filthy in the way of American cities: piles of trash, cigarette butts and a sticky residue of beer on the sidewalks.

Recently I spent a week in Japan, a country of few trashcans and yet spotless public spaces. People carry their waste with them all day rather than toss it in the street. A discipline that is perhaps born out of a willingness to internalize rules, with many self-reinforcing cues, penalties and rewards.

Of the rituals in Japanese public life we can count the visit of children to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Tour leaders organize their charges, dressed in dark trousers and skirts and white shirts and red or yellow caps, in neat ranks on the plaza, or sheltered under the raised concrete shell of Kenzo Tange’s famous building. The children sing songs of mourning and take photos in front of the ribs of the dome of the Hall of Promotion, ground zero for the nuclear blast, which bears a plaque stating “The ruins shall be preserved forever,” apparently unaware of the irony.

Inside the museum, we perform venerations to objects of memory in photographic and virtual form. We crowd around images of clocks stopped at 8:15, mushroom clouds, blast shadows, and atomic wind.

I spend most of my time watching an animation of the descent of Little Boy. The projection plays out upon a topography of ruin, the visitation of the bomb in long zoom, riding down into Hiroshima like Dr. Strangelove, the shattering of the world in technicolor, fading, as clouds lift, to a black and white aerial photo of a destroyed city.

Many of these photos are sourced from the US military. These images of Hiroshima’s destruction are a piece of victor’s justice, and it seems to me that they impart seemingly contradictory lessons: both of the innocence of civilians killed, and a warning against the consequences of disobedience.

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

kusters_jun5_2017

Dear Ivan,

I imagine those lines in your images as an installation, as actual layers on the land below, an added dimension. Altering a site of trauma, a site with nothing left to see, by adding context wouldn’t be otherwise  visible. Laying down lines and arrows on the ground, shading areas and blurring others, a dark Christo.

As I’m immersed in the Second World War, your satellite view reminds me of a similar view, from the planes of the bomb squads themselves, looking through their precious Norden bombsights as they fly over cities from an unassailable position and drop death below. During the war, both Arthur Harris and Curtis LeMay staunchly defended and executed the new tactic of bombing civilian populations. They believed that this would shorten the war, if only for a day. Victory is near. How hollow it was.

In effect, they set morality aside in a time that needed it most. History judged the countless bombing victories a devastating senseless slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, destroying millions of homes, and rarely harming any military-industrial complex. The terms “precision bombing,” “collateral damage” and “necessary evil” all were invented. And so was napalm.

All the while, entire populations reckon with a new reality: death from above. Running frantically in the destroyed cities of Europe, ghosts in their destroyed homes , incessantly looking for shelter, safety and surviving relatives. Having no home and  not being able to flee. Four hundred million cubic metres of rubble.

And from above, dismissive statements such as “there are no innocent civilians.” Cold calculations of how many civilians lives are worth a certain strategic advantage. The arrogance of Truman at Potsdam, already having decided to show his power over Japan, just a few days later.

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

Dear Anton, This past week I've been in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It's been about a decade since I was last here, and in the interim the country has concluded a nasty war against the LTTE , the Tamil independence movement, and a new, fragile reconciliation government has come into power. So naturally I've been thinking about the war, its aftermath, and inevitably how it was depicted. The images that come to mind are neither the genre war photos of soldiers discharging guns, nor the social landscape imagery of silent battlefields, such as the Roger Fenton image of the Crimean War. Instead I primarily recall satellite images, of the last remaining territory controlled by the LTTE, on the Northeast coast. Provided by the UN agency UNOSAT, for sale from commercial satellite operators, and also visible in Google Earth at lower resolution, these images show houses, schools, hospitals, roads, first intact, and then destroyed. As the war drew toward its conclusion, in May 2009, a civilian population living in Mulattivu District collected in a protected "Civilian Safety Zone." A comparison of satellite images subsequently showed intense bombing of that area, with visible craters, damaged buildings, and over 1300 grave sites. These photos are evidence of the location of shells falling, buildings targeted, populations shifted. There are extensive, detailed published analyses of these images and their meaning, pointing to possible war crimes. We typically claim to find meaning in these images for their forensic value, and their descriptive power primarily evidentiary, not aesthetic, or narrative. And yet, just as with images of bodies holding guns and moving through space, or of images of fields, forests plains and mountains that became battlefields for a time, these indistinct, degraded and often blurry depictions of the earth's surface, gridded over with lines of longitude and latitude, elaborated with arrows, demarcations, and notations, also lay claim to our imagination. /// is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters. @ivansigal and @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dear Anton,

This past week I’ve been in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It’s been about a decade since I was last here, and in the interim the country has concluded a nasty war against the LTTE — the Tamil independence movement — and a new, fragile reconciliation government has come into power. Naturally I’ve  been thinking about the war, its aftermath, and inevitably how it was depicted. But the images that come to mind are neither the genre war photos of soldiers discharging guns, nor the social landscape imagery of silent battlefields, such as the Fenton image of the Crimean War.

Instead I primarily recall satellite images of the last remaining territory controlled by the LTTE, on the Northeast coast. Provided by the UN agency UNOSAT, for sale from commercial satellite operators and also visible in Google Earth at lower resolution, these images show houses, schools, hospitals, roads, first intact and then destroyed.

As the war drew toward its conclusion in May 2009, a civilian population living in Mulattivu District collected in a protected “Civilian Safety Zone.” A comparison of satellite images subsequently showed intense bombing of that area, with visible craters, damaged buildings and over 1,300 grave sites. These photos are evidence of the location of fallen shells, targeted buildings, shifted populations. There are extensive, detailed, published analyses of these images, pointing to possible war crimes.

We typically claim to find forensic meaning in these images, and consider their descriptive power to be primarily evidentiary. And yet, just as with photos of bodies holding guns and moving through space, I find myself drawn to the aesthetic and narrative qualities of these degraded and often blurry depictions of the earth’s surface, gridded over with lines of longitude and latitude, elaborated with arrows, demarcations and notations. These fields, forests, plains and mountains that once were battlefields.

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

kusters_May192017
Dear Ivan,

This morning here in London I walked and watched and thought for awhile. Rain was predicted but the sun was still shining and I enjoyed that moment, almost like a reprieve. As I was walking I suddenly realised that I’d how much I’d been struggling with the question of how to show my work. And while I know this is crucial, I felt a strong urge to make work again. They shouldn’t be opposites, but for a minute they felt that way.

Your image reminds me of Ulrich Baer’s attempt to link photography and trauma. How an image of an empty landscape can reflect upon trauma that has previously taken place in that location. At the same time, as a viewer, one is forced to see that there is nothing to see. In many ways this is exactly the opposite of the image of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, which shows trauma, rather than its abstraction.

Of course, an image is by definition always a slice of time. Photography’s everlasting crux. With Fenton the image is deliberately – or necessarily – disconnected from the trauma itself. This disconnect forces us to approach the issue differently, introducing the concept of time, memory, and forcing us to face our preconceived positions.

Roger Fenton’s early war landscapes come to mind. He does not photograph the bodies of Crimean war dead, but captures the landscape of Sevastopol; cannonballs as evidence of battle. Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade, his valley of the shadow of death, now captured on glass.

Fenton intervenes. We have two nearly identical images of the valley, one with cannonballs on the road, and one without.

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

Sigal_May102017

Dear Anton,

Were we to plot on a graph a case for an ethics of the depiction of violence, we might arrive at a formula for action, and even an aesthetically pleasing image. Perhaps a cartesian chart in which each decision falls into the appropriate quadrant, based on our metadata.

We know that to create a geometry of ethics we first should settle some underlying principles. Executions once required publics for their validation, to revisit Foucault’s old stomping ground. Depictions of killing, as with the casting of death masks, was a part of the spectacle. Yet in other contexts, especially in modern war, witnessing can be a crime.

In any case, a debate about ethics doesn’t seem to touch upon the many ways images of violence work upon us. For instance, years ago in Kazakhstan a local TV station broadcast a story about a woman who had allegedly murdered her infant, and then thrown the corpse out of the window into the snow. The station chose to show a close-up of the body, bruising and blood visible, and a wire wrapped around the neck. I don’t know whether the choice to show these images was based on a conviction that the crime needed public witnesses, or simply spectacle. But I can say that the image of the infant in the snow has stayed with me for years, and it has worked on me in ways I’m still trying to understand – an undercurrent of blood and emotion that feels like a prophecy.

I also wonder at how that image oddly repeats the gestures of another, famous photo of death in the snow, of the Soviet partisan Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, who worked behind German lines near Moscow in 1941. Zoya was captured, tortured and hung. In the image her corpse lies naked, her torso partly mutilated, the rope still around her broken neck. Zoya was one of the most famous partisans of the war, celebrated and mythologized in the USSR with songs and statues. Although the details of the story and her actual identity remain contested, this photo of brutality is bound up with and inseparable from her fame.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///
29 April 2017

kusters_apr27_2017
Dear Ivan,

One’s moral duty is easy to understand on a personal level: do not do upon others. How can we factor in the right of future generations to be born, the safety of an entire planet, and hold ourselves accountable to a current ethical standard that also reasonably must include them?

Plato makes me think of the problem of knowledge and Karl Popper’s critique of Plato’s vision. Our struggle with the meaning of justice makes me think of Rawls’ reflective equilibrium. We should continually be aware of, reflect upon and be prepared to update our moral position.

It was a long time ago, and probably I understood too little, but I held onto  the difference between the belief that one can find and describe absolutes in morality, philosophy and political thinking, instead of the approach that time and context is a factor that creates a  flux in our thinking, morals and ethics.

Immanuel Kant died before Charles Darwin was born. Defining a categorical imperative without the context of On The Origin of Species?

We treat the question “what should we do” as an imperative, and we look to philosophy to provide us with a reasonable answer, or at least a frame for thinking. I struggle too. But the seeker will not find solace, because there is no end point, not even a direction. There is only a journey with glimpses of the larger whole. What should we do? Do universal values exist? Is it possible to strictly separate factual observations from value judgements? Is mankind predictable or free? As long as we do not stall, atrophy, become pillars of salt.

Imagine Nicolaus Copernicus, staring out the window at the stars, wondering whether to publish his manuscript with comments on the revolutions of heavenly spheres, or to just let it be. Everybody was going to make a fuss about it anyway.

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

22 April 2017

Dear Anton,

I’m reminded that it is an anecdote about the witnessing of corpses upon which Plato’s definition of justice pivots. This is the famous story of Leontius coming upon bodies from a public hanging, and then arguing with himself about whether to look at that “fine spectacle.” He is torn between the desire to see, and an aversion – a rational rejection of the scene. Desire wins, he rushes to the bodies to get his fill, but at the same time calls his eyes “wretches.”

For Plato, the root of justice is in maintaining a balance between rationality, desire, and spirit. Plato wants the rational mind to lead and control desires, and for spirit to work in the service of the rational, like good soldiers serving the state. A just person is one who keeps these three forces playing their respective roles. Plato thus models justice on the ideal city, in which guardians, soldiers and craftspeople are also assigned their roles, and stick to them.

Not that I’m a Platonist – his ideal republic requires a stultifying class system, after all. What’s interesting is that for Leontius, witnessing a public execution is spectacle, a base desire, rather than a rational, moral act. Perhaps that’s because the killing was done by the state, and in Plato’s universe, that means it’s almost necessarily good. The implication, as with the story of Lot’s wife, is that witnessing a just killing is immoral, and somehow decadent. Why else would Leontius castigate his eyes as “wretches”– a term loaded with judgment.

All this is a moral thicket. Of course states assert they are primary arbiters of justice, yet we know that claim is provisional and flawed in practice. What emerges is that the question of witnessing death somehow precedes the formation of our ethics. As if our struggle with the meaning of witnessing is our struggle with the meaning of justice.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///
17 April 2017

kusters_apr16_2017

Dear Ivan,

Maybe E was looking back to see if her daughters were following, and then inadvertently witnessed that destructive, divine power. Punished for simply witnessing.

The tendency to conceal our actions seems to be more important than justifying them. This behavior strengthens my belief that bearing witness may be one of the most powerful moral actions.

Avoiding public shame and fear of separation from the group has been ingrained in us since the beginning of humankind. The basic need to be accepted by others, purely for survival. Being cast out meant being left to die, and it is thought that this biological trigger is still present today.

In society, we cocoon ourselves, hoping that we aren’t singled out. We interfere in nothing out of fear of reprisal. We avert our eyes, and deny the moment.

Everyone screams “dastardly” and “cowardly”. Yet we’re equally dismissive both of people who try to hide their acts and people who avert their eyes. But I suspect things aren’t that simple. Maybe it’s about the way we choose to live, not about the results we wish to achieve.

The absolute pacifist may consider it unethical to use violence to help an innocent person who is being attacked and may be killed. Yet in thousands of years of fighting, we have failed to agree on the meaning of a just war.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies Homo Sapiens as “LC – Least Concern” for extinction, only rivalled in their scale of world domination by ants.

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

Dear Anton, Your story of the forced witnessing of the dead seems biblical in scope. Punishment for willed ignorance, is that what's behind the photographic impulse to depict atrocity? What do we expect will come of this - an acknowledgment that not looking is a form of complicity, or a more fundamental transformation in which the future doesn't reflect the past? Whether the punishment is looking, or for looking is all about context. I'm thinking of the parable of Lot's wife. Edith's crime is often thought to be sympathy for the ways of Sodom. But I'm drawn to an alternative exegesis, that she witnessed the "brimstone and fire" of God's attack on Sodom, and for this is punished. In this reading, even though the attack is just, or maybe because it is just, witnessing God's might is itself a crime. Perhaps this is the root justification for our contemporary military censors - the battle over whether war is ethical. A just war must not be seen; an unjust war must be. Is it that witnessing should be reserved for gods alone? By analogy, our militaries claim moral authority to determine what is just. What matters, it seems to me, is that the contemporary state seeks to control the witnessing of violence - when, how and what we may see, even as the moral codes we use to judge what's right keep shifting. Which brings us to the spectacle of the public execution, in which witnessing is meant to educate and warn. Public witnessing of executions continues to be contested ground. Some executions are now shielded from public view, as recently occurred in Oklahoma, even as moral consensus grows that they are unjust. All this to me, is deeply strange, for I think of the witnessing of death less in moral than in corporeal terms - as a physical reaction in which we foresee our own deaths. The gesture of your witnesses is precisely that: of mortification, the physical manifestation of shame. But also, a little death, in which the tissues are drained of blood, and we, like Edith, become pillars of salt. /// is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters. @ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dear Anton,

Your story about forced witnessing of the dead seems biblical. Punishment for willed ignorance, is that what’s behind the photographic impulse to depict atrocity? What result should we expect – acknowledgment that not looking is a form of complicity, or a more fundamental transformation in which the future doesn’t reflect the past?

Whether the punishment is looking or for looking is all about context. I’m thinking of the parable of Lot’s wife. Edith’s crime is often thought to be sympathy for the ways of Sodom. But I’m drawn to another interpretation, that she witnessed the “brimstone and fire” of God’s attack, and for this is punished.

In this reading, even though the attack is just, or maybe because it is just, witnessing God’s might is itself a crime. Perhaps this is the root justification for our contemporary military censors and the debate over whether war is ethical. A just war must not be seen; an unjust war must be.

Should witnessing be reserved for gods alone? By analogy, our militaries claim moral authority to determine what is just. What matters, it seems to me, is that the contemporary state seeks to control the witnessing of violence – when, how and what we may see, even as the moral codes we use to judge what’s right keep shifting.

Which brings us to the spectacle of the public execution, in which witnessing is meant to educate and warn. Public witnessing of executions continues to be contested ground. Now some executions are by law shielded from public view, for instance in Oklahoma, even as moral consensus grows that they are unjust.

All this to me, is deeply strange, for I think of the witnessing of death less in moral than in corporeal terms – as a physical reaction in which we sense our own deaths. The gesture of your witnesses is precisely that: of mortification, the physical manifestation of shame. But also, a little death, in which the tissues are drained of blood, and we, like Edith, become pillars of salt.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///
28 March 2017

kusters_Mar28_2016

Dear Ivan,

This weekend I was carrying around a too-heavy backpack on my shoulders, stuffed with objects I wanted to show to others. Eager to the point of physical pain. I walked from one place to the other, relentlessly carrying my treasures, as if the solution, the truth, my completeness, was packed inside.

On the afternoon of May 2nd 1945, the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division liberated the SS concentration camp of Wöbbelin in Germany. The next day, General James M. Gavin ordered the citizens of the neighbouring towns to walk an inspection tour through the camp, forcing them to witness and acknowledge what they allowed to happen: a thousand bodies, starved to death in barely 10 weeks, unburied.

An audience watching a horrifying scene of an audience watching a horrifying scene. The gasp. The hand on the heart. If ever there was emptiness after. I cannot help but wonder how this forced social act of witnessing would look today, seventy-two years later, were it to repeat. The camera as a gun, the violence of the gaze, witnessing the witnessing.

I never opened my backpack. What mattered was small and light and in my inside jacket pocket, a single image with no context except the one I had chosen to give. I felt liberated, at the same time acknowledging the weight I chose to carry, and knew I would continue to bear.

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

19 March 2017

Dear Anton, In the arena where our champions fight, everyone watching is now also bearing witness, and with a recording device. We have flipped the ratio of watchers to watched. Your photographer is no longer a solitary self astride a landscape, with all of the problematic power relations that formula invites. Instead, documenting is now evidently a social act, in a way that was once harder to see. Bearing witness: the self-assigned moral stance of the documentarian, the conflation of presence with virtue. That debate once seemed to matter. Now that seeing and documenting are nearly aligned, now that we all clamor to record, it is clear that the meaning of witnessing depends upon the context of the act. Armies watching champions, or armies watching armies. It is all the same. Tie this to cameras to map, predict and project violence: the development of sighting devices to facilitate the aim and accuracy of our weapons. What it means to see like a gun. What we mean when we say - the violence of the gaze. We feel watched, and that changes our behavior. This is the essence of surveillance, and also of force control. In such an atmosphere, witnessing can also be a form of control, or a warning: a shot across the bow. In my misremembered version of the Goliath story, the parable is all about aim and sight. About the startling accuracy of the stone's trajectory. I somehow recall Goliath was blinded by the blow, and that without sight, he is unable to fight. But no, that is the story of Ulysses and the Cyclops. Goliath was struck on the forehead, his seat of power, his third eye. /// is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters. @ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dear Anton,

In the arena where our champions fight, everyone watching is now also bearing witness, and with a recording device. We have flipped the ratio of watchers to watched. Your photographer is no longer a solitary self astride a landscape, with all of the problematic power relations that implies.

Instead, documenting is now evidently a social act, in a way that was once harder to see. Bearing witness: the self-assigned moral stance of the documentarian, the conflation of presence with virtue. That debate once seemed to matter. Now that seeing and documenting are nearly aligned, now that we all clamor to record, it is clear that the meaning of witnessing depends upon the context of the act.

Armies watching champions, and armies watching armies. Cameras that map, predict and project violence: the development of sighting devices to facilitate the aim and accuracy of our weapons. What it means to see like a gun. What we mean when we say – the violence of the gaze.

We feel watched, and that changes our behavior. This is the essence of surveillance, and also of force control. In such an atmosphere, witnessing can also be a form of control, or a warning: a shot across the bow.

In my misremembered version of the Goliath story, the parable is all about aim and sight, and the startling accuracy of the stone’s trajectory. I somehow recall Goliath was blinded by the blow, and that without sight, he is unable to fight. But no, that is the story of Ulysses and the Cyclops. Goliath was struck on the forehead, his seat of power, his third eye.

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

kusters_mar5_2017

Dear Ivan,

I recognise the muteness you describe all too well. I’m often not even traveling when it occurs.

Your image could be the inverse of mine: the gaze of the audience, the all-seeing eye, unflinching. We’ve nowhere to hide. We feel watched, and that changes our behaviour profoundly.

The audience might indeed be the key. They are the witnesses, the judges. They interpret, they are the context, without which the act itself becomes meaningless.

Yet the audience is not on the stage, and therefore the context and the judgment it imposes upon the act is by definition incomplete, shortsighted, relying solely on extrapolation of past experiences. They’d have to have switched places, like Damocles and his king Dionysius.

This act of bearing witness, especially to trauma, is something that deeply affects me. And  photography is often  considered exactly that. Bearing witness, meaning not only seeing, but more crucially, interpreting, and then representing.

But how can I possibly bear witness to trauma that I haven’t experienced? How can I add my interpretation to this immense absence?

The slingshot, the falling of Goliath, but also two armies watching their protagonists fight. The armies an audience, each side ready to surrender and accept a new reality based on the outcome before their eyes. The fate of nations decided, a sword hanging by the hilt above their leaders, from a single hair of a horse’s tail.

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

25 February 2017

Dear Anton, I've been traveling again, and as sometimes happens, through the long hours tucked into seats on airplanes, buses and trains, or queuing in passport controls , boarding zones, and platforms, time slips and I fall into muteness and waiting. Were we on a stage, we would feel a stubborn quiet before the world, and all abstractions would seem repellent. We would be anticipating some event, yet momentarily powerless to affect it. And as with your image of boy standing before a crowd, we would break this feeling not by thinking our way through it, but first by moving - a finger, an arm raised, a step. And only later would we reflect, for thought follows motion. I've been trying to find words to respond to your last image, the form of a body uniformly lit, so that he resembles a space cut out of darkness more than something solid. I keep hearing the words "blast shadow", as if the spotlight had rendered him insubstantial. And yet you speak of him as a statue, which implies weight and mass. And I wonder what he stands in opposition to. In his frailty I suspect he is preparing to confront a goliath, or perhaps a cyclops. But in your image there is no singular giant, but instead an audience. And I am reminded that even as a contest between two champions is occurring, it is the public that stands in judgment. Perhaps it will turn out that those we think of as antagonists are simply ourselves in some other aspect, and crowds, or how we become when we join crowds, are our true adversaries. /// is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters. @ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dear Anton,

I’ve been traveling again, and as sometimes happens, through the long hours tucked into seats on airplanes, buses and trains, or queuing in passport controls, boarding zones and platforms, time slips and I fall into muteness and waiting.

Were we on a stage, we would feel a stubborn quiet before the world, and all abstractions would seem repellent. We would be anticipating some event, yet momentarily powerless to affect it. And as with your image of a boy standing before a crowd, we would break this feeling not by thinking our way through it, but first by moving – a finger, an arm raised, a step. And only later would we reflect, for thought follows motion.

I’ve been trying to find words to respond to your last image, the form of a body uniformly lit, such that he resembles a space cut out of darkness rather than something solid. I keep hearing “blast shadow.” And yet you speak of him as a statue, which implies weight and mass.

And I wonder what he opposes. Perhaps in his frailty he is preparing to confront a Goliath, or a cyclops. But in your image there is no singular giant, but instead an audience. And I am reminded that even as a contest between two champions is occurring, it is the public that stands in judgment. Perhaps it will turn out that those we think of as antagonists are simply ourselves in some other aspect, and crowds, or how we become when we join crowds, are our true adversaries.

/// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters@ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///
4 February 2017

kusters_feb4_2017

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 out to dry on a day too hot with no wind, the sun beating down, everything heavy, even that one white linen shirt that moves in the slightest breeze. He stands  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 fascinated. This very instant, 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 and carrying in the same way. They see their own blindness reflected, their own powerless arms, their own mute voices. They see the boy fighting as they fought. With everything he’s got.

The boy stands on the stage. But he does not wait to receive. 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 @antonkusters on Instagram ///
28 January 2017

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

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 mislead 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. Even if we are wise to our frailties, our failures of vision, some find that they 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 breaks 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 @antonkusters on Instagram ///

18 January 2017

kusters_Jan18_2017

Dear Ivan,

We need life curators to survive. We trust them to pre-process raw data to information to meaning, so we can spend less energy having to do it ourselves. And we fulfill this role for others, too. It’s a simple and effective survival system which saves time and energy, and scales. We give our trust to others because we need to, and because it works.

Life is indeed a dream. All other times, we’re wading through the molasses of reality, with never a full sense of the complete context surrounding us. But then again, it would be intolerable to be fully aware all the time. It would be impossible to process. We’d be stifled by the thought of every catastrophic butterfly effect we’d set in motion. We’d be rendered still, immobilised for fear of future history.

Our minds unfreeze us by refusing to see  realities that we know are there but take up too much processing time to continually foreground. We learn to estimate the boundaries within which we operate, 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 in a dream inside this reality. Like a kaleidoscope we apply a 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 ///

10 January 2017

sigal_jan10_2017

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.

This time 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 understand. As if every story we tell is overwhelmed by the clamoring of millions of other voices.

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 easy truths. 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 ///

 

5 January 2017

kusters_jan5_2017

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 thereby be in control. It seems to be closely related to the recent adage of “being busy”. I often catch myself feeling that anxiety whenever I can’t display a kind of “busy-ness” I see others projecting.

But being busy is rather a wish to be perceived a certain way. It is a most meaningless statement, at best a mask to avoid social disapproval.

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

A similar problem existed in The Great War of 1914-1918. New weapons of destruction introduced a previously unimaginable scale and means of killing, and we did not know how to cope. Our strategies and tactics were ancient by comparison, reminiscent of pre-modern war. 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 the elusive Homo Universalis embodied by Michelangelo, but the understanding that we are extremely limited in our knowing. Wisdom might be the sensitivity to understand 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 ///

29 December 2016

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

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 the 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 writer falls below a certain word count, or cause earlier writing to vanish, melding efficiency with fear of failure and creating a 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. 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 upon our atavistic selves a kind of order, 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 ///
14 December 2016

kusters_dec14_2016

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 be in operation. You see them move on some days, and even then 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, we could tell exactly how much money we were losing. We quickly learned not to make any typesetting errors.

The huge presses, up close with their deafening sounds, churning out 12,000 copies per hour, or the tiny crane in the distance moving slowly, lazily. Both fulfilling their efficiency potential, the only difference being my coincidental – and one could say ignorant – viewpoint. It’s all about perspective, how I look at things, from which distance, 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. I 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, trying to understand, all the while bombing with my judgements, and the 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 ///

8 December 2016

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 about 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 felt myself almost overcome. 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 a 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." /// is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters. @ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram

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 the jittery blur of the guardrails, the rhythmic flash of road markings, the swooping curves, and intensified by the shaking and whine of the flight, I was almost overcome by vertigo.

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 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.” He is referring to 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 driver.

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 @antonkusters on Instagram ///

27 November 2016

kusters_nov27_2016

Dear Ivan,

Time indeed appears to be slowing down. The Japanese mono no aware, the cycle of life, the acceptance of fleeting moments, is an unstoppable force, gently nudging me toward introspection.

This stock-taking also requires that we rationalise the world around us. We turn it inside out to see how we fit within it, and where we might be heading.

We can only understand what we can describe with language, and we also have an impossible draw to move in those parts of the world that affirm our existing beliefs. It is a fragile, and possibly flawed circle. Checks and balances, as  for those who govern us, are also needed for ourselves. Do we delude ourselves in blind optimism? Or do we stifle ourselves, believing in our own powerlessness? However hard I try, I cannot break out of the bubble of my own continually fluid reality.

Once in awhile, a tiny event pushes me momentarily out of my bubble and I glimpse another way of seeing. Those events are rare, and offer  a window into an impossibly complex reality; one I could almost believe to be more true.

In those moments I sense the complexity of my reality, but I cannot hold on to it long enough to dissect it, take it in, learn. And then in order to do that I have to use the same flawed rationalisation that those moments helped dispel. So I learn to accept the gentle sadness of recognising 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 ///

20 November 2016

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

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 the 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 @antonkusters on Instagram ///

14 November 2016

kusters_nov10_2016_2

Dear Ivan,

In light of yesterday’s events, there is undoubtedly a lot to say.  I was silent for an entire day yesterday, thinking. I had hoped that the worldwide trend towards nationalism and isolationism would not manifest itself powerfully enough to claim the 2016 US presidential election.

Yet, I had resigned myself to the realisation that if this did happen, reality would be completely ignored by the victor. In hindsight, it seems like this might be the only possible wake up call.

I do not know what to do with this realization. I have many ideas of course, but achieving them with our politics seems impossible. And yet I still believe, even if this becomes a darker age – which I somehow doubt, but then again – that whatever is happening can benefit  to society in the long run. The pendulum swings.

My fear is that political organisations are making the same mistake, frantically working to accurately describe this newly found demographic , that they then can at best connect to, or at worst electorally exploit.

This new demographic will be analysed and understood, the people quantified and characterized. A new definition will be created, cutting through traditional lines of income, gender, race, sexual orientation, and class. And yet the feeling of someone proclaiming they understand you might be the very reason for the uprising.

What if we stopped 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 ///

3 November 2016

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

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 have been thinking about your comparison of the pace of a relationship with other rhythms: of your work, of the body’s decay, of cesium-133. 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.

I’ve just 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 @antonkusters on Instagram ///

27 October 2016

kusters_oct27_2016

Dear Ivan,

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

I often worry about not having the means to create as much as I’d like, forcing me to shelve ideas in my mind and hopefully preserve them. When projects finally get into the execution phase, I always feel that 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. Everything always seems 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 relentlessly oscillating 9,192,631,770 times per second, ticking away tick-tock – do you realise that we only live for about 4500 weeks – but time experienced has cycles. Looking back on a life, I wish there were a way to measure those variables. 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, 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 ///

20 October 2016

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

Dear Anton,

Manifestos, it seems to me, often hinder dialogue. Declarations of intent, ideology, scope which say: the thinking is settled, and now it is time to act. I wonder if it is possible to write a manifesto that admits continued discussion of its claims.

We could for instance consider the organic structure of a conversation, examine its logic, and then iterate. 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, and 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 is also a Marxist politician who aims to reclaim Communism from the Soviets, and has been willing to advocate for political violence, for instance in his support for Hamas. Other approaches include Antonioni’s fragments, passages, and weak narratives. Or the tempo of the 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.” 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 ///

6 October 2016

kusters_oct6_2016

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 rose from the tabula rasa that was Japan in the first half of the twentieth century.

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

Metabolism, rooted in left-wing ideals, saw in these happenings an opportunity to build the future. An architectural utopian dream of New Urbanism, with a core idea of biological sustainability and adaptability to change. The ever-present Japanese concept of impermanence, now embodied in architecture.

The architect Kenzo Tange, who led the movement, shifted Japanese architecture beyond the tension between functionalism and traditionalism. Metabolism disappeared after Expo ’70. Its greatest success, its core as  part of mainstream thinking about architecture and urbanisation, also became its demise.

Curiously,  the Metabolists published a manifesto in 1960. A statement made up of four essays by four members, each presenting their architectural vision.

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 more of these theoretical artistic public statements.

Not to promote our work, but to talk about our intentions, our motives, our beliefs. We need once again to make bold claims for changes that we seek. Not that they need come true, but that they show a commitment, and original thinking about this world.

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

30 September 2016

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

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 became a follower of Mussolini, and I was reminded, reading his stanza in your last note, that the Italian Futurists 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 open the pictorial approach to images, just as the many-voiced narratives of modernist poets taught us to view history prismatically.

It is an enduring puzzle that the glorification of the future by these artists is attended by support for mass violence. For 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, 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 ///

25 September 2016

kusters_sept_25_2016

Dear Ivan,

For the longest time, something about those slippers on the porch of that abandoned house in Kyushu didn’t sit right with me. Who had placed them there, and why had they been left behind? it made no sense. Only much later did it occur to me that it was a subtle, powerful statement of powerlessness.

It must have been a final gesture. And that gesture must have been understood by every curious visitor thereafter. That abandoned house, worn by the elements, 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 quiet of the agarikamachi — the wooden entrance sill. It is the symbolic threshold, the delimiter between two spaces, up from the kutsunugi-ishi — the shoe-removing stone — and then onto the raised wooden flooring of the room. There’s no way that the placement of those slippers was a coincidence.

That morning I managed an image, but it didn’t seem possible to fully capture the gesture of leaving one’s slippers behind to express an uncertain future. Maybe I should invent a new language, as with the Voynich manuscript, or Xu Bing in his Tiānshū and Dì Shu books: a text that nobody can understand, followed by a text that everyone can understand. What a feat.

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

“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 ///

21 September 2016

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, photo 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 Beinecke’s platonic proportions, as a rational mind resists the improbable. /// is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters. @ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dear Anton,

A few days ago I visited the Beinecke Rare Book Library, at Yale University. Gordon Bunshaft’s building is an opaque cube. Outside light filters through thin sheets of Vermont marble, creating 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.

The library is famous for its Gutenberg Bible and its Audobon’s Birds of America, but I was drawn to the documentary ephemera of artists, writers and historical figures. The building is a marble skull that 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, codices, 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 womb-like 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 ///

14 September 2016

kusters_sept14_2016

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 physical 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 threatening, but large enough to have to make adjustments.

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 estimate 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 block our views, but only metaphorically  because we feel the urgency to know what lies ahead. But having a perfect view of our future won’t calm us. It’ll only make us want to change that path. We’ll never be content.

Maybe it’s the general attitude of walking towards instead of walking away  that resonates. Again, the difficult balance between history, present and future, or memory, feeling and hope. Who we are and who we want to be, and how desperately we cling on to the images we have of ourselves, the paths we want for ourselves.

The changing of a season. Accepting myself, not as 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 ///

10 September 2016

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

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.

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 it 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 rotating digital imaging system called 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 ///

5 September 2016

kusters_sept04_2016

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 the world passing 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 wisely and slice thin, but deep. As long as my memory holds.

But three years in and almost eight hundred camps later, my memory has blurred. 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 endless wheel. My mind plays tricks on me. Is it one thousand seventy-four journeys? Or a thousand seventy-four destinations? For the first time in my travels, I accidentally arrived at the same destination twice.

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 come. Grind all you will. I just don’t know anymore.

I make triggers along the way however I can, and I hope that they will spark my memory later. And already, home, just forty-eight hours later, I need them to help 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. 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.

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

29 August 2016

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 both 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

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 the immanent. 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.

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.

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.

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 of 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 ///

23 August 2016

kusters_aug23_2016

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 completely pull me in.

It feels like there’s more of a bright future in augmented and mediated realities than for virtual reality. The key is a mobile device  with a person used to supplement experience. VR in opposition presumes an exit from life, entering an alternative world and using the technology as an end instead of a means. I think that might be why there’ll always be that conceptual gap. That context has to be escaped, or VR remains 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 of myself as naive, and therefore easily pulled in. Even now still I can – and constantly do – lose myself in cinema, art, books and what not, often afterwards recalling being taken along for the ride and forgoing  critical thinking. In fact, I regard being swept away as a measure of success.

Of course I know this holds no ground. But I can’t help myself. The creators of artifice tread a delicate balance between control and and chaos in order to generate that feeling, and consider all the elements in play that get us to that sweet spot. Storytelling. Structure. Narrative. Connections. Depth. Aesthetics. Timing. Relevance.

Imagining this gives me 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 ///

18 August 2016

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 @antonkusters on Instagram ///

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 trust both the device and 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 a hack of 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. 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 ///

12 August 2016

kusters_aug12_2016

Dear Ivan,

I stood at Flossenburg recording the silence at the grounds of the former concentration camp. 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 here are built on the former camp grounds. Families. Life proceeding. The camp is of course monument, remembrance, as it should be. But those houses are a powerful statement: here is life, and it chooses to go on. The simple act of living being perhaps another kind of  ‘acte de défi’ in opposition to this camp’s purpose: to destroy life.

But indeed, on to lighter thoughts.

Per your advice I started reading “Tokyo Year Zero” by David Peace, and – the heavy topic aside – I’m very much taken by his  style. He captures the intricacies of Japanese culture that I’ve encountered many times on my travels to Japan. His novel also made me think of Watabe Yukichi’s wonderful book “A criminal investigation”, which also explores post-war Tokyo, 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 about a criminal investigation in post war times. Both are crucial to better understanding a reality. Both driven by a relentless inner voice.

Understanding rooted in experience can’t be replicated. Oddly, in the times I’ve tried virtual reality, I’ve experienced a sense of claustrophobia, but I don’t know whether that’s because I’ve become part of the story, or whether it’s the simulation I’m fleeing. How it feels to find oneself running as a refugee. How it feels to be led into a concentration camp. How it feels to walk through the ruins of a firebombed city.

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

8 August 2016

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 @antonkusters on Instagram ///

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 in Bloodlands, 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 in your 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 ///

6 August 2016

kusters_aug6_2016

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 to understand. I went to Auschwitz four years ago, to comprehend what my grandfather would have faced if he hadn’t escaped an SS night raid. There in Oświęcim that winter morning, between the camp barracks, the snow barely covering the earth below, a veil not hiding, a 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, what would the chance be that I’d have literally photographed every single victim? Impossible, of course. Yet I felt their presence.

Since then, I’ve been traveling. Experiencing the reality down here, the memorials, the houses, the streets, the fields, the forests. 1074 camps. The life that goes on below. And every time I look up, directly at every victim. Tiptoeing and reaching does not bring me closer, yet I catch myself doing it every time.

We have the benefit of hindsight, of course. That’s why László Nemes’ film “Son of Saul” is so gripping for me. He chooses a particular over-the-shoulder camera perspective, and an extremely narrow field of vision, exactly as it was for the deported.

I bought a chair yesterday. A chair to take with me, so that when I see a place with a horizon I can stop, sit, and stare into it. 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 ///

4 August 2016

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 ///

Dear Anton,

I read today in Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands that Hitler proposed to kill “anyone who even looks at us askance,” and suddenly understood your choice to photograph the blue skies above Nazi camps. This is also a kind of oblique view, a side-glance. 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 the 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 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 ///

 

1 August 2016

kusters_aug2_2016

Dear Ivan,

Today, on the first day of my next Blue Skies journey to the Buchenwald and Flossenburg concentration camp clusters, I’m yet again traveling through history within the present.

As with your empty seabed, I am struck each time, by the silence. It’s not absolute, but there’s always a felt absence. Walking the grounds of the main camps that are now memorials, one hears only one’s own steps, the crunch of gravel, loudly pulling my thoughts into the present, cutting me off from history and hope alike.

Seldom have I felt such a vivid sense  of being alive as in those places; seldom have I sighed so deeply as in those places; seldom have I doubted  my existence; seldom have I felt so present. Following your advice I try to speak my thoughts into a voice recorder. But all I can manage is this silence. Maybe it’s what I’m meant to record.

Night is falling. At a former camp in Stulln I turn my car to head back to Nürnberg for the night. Out of nowhere, huge yellow flowers appear in front of me, reflected in my bonnet, my headlights illuminating the gates. The church bells toll in the distance. The sun has just disappeared behind the horizon.

I take it as a good omen, even though on the way back I flat a tyre.

Nürnberg, the city of the rallies; and, fittingly, the city of the trials.

I really shouldn’t be making these journeys all by myself.

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

Dear Anton, The mural of the boy with the carbine rifle comes from a museum in a small town in western Kazakhstan called Aralsk. It was once a port town on the edge of the Caspian Sea, until the Soviets drained the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers, beginning in the 1960s, to irrigate cotton fields at an industrial scale. The sea in the past 50 years has shrunk by 90%, and when I last visited, more than a decade ago, the waters had receded some 100km from the town. You have probably seen the cliched images of boats resting in the desert. It may be obvious, but the consequence of the fervor represented by that mural turns out to have been the destruction of an ecosystem. Not that it was a foregone conclusion; history is all effects and no causes, to paraphrase Joseph Brodsky. Along with the salt flats, cracked mud and sand of the lakebed you can find hillocks of calcified and desiccated shells, moved first by water, then by wind and time to form their own dusty waves. Over geologic time, perhaps those may sift and pack to form limestone, and eventually marble. The stonecutters of Carrara will whittle their mountains of marble down to the sea, even as the Kazakhstani steppe turns to stone. I’ve visited the Aral Sea several times, arriving from both the north to Aralsk, and from the south, to the Uzbek town of Moynack. Each time I’ve taken a walk on the lakebed, away from the towns, the beached ships, the deep channels cut into the sea bottom in desperate attempts to keep the ports open to the sea, in the face of its retreat. Far enough out, there’s the wind, the sun, the dried mud and scruffy grasses. There you can sit, and squint, and listen, first to the wind, then to your breath, then maybe to your pulse. It isn’t silence that you’re hearing, exactly, but it isn’t anything else either. /// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters. @ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dear Anton,

The mural of the boy with the carbine rifle comes from a museum in a small town in western Kazakhstan called Aralsk. It was once a port town on the edge of the Aral Sea, until the Soviets drained the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers, beginning in the 1960s, to irrigate cotton fields at an industrial scale. The sea in the past 50 years has shrunk by 90%, and when I last visited, more than a decade ago, the waters had receded some 100km from the town. You have probably seen the cliched images of boats resting in the desert. It may be obvious, but the consequence of the fervor represented by that mural turns out to have been the destruction of an ecosystem. Not that it was a foregone conclusion; history is all effects and no causes, to paraphrase Joseph Brodsky.

Along with the salt flats of the seabed you can find hillocks of calcified and desiccated shells, moved first by water, then by wind and time to make their own dusty waves. Over geologic time, perhaps those may sift and pack to form limestone, and eventually marble. The stonecutters of Carrara will whittle their mountains of marble down to the sea, even as the Aral Sea turns to stone.

I’ve been to the Aral Sea several times, arriving both from the north to Aralsk, and from the south to the Uzbek town of Moynack. Each time I’ve taken a walk on the seabed, away from the towns, the beached ships, the deep channels cut into the earth in desperate attempts to keep the ports open, in the face of the sea’s retreat. Far enough out, there’s the wind, the sun, the dried mud and scruffy grasses. There you can sit, and squint, and listen, first to the wind, then to your breath, then maybe to your pulse. It isn’t silence that you’re hearing, exactly, but it isn’t anything else either.

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

kusters_jul282016

Dear Ivan,

It’s indeed very hard to resist a fatalistic approach to what’s happening to mankind nowadays. I should stop lamenting this, and thank you for the way out.

My mind is now making connections between realities and our depictions. The borders of the Warsaw ghetto constantly being adjusted. The secret mapping so crucial to the ZOB, the Jewish Combat Organization, for their plans and hopes. Conversely, the public mapping crucial to the Nazis. Reality defines the map. The map defines reality.

Your image of a revolutionary sends me a powerful message of disobedience. The person in arms strikes me as a child, forced to act older than his age. A depiction of a singular heroic moment, filled with the purity of anger. Hope, the opposite of history. What we wish for, connected to what we cannot escape. Both shape us more than we can imagine, disobedient or not. The powerless angel yet again.

What would it take for me to pick up a weapon? What if it were astonishingly little. We all know civilisation is a very thin layer that conceals our aggressions., Perhaps we resent that. Imagine there were to be a call to arms. A revolution. You are required. I’d be ashamed if I were a coward; embarrassed if I were a fanatic.

Are we the mountain that gets carved out piece by piece, dying the death of a thousand cuts, pieces scattered over the globe, a diaspora? Or are we instead each a single marble block cut from the mountain, true form slowly appearing, chipped away, turning into sculptures that look backward towards history, and forward towards hope?

During a recent radio interview I was asked if I ever doubt my decisions, creative or otherwise. At least fifteen times a day I’m filled with unbearable uncertainty. Then a tiny victory, an invisible, necessary, personal act of disobedience against myself.

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

Dear Anton, The MIT Media Lab presents an architecture of light and transparency. Glass curtain construction and inside, open floor plans and walls of glass allow visibility into its workings. The closed and locked doors are at the perimeter of the labs, and the secrets are in the construction of the technologies themselves, concealed by patents and I.P. laws. It is a temple for Moore’s Law. I was there a few days ago for a conference on the topic of forbidden research. Ed Snowden was a headliner, and Steward Brand, and a researcher who created a pirate site for free access to academic journals. The event was a wrapper for an argument for the necessity of disobedience. By coincidence that week I was reading about the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943, and the threshold of disobedience that led the Jews to fight back. Interestingly, in Warsaw there wasn’t a single heroic act of resistance, but an environment of competing priorities within factions, a gradual acceptance that resistance was necessary, a strategy for obtaining weapons from the Polish underground, and a halting, coordinated response. To your point, some time ago, about the human urge to conform and be part of a group: even disobedience benefits from the support of cultural norms. Disobedience, like disruption, innovation and other buzzwords of the entrepreneurial class, is a tactic. It is not in itself a value but rather a path or process. I mention it here because this might offer us a way to see history as something other than an endless series of calamities. How do we resist the feeling that our time has become one of escalating violence, that we are helpless to intervene, and that intervention might simply add another layer to the multiplicity of causes of violence? What to do with my urge to tear the images before me, an act of transgression that requires that something be rent. As with your last, small act of photography, an accidental flash that disrupted a dream, that broke one thing to make another. #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters. @ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dear Anton,

The MIT Media Lab presents itself as an embodiment of light and transparency. Glass curtain construction, open floor plans and internal glass walls offer visibility into its workings. But closed and locked doors sit at the perimeter of the labs, and there are secrets in the construction of the technologies themselves, concealed by patents and I.P. laws. I was there a few days ago for a conference on the topic of forbidden research. Ed Snowden was a headliner, and Stewart Brand, and a researcher who created a pirate site for free access to academic journals. The event was an argument for the necessity of disobedience.

By coincidence that week I was reading about the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943, and the threshold of disobedience that led the Jews to fight back. Interestingly, in Warsaw there wasn’t a single heroic act of resistance, but competing priorities within factions, a gradual acceptance that resistance was necessary, a strategy for obtaining weapons from the Polish underground, and a halting, coordinated response. To your point, some time ago, about the human urge to conform and be part of a group: even disobedience benefits from the support of cultural norms.

Disobedience is a tactic, like disruption, innovation and other buzzwords of the entrepreneurial class. It is not in itself a value but rather a path or process. I mention it here because this might offer us a way to see history as something other than an endless series of calamities. How do we resist the feeling that our time has become one of escalating violence, that we are helpless to intervene, and that intervention might simply add another layer to the multiplicity of causes of violence? And what to do with the urge to tear the images before me? As with your last, small act of photography, an accidental flash that disrupted a dream, that broke one thing to make another.

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

kusters_jul21_2016

Dear Ivan,

I’ve been driving non-stop the last two days. The heat seemed to have made its way from you to me, we’ve had the two hottest days in a long time here in Europe. Storms predicted, and also, none came.

As you know, the journey I’m currently undertaking isn’t the happiest one. Time and again, I look for traces in stone, bronze, film, paint or words for reassurance that all will be fine after this machinery of annihilation 70 years ago. What about the other side of the spectrum, the serenity, the beauty, the positive? Hope? Have we cast a self fulfilling prophecy?

Am I looking too hard? Am I burdening with meaning?

The powerless angel, and the connection of past, present and future through Paul Klee’s painting. Unable to learn throughout and from history, piling mistake upon mistake, violence upon violence, destruction upon destruction. Ruin upon ruin.

Cataclysmic events happen at an ever greater speed and size. Maybe there should be a Moore’s law for humanity as well, noting that historical events halve their frequency and double their magnitude with each generation.

But for me it will always be the little things. Amidst all this calamity, I still see our capacity for humanity as our greatest power. In spite of, one may say, and that may well be so.

And you’re right, seeing cannot make us complicit by default. I was too harsh. We can’t fully understand. Luckily, once in awhile the veil is lifted, the fig leaf pushed aside to offer us a glimpse.

Pia just had woken up and didn’t have the slightest interest in having her picture taken. Day breaking, the grogginess of her sleep slowly, visibly leaving her, my flash fires by accident. An angel.

What would she have dreamt about.

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

Dear Anton, All day we were hammered flat by the heat. Toward evening the wind arrived, and tossed and bent the bamboo behind the house. I hurried to finish my work in the garden as the sky spat. A single crash of thunder, the peaty scent of ozone, and then, nothing. The night arrived and the heat stayed, with no rain to give us relief. Today I am writing from a teahouse. Every table is full and the voices and laughter of the patrons rub together to create a kind of aural heat. I’ve been thinking about the distances you’ve been traveling in time, backward to the Medici, and then looking back at our time from a distant, imagined future. It has compounded a feeling of stuckness I’ve been struggling with lately, these scales of time you’re playing. Walter Benjamin’s angel of history being blown into the future, looking back, is the obvious reference, and I wasn’t going to mention it, but lately I’ve come to wonder if his angel was helpless and terrified, or detached and bemused, or something else. Maybe Benjamin’s conceit is inadequate to our needs in relation to the events we’ve been discussing. I’ve been reading a history of Central Europe in the 1930s and 1940s that analyzes, in great depth and with considerable precision, the mechanisms of mass death invented by Stalin’s NKVD and Hitler’s SS. Of course, Benjamin was contending with that time. His helplessness in the face of the forces that killed him and so many others is understandable. To the point: I implied recently that seeing might make us complicit in the acts we witness, but seeing is not knowing, much less understanding. Perhaps we burden sight and the images we make with meanings they cannot carry. Instead we have our glances and glimmers, the latent or suggestive, as the arrows on the road in your last image, which might urge us onward. // #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters. @ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dear Anton,

All day we were hammered flat by the heat. Toward evening the wind arrived, and tossed and bent the bamboo behind the house. I hurried to finish my work in the garden as the sky spat. A single crash of thunder, the peaty scent of ozone, and then, nothing. The night arrived and the heat stayed, with no rain to give us relief.

Today I am writing from a teahouse. Every table is full and the voices and laughter of the patrons rub together to create a kind of aural heat. I’ve been thinking about the distances you’ve been traveling in time, backward to the Medici, and then looking at our time from a distant, imagined future. It has compounded a feeling of stuckness I’ve been struggling with lately, these scales of time you’re playing. Walter Benjamin’s angel of history being blown into the future, looking back, is the obvious reference, and I wasn’t going to mention it, but lately I’ve come to wonder if his angel was helpless and terrified, or detached and bemused, or something else. Maybe Benjamin’s conceit is inadequate to our needs in relation to the events we’ve been discussing.

I’ve been reading a history of Central Europe in the 1930s and 1940s that analyzes, in great depth and with considerable precision, the mechanisms of mass death invented by Stalin’s NKVD and Hitler’s SS. Of course, Benjamin was contending with that time. His helplessness in the face of the forces that killed him and so many others is understandable. To the point: I implied recently that seeing might make us complicit in the acts we witness, but seeing is not knowing, much less understanding. Perhaps we burden sight and the images we make with meanings they cannot carry. Instead we have our glances and glimmers, the latent or suggestive, as the arrows on the road in your last image, which might urge us onward. 

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

kusters_jul152016

Dear Ivan,

The children miraculously survived of Stalingrad, and indeed one of the few images of that devastation I can recall is Evzerikhin’s, along with an image of a man saving what I remember was a contrabas from a devastated building.

Just a few days ago I passed through Nice on my way to where I am now. I just heard about the terrible act of terror there yesterday. The ultra-violence, it’s weighing on me. I find it difficult to write.

We keep trying to place complex circumstances into reductive contexts. Perhaps retrospection will help us to explain and properly contextualise this era, but meanwhile we endure, failing to understand why.

When the next history books are printed. When our time is added alongside all the others. We will be reduced to a simple chapter in history. Our chapter could be terrorism, alongside the human genome, internet, AI, climate change, migration, waste, and the depletion of fossil fuels. And Higgs Boson. I might miss quite a few here, I admit. I fail to properly delimit in time.

How would history name our era? And what if we’d fictionally try to write this future-past chapter, using our available templates to describe the past? And of course, with obligatory quantities of Carrara marble sprinkled here and there.

Clouds roll over the hilltops in the distance, south of Parma, where I’m heading. Lighting strikes and heavy raindrops fall. I hear no thunder. We both seem to be traveling a lot. My journeys pale in comparison to what I imagine the weight of the journey of your father’s family must have been.

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

 

Dear Anton, Thinking about your mountain of Italian marble, both its physical mass and the historical burden we’ve asked it to bear. An image for you in response, something playful, perhaps an antidote. At the Imperial War Museum in London recently I spent some time with a newsreel of the battle of Stalingrad, including an image of the famous Barmaley fountain, of six children dancing around a crocodile. You might have seen the famous picture by the Soviet war photographer Evzerikhin, which has also made its way into pop culture - Clockwork Orange and other films use it as a symbol of innocence amidst war. It’s didactic and kitsch of course, and we’re talking about Stalingrad, and come to think of it, the story that it’s modeled on is a Russian poem by Chukovsky that’s sort of racist: “Little children, for nothing in this world, do not go to Africa.” Maybe it’s not an antidote after all. Once out of the imposed distance of conflict of eastern Ukraine, it only takes a day or so to go, in this case, from Mariupol to Dnipropetrovsk, a flight via Vienna to London, then Washington DC, and soon New York. I’m presently traveling by train along the Northeast corridor, looking at the decaying backside of North Philadelphia, the miles of row homes, factories and warehouses. Here there’s the summer overgrowth of English ivy and the tree of heaven, the ailanthus, an urban weed tree everywhere in the world. I saw an abundance of ailanthus in Mauripol in the old town, also filled with elegant, shabby pre-revolutionary houses. This neighborhood was the city’s old commercial center, decayed because the proximity to the then-new factories and the toxic air, overtaken by industry. And I’m reminded of something else - the Ukrainians, Poles, Belorussians, and Jews who left Ukraine in the late 19th century often ended up here in eastern Pennsylvania, in the coal towns of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, and the steel town of Bethlehem, where my father’s family landed after fleeing Ukraine in the 1890s. /// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters. @ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dear Anton,

Thinking about your mountain of Italian marble, both its physical mass and the historical burden we’ve asked it to bear. An image for you in response, something playful, perhaps an antidote. Recently at the Imperial War Museum in London I spent some time with a newsreel of the battle of Stalingrad, including an image of the famous Barmaley fountain, of six children dancing around a crocodile. You might have seen the picture by the Soviet war photographer Evzerikhin, which has also made its way into pop culture – Clockwork Orange and other films use it as a symbol of innocence amidst war. The fountain is kitsch of course, and we’re talking about Stalingrad, and come to think of it, the story that it’s modeled on is a Russian poem by Chukovsky that’s sort of racist: “Little children, for nothing in this world, do not go to Africa.” Maybe it’s not an antidote after all.

Once out of the imposed distance of conflict of eastern Ukraine, it only takes a day or so to go, in this case, from Mariupol to Dnipropetrovsk, a flight via Vienna to London, then Washington D.C., and soon New York. I’m presently traveling by train along the Northeast corridor, looking at the decaying backside of North Philadelphia, the miles of row homes, factories and warehouses.

Here there’s the summer overgrowth of English ivy and the tree of heaven, the ailanthus, an urban weed tree everywhere in the world. I saw an abundance of ailanthus in Mauripol’s old town, also filled with elegant, shabby pre-revolutionary houses. The neighborhood was the city’s old commercial center, in decline due to its proximity to the toxic air of the factories. And I’m reminded of something else – the Ukrainians, Poles, Belorussians, and Jews who left Ukraine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries often ended up here in eastern Pennsylvania, in the coal towns of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, and the steel town of Bethlehem, where my father’s family landed after fleeing Ukraine in the 1890s.

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

Kusters_Jul112016

Dear Ivan,

Passing through the city of Carrara here in Italy I’m reminded of our recent conversation about stone and columns and memory. The quarries here in the mountain produced marble for so many sculptures and columns all over the world, linking Michelangelo’s Pietà to the steps of the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, to the Grande Arché de Défense in Paris and Marble Arch in London, to the Pantheon in Rome and Washington’s Peace Monument. This single mountain, cut piece by piece since Roman times, is the invisible centre point of all that mankind wanted to celebrate. Yet the mountain itself, dying a slow death of a thousand cuts, suffers silently, losing almost a million tonnes every year. I feel a possible project here. I might call it Lingchi.

Michelangelo was assigned to restart the marble production by  pope Leo X, who was Lorenzo de’Medici’s son. From 1515 to 1518 he worked here to design the Seravezza roads, along which 25-ton marble blocks were manually transported using an ancient system of sleds and pulleys, operated by 14-year old workers on the steepest of slopes. Up until the 1966. No wonder the contemporary anarchist movement rooted here so strongly.

Your image reminds me of the Srebrenica genocide, Milosević, and Ratko Mladić’s Scorpions, even though I don’t remember seeing tattoos. Predators again. I was young, and it was the first time that I felt the closeness of a war. A city besieged. Their streets were our streets. Their clothes were our clothes. No superficial distance, in culture or otherwise. This was home. The red resin of the Sarajevo Rose.

Later at night I hear that Portugal won the football cup. Somehow, even though I’d avidly followed every game until then, I fail to see its value that evening . I take note and move on.

My soul feels heavy and thick as marble. I hope all is well, my friend.

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

Dear Anton, I’ve been watching the football in the hip bars and steakhouses of Mariupol. Microbreweries, craft hamburgers, bearded and coifed patrons, tattoos of flowers, Chinese characters, other markers of global fashion. Some of the cafes are run by IDPs from Donetsk. They have families across Europe and North America; some receive international development funds. They are all on social networks, of course. When we think about war, we often imagine it as remote and unreachable, but it is woven into the fabric of our global lives. The trope of the faraway war leads us to misunderstand modern conflict; distance is strategic, not romantic. We create physical distance to the front by the suspension of flights, by the checkpoints that slow passage into the border zone. We create social distance by the language we use to describe war, by the legal regimes we impose on the people caught in it, by the conditions we place on reporting and the depiction of violence, by our own need for psychological distance from violence. In other words, the romance of distance is itself a strategy that allows us to not implicate ourselves in war. Mariupol, a city of half a million, has factories that pump out steel for the global market, financed internationally since their inception in the late 19th century. The city is still more production than consumption, and the steel workers bring their own fashions, the safety clothing of factory workers everywhere, gardening shirtless in small dachas, old army pants, colorful prints, canvas shoes and tattoos from military service, shoulders adorned with lions, bears and other predators. The militias are the third presence here; less seen than felt. Men buff, groomed, also often bearded, and jackbooted. Their tattoos are obscure, engorged with action, and narrating the lives of their possessors. It is difficult to see these men. They operate in the periphery of our vision, for a direct gaze might make us their accomplices. /// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters. @ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dear Anton,

I’ve been watching the football in the hip bars and steakhouses of Mariupol. Microbreweries, craft hamburgers, bearded and coifed patrons, tattoos of flowers, Chinese characters, other markers of global fashion. Some of the cafes are run by people who fled Donetsk. Some of them receive international development funds. Many have families across Europe and North America; they are all on social networks, of course.

When we think about war, we often imagine it as remote and unreachable, but it is woven into the fabric of our global lives. The trope of the faraway war leads us to misunderstand modern conflict; distance is strategic, not romantic. We create physical distance to the front by the suspension of flights, by the checkpoints that slow passage into the border zone. We create social distance by the language we use to describe war, by the legal regimes we impose on the people caught in it, by the conditions we place on reporting and the depiction of violence, by our own need for psychological distance from violence. In other words, the romance of distance is itself a strategy that allows us to not implicate ourselves in war.

Mariupol, with a population of half a million, has factories that pump out steel for the global market, financed internationally since their inception in the late 19th century. The city is still more production than consumption, and the steel workers bring their own fashions: the safety clothing of factory workers everywhere, gardening shirtless in small dachas, old army pants, colorful prints, canvas shoes and tattoos from military service, shoulders adorned with lions, bears and other predators.

The militias are the third presence here, less seen than felt. Men buff, groomed, also often bearded, and jackbooted. Their tattoos are obscure, engorged with action, and narrating the lives of their possessors. It is difficult to see these men. They operate in the periphery of our vision, for a direct gaze might make us their accomplices.

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

kusters_Jul82016

Dear Ivan,

I shudder hearing about your experience. Eli Wiesel passed away only a few days ago in New York, a man who taught us that there are moments in which we cannot remain silent. In times like this, one wishes to control space and time, to give the gift of experience to the provocateurs, hoping they might understand and contextualise their actual provocation and reduction. A deliberate choice to choose a too-narrow context. I doubt many would still hold a same opinion after that experience.

Too many still turn away. Kitty Genovese. I imagine I was there, and I honestly do not know what I would have done. Of course reason tells me I would always intervene, but we also know that all the witnesses in 1964 felt the same, but did nothing. Kitty died with their eyes watching her.

Arles is magical by the way. I don’t know why it always feels that way.  I’m only here a few days every year, and my perspective is way too narrow to be representative. But somehow every time a weight falls off my shoulders. Immediately upon arrival. Bam. I’m sitting here in la Roquette and wonder if it’s the sunshine, the architecture, the people, the Rhône. Then I realise what I should have known all along: Mistral. The wind that shapes it all. Blessing and curse. Clearer of minds.

Maybe it’s the ritual of driving from home to here, exactly 1074 km, a number – as you already know – with a deep meaning for me. The wind picks up the curtains and i see the world outside. France won the soccer game, and la Roquette celebrated all night long as only la Roquette can do.

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

 

DSC08736cropsml1

Dear Anton,

In Mariupol I’ve been avoiding the mid-day sun. The light refracts off the Sea of Azov, harsh and clear, unless the wind blows haze over the city from the Illich and Avostal steel plants. Which has led me to a belated realization: when you speak of finding your sunshine, you don’t mean it only as a conventional metaphor for happiness, or as literal heat and light. You mean it as a concept, in which sunshine stands for emptiness, or, to be more precise, for something sparse and enduring.

Perhaps you have other words. To your point about the limits of language, and context. The past few days I’ve been trying to make images that create an idea about Mariupol that I’m also having trouble naming. This is a city under pressure, an object of interest for both Ukrainians and Russians, and many versions of what that means. Yet it has mostly avoided the destruction visited upon other towns. The residents are keeping their heads down. Reticent comes to mind, as does fugitive. But I’m not sure that’s right. Maybe that’s how I’m feeling.

I keep trying to find the space to tell you a story about something that happened last week in London. I was having a quiet drink with a friend. Sitting next to us were three men, and one began jew-baiting us. For 10 minutes he explored every grammatical form of jew available in English, mumbling jewy jew jews jews, jew and so on. I usually ignore this kind of provocation, as acknowledging it leads to escalation. Yet saying nothing grants impunity to the abuser. Shift this to the social scale, and we arrive in our current situation, the veiled rhetoric of bigotry allowed more and more public space, until it becomes the norm, and blooms in political upheaval, in public violence.

In any case, it’s unclear to me whether laying low is the right strategy for Mariupol, or what the alternative might be. There is near-daily shelling 20 km from here. We can hear it when the wind blows west.

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

kusters_jul52016

Dear Ivan,

The victor writes history as he sees it. I concur. The culture, The identity of a nation shapes its way of looking at events and of writing its history. How else could differing descriptions of the same event exist? Is there even such a thing as a neutral representation?

The fallen depicted as heroes. A powerful scene, those men, women and children  dramatically displayed, turned into martyrs, presumably intended to invoke feeling rather than a display of fact. “J’accuse…!”, Émile Zola famously wrote in an open letter to his president in 1898 on the subject of anti-semitism. The Dreyfus affair divided France for nearly 12 years and became the archetypical example of miscarriage of justice, accusing the government of misuse of power.

The limits of any given language. Turmoil. Telling any story in any shape or form undeniably alters it. The space between reality and how we represent it is the context of the person telling the story. Our upbringing, our views of the world, our language, photography, painting, talking, writing skills. Our moods. Our health. Our worries and aspirations.

Our attempts to perceive reality are  inevitably faceted by a multitude of factors branching and interacting interplaying in an exact time and place, and conveyed by a person who  is constantly changing and limited in capacity to speak. It seems impossible.

We rely on categorisation, reduction and interpretation more than anything, and we trust our lives to others to reduce and interpret in a way that fits our own. Yet we mustn’t forget to constantly be aware of our inevitably limited perspectives.

Our world view is local indeed. That’s not bad. Just once every now and again, we need to stop our urge to be victors.

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

Dear Anton, I’m on a train south from Kyiv. It’s early, I'm drowsily scanning the fugitive patterns in the worked and ordered land. The scrubby forest, the sandy tracks that snake through the trees, occasional stands of fir. Villages with wooden homes, dachas, and ubiquitous concrete-clad apartment buildings. The megaliths of Ukraine’s industrial heartland, the factories that stretch for kilometers along the Dnieper River. I’ve been on the move, and approaching by steps Europe’s newest border, between Ukraine and its separated eastern territories, the Donbass. Yesterday in Kyiv I decided to compare the Soviet treatment of Europe’s wars to that of the French, and spent a few hours in the memorial formerly known as “The National Museum of the Great Patriotic War,” renamed since the separatist conflict as the "Museum of the History of Ukraine in World War II." The museum occupies the plinth of the famous statue of “Motherland,” which at over 60 meters dominates Kyiv’s skyline. The whole complex is a manifestation of the cliche we call the weight of history. Soviet-era exhibits didactic and unsubtle - ranks of machine guns, flame-filled panoramas, dioramas displaying the personal effects and official documents of martyrs and heroes, maps in extruded metal showing advances of armies westward, a noose lit by a spotlight to dramatize death in Nazi camps, a hall of thousands of portraits of the dead. In the museum’s foyer a new exhibit memorializes the heroes of the Donbass war: dioramas of the artifacts of fallen men that roughly mimic the Soviet encasements: keys, watches, religious icons, guitars, handwritten letters, photos of children. In truth, I thought I’d perceive these exhibits as musty, laden kitsch. But our talk of systems and industries has led me to consider our systems of memorialization. Individuals, then lists of names, then iterations of image, then data and patterns, the cumulation of which leaves me in a sort of conceptual turmoil. Perhaps, underlying all this, stands an accusation. /// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters.@ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dear Anton,

I’m on a train south from Kyiv. It’s early, I’m drowsily scanning the fugitive patterns in the worked and ordered land. The scrubby forest, the sandy tracks that snake through the trees, occasional stands of fir. Villages with wooden homes, dachas, and ubiquitous concrete-clad apartment buildings. The megaliths of Ukraine’s industrial heartland, the factories that stretch for kilometers along the Dnieper River. I’ve been on the move, and approaching by steps Europe’s newest border, between Ukraine and its separated eastern territories, the Donbass.

Yesterday in Kyiv I decided to compare the Soviet treatment of Europe’s wars to that of the French, and spent a few hours in the complex formerly known as “The National Museum of the Great Patriotic War,” renamed since the separatist conflict as the “Museum of the History of Ukraine in World War II.” The museum occupies the plinth of the famous statue of “Motherland,” which at over 60 meters dominates Kyiv’s skyline.

The place  is an embodiment of the cliche we call the weight of history. Didactic, unsubtle Soviet-era exhibits dominate: ranks of machine guns, flame-filled panoramas, dioramas displaying the personal effects and official documents of martyrs and heroes, maps in extruded metal showing advances of armies westward, a noose lit by a spotlight to dramatize death in Nazi camps, a hall of thousands of portraits of the dead.

In the museum’s foyer a new exhibit memorializes the heroes of the Donbass war: dioramas of the artifacts of fallen men roughly mimic the Soviet encasements: keys, watches, religious icons, guitars, handwritten letters, photos of children.

In truth, I thought I’d experience these exhibits as musty and laden with kitsch. But our talk of systems and industries has led me to consider our systems of memorialization. Individuals, then lists of names, then iterations of image, then data and patterns, the cumulation of which leaves me in a sort of conceptual turmoil. Perhaps, underlying all this, stands an accusation.

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

 

kusters_jul2

Dear Ivan,

Opposite the Maginot line in Germany lay the second Siegfried line, or Westwall. The network of concentration camps of Hinzert where I was last week stood right in the middle of it, the camp and sub camp system brought to life in 1938 specifically to use forced labour to construct and fortify large parts of this line, with prisoners considered antisocial and in need of re-education.

The systemacy and institutionalisation of it all, equating a human being to a usable, disposable entity measured merely by the work in hours, added to the cause. Exploit. Discard when exhausted. Repeat.

Nearby in the city of Trier there was also a Hinzert sub camp. Karl Marx was born there more than a century earlier. With his notion of class struggle, Marx predicted the economic exploitation that the Nazis would force upon the country, which was in turn an element of political oppression, mass murder and genocide.

I am testing a new old camera, a gift from a friend. Looking into the ground glass, I see my face inverted, flipped, and shadowed by my hat, and I become a stranger to myself.

Your image comes to mind as I drive through a tunnel, soldiers compressed as the narratives they represent, a reality larger than every individual yet in part shaped by every individual.

And always that exploitation appearing in whatever humans do. Time distorting as lights flash by, I’m fighting my fatigue as I  drive. But I’m heading home, and there’s tremendous power and consolation in that thought.

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

Dear Anton, The Esplanade des Invalides in Paris is scruffy and untended. Rutted paths lead under the lindens to the British Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to Napoleon’s tomb. Underneath it is a parking lot; at intervals throughout the territory narrow concrete stairs lead down to it, looking a great deal like the entrance to a bunker. As I was passing, every person emerging from those depths blinked and stumbled, disoriented by the light and by the similarity of the terrain in every direction. I was on my way to the Musée de l’Armée, intending to visit the dioramas of French star forts on the fourth floor. They are incredibly detailed miniatures of an ultimately misguided concept, as the construction standards of those forts didn’t keep pace with increasingly powerful artillery. By the 19th century the defensive response was to continually expand the perimeter walls to keep the guns further from the fort. This continued to the point of absurdity, the defense of entire nations with concrete and stone, at the same time as the nation became the nation state, with fixed borders and controls. The Maginot line might be the clearest expression of that idea; its failure revealed the flaw in the idea of sovereignty enforced primarily through walls and force. In the event, I spent most of my day watching old newsreels of the European wars. From the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the capture of Gavrilo Princip, to the Somme and Verdun, on to the German bombardment of London, to Stalingrad, Guadalcanal, El Alamein, to D-Day, the liberation of Provence, and the capture of Berlin. The footage looped fragments of events to make these battles into compressed narratives. I sat and watched them dozens of times, eventually no longer seeing the stories, but only the visual artifacts and distortions of time, the scratches and streaks and shadows. /// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters.@ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dear Anton,

The Esplanade des Invalides in Paris is scruffy and untended. Rutted paths lead under the lindens to the British Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to Napoleon’s tomb. Underneath it is a parking lot; at intervals throughout the territory narrow concrete stairs lead down to it, looking a great deal like the entrance to a bunker. As I was passing, every person emerging from those depths blinked and stumbled, disoriented by the light and by the similarity of the terrain in every direction.

I was on my way to the Musée de l’Armée, intending to visit the dioramas of French star forts on the fourth floor. They are incredibly detailed miniatures of an ultimately misguided concept. The thick walls of those forts could not protect against increasingly powerful artillery.

This 19th century defensive tactic continued to the point of absurdity: ever expanding layers of perimeter walls defending entire nations with concrete and stone. The nation became the nation state, with fixed borders delineated on maps. The Maginot line might be the clearest manifestation of the flawed idea of sovereignty secured through walls.

In the event, I spent most of my day watching old newsreels of the European wars. From the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the capture of Gavrilo Princip, to the Somme and Verdun, on to the German bombardment of London, to Stalingrad, Guadalcanal, El Alamein, to D-Day, the liberation of Provence, and the capture of Berlin. The footage looped fragments of events to make these battles into compressed narratives. I sat and watched them dozens of times, eventually no longer seeing the stories, but only the visual artifacts and distortions of time, the scratches and streaks and shadows. 

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

Kusters_jun28

Dear Ivan,

Traveling, driving, chasing the sun here in Germany I can’t help but think about your Nelson image and the events that are unfolding as we speak. Having been trained as a political scientist in a past life, I’m deeply upset.

Yes, the cynics among us might tell you that self-serving manipulation is simply part of the human condition. But cynicism has never solved anything; it is an intellectually destructive position, and the weakest of all moral stances and attitudes.

I’m driving through a European landscape where the same nationalist fervor grew in the beginning of last century. Power-hungry political bullshitters, growing xenophobia everywhere, creeping into our societies, allowing unspeakable things to happen. Have we forgotten?

I literally fail to find my sunshine today. Driving towards the edge of the clouds I see the blue sky in the distance, yet I fail to reach it. The winds are not in my favour. As I visit the remains of the former Nazi concentration camp in Hinzert, I see today’s rain falling on history. Suddenly the work that I’m creating on this journey throughout Europe seems even more urgent to show.

I really hope we didn’t forget. As yours, my heart too, relentlessly pounding inside my chest as I drive home in silence. The distant hilltop trees my witness, as they must have been then.

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

Dear Anton, At night, lying in the dark I can feel my heart bumping in my ribcage and equally, the slow diminishment of myself. With time comes the desire to build memorials, even to the single life that I have. I think about how to depict or show this feeling, but every expression of it seems to emerge as sentiment, pretense or nostalgia. You share something simple with me, a thought about your stepson, an urge for sunshine. I marvel at this unfussy, stubborn idea you’ve presented. What’s true for you at the moment, or plainly in front of you. Doglike, in your language. Yet you hint at something unsettled, nearby. The red crosshairs in your image, and the human form next to them. I suddenly understand that we’re looking down the barrel of a gun. As images come I both want to share them with you and to hold on to them, in the fantasy that they might become something else, more durable or original. Something memorialized, or at least memorable. I try to let go of that impulse, for who knows if I will make something larger than myself, or if it is helpful to ask that question. Though I have also found that letting images sit, forgetting them for years, may skew their meaning in unexpected ways. This is the response, I think, to your question about whether I can act without concern for what the act reveals. I should mention I’m now in London. It’s late, I’ve woken suddenly. I’m in a hotel above Charing Cross. I can feel the thrumming of traffic, the continuous flow of night busses, the Tube deep underground. Nelson stands on his column, just out of sight in Trafalgar Square. The 4th plinth, for public art, stands empty. I may disown these words in the morning. /// #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters.@ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dear Anton,

At night lying in the dark, I can feel my heart bumping in my ribcage and equally, the slow diminishment of myself. With time comes the desire to build memorials, even to the single life that I have. I think about how to depict or show this feeling, but every expression of it seems to emerge as sentiment, pretense, or nostalgia.

You share something simple with me, a thought about your stepson, an urge for sunshine. I marvel at this unfussy, stubborn idea you’ve presented. What’s true for you at the moment, or plainly in front of you. Doglike, in your language. Yet you hint at something unsettled. The red crosshairs in your image, and the human form next to them. I suddenly understand that we’re looking down the barrel of a gun.

As images come I both want to share them with you and to hold on to them, in the fantasy that they might become something else, more durable or original. Something memorialized, or at least memorable. I try to let go of that impulse, for who knows if I will make something larger than myself, or if it is helpful to ask that question. Though I have also found that letting images sit, forgetting them for years, may alter their meaning in unexpected ways. This is the response, I think, to your question about whether I can act without being concerned with what the act reveals.

I should mention I’m now in London. It’s late, I’ve woken suddenly. I’m in a hotel above Charing Cross. I can feel the thrumming of traffic, the continuous flow of night busses, the Tube deep underground. Nelson stands on his column, just out of sight in Trafalgar Square. On the fourth plinth, for public art, the skeleton of a horse in bronze, its sharp, serrated ribs.

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

kusters_june20

Dear Ivan,

Tomorrow summer starts. Looking out into this gloomy weather here in Belgium, I long for sunny days. I had a breakthrough last night for a new story I’m aching to start. As I was yet again looking at my contact sheets of the preliminary work I had done on location in Kyushu now nine months ago, I somehow added what I now see as new key images.

Why had I never noticed them before? They seem so obvious. And after printing the images today, the whole story came together for me. I now know what to do to make the project. It’s an immense relief, knowing which mountain I need to climb for this. It won’t make the climb itself any easier of course, but the journey’s where all the fun lies, right?

And I’m not going to wonder what made me see differently. Maybe it’s the books I’ve been reading, the films I’ve watched, or the conversations I’ve been having. It’s better I don’t know, it’s impossible to replicate or turn into a trick anyway. I’m just glad that it happens every so often.

Speaking of massacres, as I look at your image my stepson is playing Battlefield 4 and having a massacre of his own. A message pops up: “last man in squad”. I reminisce. A family, shelter, a place to call home. I struggle to find anything more profound right now.

A man rings the doorbell with an empty bottle asking if I can fill it with water for him. He’s working construction next door with nobody home. He apologises for disturbing me and I say please…don’t mention it and come to think of it that makes me feel sad. I wish no one would ever have to apologise for asking for a glass of water.

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

Dear Anton, The inclination of your pensive, shadowed head. The figure may be human or stone, it’s impossible to know. Though it is rare for public statuary to assume introspective poses. We prefer those we put on pedestals to gaze at the horizon. The public figure on a plinth leads me to think of its counterpoint; specifically the efforts of those who elevated him. Or should I say, upon whose backs he was elevated. Though it is easy to traffic in generalities. We well know the cycle of elevation and desecration of past heroes, as their ideas come in and out of fashion, and the public contention and violence that results. In any case, your inclined head implies reflection, which in turn implies a response to an event or a gesture, a fragment of narrative. In choosing images for you, I‘ve been pulled between those that imply a story and those imply a concept. And when I choose I step away from reason and instead allow an image to arise in my mind. Once it has secured a place it begins to accumulate a weight that is difficult to resist. All this talk of groups and conformity, of statues and gazes, of empire and eternity. And you in Rome. It’s leading me to Tiberius, inclined to introspection, the “gloomiest of men” according to Pliny the Elder, but also conqueror of the Roman north, of the Germanic tribes. And the image that’s arisen in response, perhaps inescapably, is of the slaughterhouse. #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters.@ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dear Anton,

The inclination of your figure’s pensive, shadowed head. It may be human or stone; it’s impossible to know. Though it is rare for public statuary to assume an introspective pose. We prefer those we put on pedestals to gaze at the horizon.

The public figure on a plinth leads me to think of its counterpoint; specifically the efforts of those who elevated him. Or should I say, upon whose backs he was lifted. Though it is easy to traffic in generalities. We well know the cycles of celebration and desecration of past heroes as their ideas come in and out of fashion, often with accompanying public contention and violence.

In any case, your bowed head suggests reflection, which in turn suggests a response, a fragment of narrative. In choosing images for you, I‘ve been pulled between those that imply a story and those that imply a concept. And when I choose I step away from reason and instead allow an image to arise in my mind. Once it has secured a place it begins to accumulate a weight that is difficult to resist.

All this talk of groups and conformity, of statues and gazes, of empire and eternity. And you in Rome. It’s leading me to Tiberius, inclined to introspection, the “gloomiest of men” according to Pliny the Elder, but also conqueror of the Roman north, of the Germanic tribes. And the image that’s arisen in response, perhaps inescapably, is of the slaughterhouse.

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

Kusters_jun15

Dear Ivan,

It’s indeed striking; I hadn’t noticed it at all. Why would you continue to send those images of stone. Is it to open my eyes to something you’ve seen, the uncontrollable urge we have to eternalise ourselves, to build things that confirm our actions, to validate us? I’ve been reading about our deeply ingrained inner urge to conform to the people around us, and by doing so, maintaining  our status within the groups so as not to be cast out. Something that in the Stone Age was crucial for survival, is no longer. But that basic urge still governs part of us.

Look at any school class picture and you’ll see: most students will have the same hairstyle and clothes. The chance of people having done that without outside influence is infinitesimal. Though we pride ourselves on our individuality, maybe it would be better to accept the influence of peers. We want to be eternal. We want our empire. We want our approval. It just takes a different shape for each of us.

We know it’s not healthy to be governed by this influence. Yet at the same time it is impossible to completely discard it; it unequivocally is part of us. Maybe the key lies in Plato’s dialogues with Socrates: learn to know thyself.

Sometimes I catch glimpses of myself. Those moments that I’m up in a tree, looking out.

Down below are the stone busts and statues of the ancient Greek philosophers in dialogue, thinking, disputing. Again stone. Again our attempt at eternity.

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

Dear Anton, At the base of the columns of the Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russian boys and girls lingered and flirted, while elderly women in long skirts exited the heavy wooden doors of the nave after prayer. That cathedral, if you’ve never been, spreads its columned arms along Nevsky Prospekt, the heart of the city. It is modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Peter the Great also got the name; hence the city. Of course, it is Moscow rather than St. Petersburg that claims status of third Rome, the Orthodox heir. All these millennial aspirants, with visions of eternal empire. Between the stone column and the child’s wave. Between the concrete blast barrier and a dog’s shadow. The former establishes structure and requires obedience. The latter diverts the eye and requests a response. Of these options, I tell myself that I prefer the ephemeral gesture to the enduring commitment. Though you might argue that both stone and flesh are fleeting and it is only a matter of scale. In any case, I wonder, despite my partiality for closing eyes, the drawing of curtains, or the sweeping of brooms, why I continue to send you images of brick walls, concrete bollards, and granite pillars? ///  #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters.@ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dear Anton,

At the base of the columns of the Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russian boys and girls lingered and flirted, while elderly women in long skirts exited the heavy wooden doors of the nave after prayer. That cathedral, if you’ve never been, spreads its columned arms along Nevsky Prospekt, the heart of the city. It is modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Peter the Great inherited the name; hence the city. Of course, it is Moscow rather than St. Petersburg that claims the status of the Third Rome, the Orthodox heir. All these millennial aspirants, with visions of eternal empire.

Between the stone column and a child’s wave. Between the concrete blast barrier and a dog’s shadow. The former establishes structure and requires obedience. The latter diverts the eye and requests a response. Of these options, I tell myself that I prefer the ephemeral gesture to the enduring commitment. Though you might argue that both stone and flesh are fleeting and it is only scale that distinguishes them. In any case, I wonder, despite my partiality for closing eyes, the drawing of curtains, or the sweeping of brooms, why I continue to send you images of brick walls, concrete bollards, and granite pillars?

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

 

 

anton_jun11

Dear Ivan,

In Rome where I am now, a city with a huge past, carved and set in stone by uncountable columns, history has been redefined many times. An act of blurring in and of itself, like the tarp covering the car, never revealing its entirety, only showing every viewer what they want to see, relying on imagination and memory of what is obscured. And I’m sure that images in our collective consciousness cloud our own memories as well, often passing for one of them to the point we believe them to be our own.

I must confess that I’ve never driven a convertible. I can imagine the feeling being comparable to riding a motorcycle on winding roads, sun setting, wind blowing, no destination. After three accidents it was time to move on.

Walking down the steps of my friend’s room here in via Casalini I look outside and see a baby doll and tricycle left behind on the neighbour’s rooftop. A mix of thoughts, memories and associations come to me, and now I long for my innocence and earliest childhood, playing around our house in Riyadh.

I’m on a tram heading to Termini and a little girl points to an imaginary place out the window. Again, constant movement, constant remembering, forgetting, appropriating, redefining, moving towards, and moving away.

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

image_by_image

Dear Anton,

A few weeks ago I was visiting a friend in rural Pennsylvania, not far from where I grew up. He had an old red Alfa Romeo convertible that he rarely drove. I opened a door to a shed where it was stored, the indraft of new air stirring motes of dust, of the scent of rodents and rest. The car was wrapped in a heavy, pale cover and partly obscured by boxes and lawn furniture stacked upon it. The last time I drove it was more than five years ago, with my father.

Our home movies, when I was a child, were shot on 8mm film and projected in the living room. We set up a portable screen or maybe we cast the images on a wall. The film canisters were robin blue and we wrote the date and subject on them with black permanent marker. While I’m sure those films covered the usual range of family activities – picnics, camping, sandcastles by the seashore, sturdy, stubborn children, the only images I recall now are of machines and movement – of me driving a tricycle again and again into a wall, or my father racing his rare yellow Porsche Elva up hills and around race tracks.

I should clarify. When I say I recall, what I actually mean is that there is a flickering in my mind of an image on the wall, and particular gestures. The wave of a hand, a flashed smile, the moment of impact and a child’s jerking head. The other details may not exist, at least not on film. Such as the time my father drove his car into a tree because his brakes had failed. In my mind I witnessed that accident. I can still see it.

As I’ve written this, casting about for more fragments of image, I’ve been fighting a sense of alarm and confusion. I’ve been mislead by the indistinct form of your shrouded vehicle. I’ve never driven my friend’s convertible, up and down the steep, shaded Pennsylvania hills, the narrow carriage roads and farm tracks, the lean of our bodies as we spiraled down into ravines, the rush of speed and flickering shadow.

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

anton_Jun4

Dear Ivan,

I agree, and I think you make an important observation with “the act of projecting upon”. Often we forget, as image makers, that there is a necessary second moment of interpretation, by definition out of our control. The first interpretation is obviously that of the photographer making the image, the second that of viewers interpreting that same image, an image that they can never fully contextualise.

I find myself – as a viewer – always wondering about that first interpretation, what drove the decision to make this image in this exact way. Of course I’ll never be able to know this, so I project, not only my reality upon the photograph, but also my reality upon what might have been the first interpretation of the artist.

The fig leaf of course forever being in the way, making it impossible for me to see, leaving me with my projection. And at the same time most probably protecting me from disillusion were I able to understand.

Why disillusion? Because not understanding is the most powerful drive. It pushes us to jump, to experience, to learn. The last Homo Universalis died a long time ago, but I can’t help wondering what he felt at that precise moment when he had pushed all fig leaves aside and said to himself “and now I know everything there is to be known”. I doubt it was joy.

As a human being I’m a social creature. I absolutely need to be in this constant state of projection, relating to other humans around me any chance I get, dependent on the other even in my act of being alone, instinctively pushed forward by my will to understand; my lensless eye, my umbrella.

Just like a dog, I am never lost, only walking to be found. You?

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

 

Dear Anton, In the fair city that I currently inhabit, in early summer, a high canopy of trees conceals the row houses, bamboo invidiously creeps under fences, the English ivy over walls. The broad leaves of fig and hosta turn upward to catch the rain. Mornings the streets are skeined with movement. The boys and girls, hair still damp and shiny, rush to catch the bus to work or school. On the buses something seems to gather out of the collective health and cleanliness of the passengers, a sort of eagerness for the day that could be described by the word prosperity. We know, of course, that appearances are surfaces. I won’t dwell on the many ways rouge can disguise a bruise, or paint conceal rot. Instead it is the density of objects in space I want to point to, how a busy streetscape asks us to pick out geometries and details, to see a projection of human dramas. There is nothing sparse in this vision; there is no horizon line. When I sat down to write this morning I intended to respond to your question of surety. As you put it, acting without caring for consequence. Instead I’ve been led astray by another question, the one implicit in your image of the undercarriage of branches. ///  #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters.@ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dear Anton,

In the fair city that I currently inhabit, in early summer, a high canopy of trees conceals row houses, bamboo creeps under fences, English ivy over walls. The broad leaves of fig and hosta turn upward to catch the rain. Mornings the streets are skeined with movement. Boys and girls, hair still damp and shiny, rush to catch the bus to work or school. On the buses something seems to gather out of the collective health and cleanliness of the passengers, a sort of eagerness for the day that is given to the prosperous.

We know, of course, that appearances are illusory. I won’t dwell on the many ways rouge can disguise a bruise, or paint conceal rot. Instead it is the density of objects in space I want to point to, how a busy streetscape asks us to pick out geometries and details, to project dramas upon those passing by. There is nothing sparse in this vision; there is no horizon line.

When I sat down to write this morning I intended to respond to your question of surety. As you put it, acting without caring for consequence. Instead I’ve been led astray by another question, the one implicit in your image of the undercarriage of branches.

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

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Dear Ivan, ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ How I get up there in my tree top is indeed a mystery, most of all to myself… but I’m fine with that, as long as it keeps on happening. Up in that tree looking out, I find little more than a vague hint in the distance, and there need not be more. These few seconds of squinting, looking forward and looking back at the same time, maybe seeing, mostly not seeing. My reward is not the seeing, but simply being allowed to be there in the first place. How many others never ever get to climb a single tree. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Two years ago I was a dog. Then I was in a tree top and saw that the images I’d been making for years weren’t connected to what I had set out to talk about. It was agonising. Amputation. I had literally lost my words. I had to start again, navigate my own images all over again. I learned. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ So I touch wood every time. And get the courage to jump. “Unsure but acting anyway” is a very apt description. There’s always this little thing that suddenly decides to push me. There’s never anything holding me back, yet I do take my reality into account in earnest. Is it instinct? Even though I make mistakes all the time, this little thing hasn’t failed me yet. I hope it never will. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ It’s like your detail of the wall: I know it’s a detail of a wall, and I am content knowing that I might never be able to see or grasp the entire wall. I can climb that wall, and I might be off by a little, or by a lot. And along the way I’ll only be able to look closely at the details in front of me and climb. The only certainty is that I know there’s a wall, and that I’m moving. I might not ever reach anything. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Do you have this little thing inside that makes you jump, this little thing not caring how your life looks like or if you’re unsure? Are you unsure at all? Maybe you’re sure. I’ve met many who are, maybe most. Or maybe you’ve mastered tree climbing, and were able to build a little home up there. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ You know, with a cosy fireplace and a tea kettle. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ /// < #image_by_image> is an ongoing conversation between photographers and . ///

Dear Ivan,

How I get into that tree is indeed a mystery, most of all to myself… but I’m fine with that, as long as it keeps on happening. Looking out, I find little more than a vague hint in the distance, and there need not be more. These few seconds of squinting, looking forward and back at the same time, maybe seeing, mostly not seeing. Simply being allowed to be there.

Two years ago I was a dog. Then I climbed a tree and saw that the images I’d been making for years weren’t connected to what I had set out to talk about. It was agonising. I had lost my words. I had to learn to navigate my own images all over again.

So I touch wood and get the courage to jump. “Unsure but acting anyway” is a very apt description. I am somehow able to move past the barriers that I create for myself. Yet I can only see that later. Is it instinct? Even though I make mistakes all the time, this feeling hasn’t failed me yet.

It’s like your detail of the wall: I know it’s a detail and I am content knowing that I might never be able to see the entire wall. I can climb it, and along the way I’ll only be able to look closely at the details in front of me. The only certainty is that I know there’s a wall, and that I’m moving. I might not ever reach anything.

Do you have this little thing inside that makes you jump, this little thing not caring how your life looks or if you’re unsure? Are you unsure at all? Maybe you’re sure. I’ve met many who are, maybe most. Or maybe you’ve mastered tree climbing, and were able to build a little home up there.

You know, with a cosy fireplace and a tea kettle.

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

Dear Anton, You speak of hope, but as I think about what you’re saying, it’s endurance that comes to mind. How you found yourself in that tree is something of a mystery, but I can imagine you up there, squinting through branches. It was early spring, the ground was wet and terrain flat. Maybe you felt a little bit exposed. What I want to know is, once you were there, did you find what you thought you wanted? Or did what you find become the image you then desired? Your animal, the flicked tail, its monumental shadow with its confounding, spindly legs. If it were sculpture it would be made of mottled iron. You start on a journey or down a route of exploration, perhaps full of hope and detailed plans, perhaps unsure but acting anyway. You take one step, then another. Soon, though, you’ve created a way of working, and a little while after that you feel as if you’ve always been that way. How do you ask whether it’s still what you need? Emotions come and go, it’s hard to get out of bed before sunset to capture a certain light. You might travel for days towards a particular atmosphere, enduring the tedium of the road and plenty of time to wonder whether you’re being clever or just bloodyminded. You go on anyway. Maybe you’ve created a program and it’s easier to follow it. Maybe back just isn’t an option, or a diversion elsewhere feels unmoored. Later you might come to find something you need in the the image you made, or the task you accomplished. Is it the image that has value? Does it seem to allude to something else, or do just let it be? Or Is it a marker for the journey, perhaps, the time you spent in that tree? //  #image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters.@ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dear Anton,

You speak of hope, but as I think about what you’re saying, it’s endurance that comes to mind. How you found yourself in that tree might be a mystery, but I can imagine you up there, squinting through branches. It was early spring, the ground was wet and terrain flat. Maybe you felt a little bit exposed. What I want to know is, once you were there, did you find what you thought you wanted? Or was what you found the image you then desired? Your animal, its flicked tail, a monumental shadow with confounding, spindly legs. If it were sculpture it would be made of mottled iron.

You start on a journey or a route of exploration, perhaps full of hope and detailed plans, perhaps unsure but acting anyway. You take one step, then another. Soon you’ve created a way of working, and after a little while you feel as if you’ve always been that way. How do you ask whether it’s still what you need? Emotions come and go, it’s hard to get out of bed before sunset to capture a certain light. You might travel for days towards a particular atmosphere, enduring the tedium of the road and plenty of time to wonder whether you’re being clever or just bloodyminded. You go on anyway. Maybe you’ve created a program and it’s easier to follow it. Maybe back just isn’t an option, or a diversion elsewhere feels unmoored. Later you might find something you need in the image you made, or the task you accomplished. Is it the image that has value? Does it seem to allude to something else? Or is it a marker for the journey, perhaps for the time you spent in that tree?

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

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Dear Ivan, ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Navigating without seeing is like life: we don't have the capacity to see where we’re actually going, even though we can understand a broader picture sometimes. In E, I see a great metaphor of this in a literal physical way. Like your image of people walking with umbrellas, we’re constantly navigating with seemingly little context, aways sunk away in thoughts yet never a clue, scarcely learning to recognise shapes along the way. But our strength is that we’re not alone. E seems to understand that more than most. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ In a comparable way, for the last years I’ve been making images without a lens, asking a camera to record images for me with an eye that I do not have myself. Nothing in between reality and medium, everything essentially reduced to two dimensional recorded shapes that I retroactively try to understand while relating to the moment I experienced. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ And then there are those moments when I suddenly find myself in a tree along my path, a tree that I’ve apparently climbed up to seek out my horizon. To understand things more. Hoping to be closer. But that’s the thing about an horizon: it’s hope. It’s meant to be far. I’ll never arrive at my horizon. And the fact that my hope defines my path in ways I cannot understand, is kind of OK. When in doubt, all I need to do is turn around and look back where I was yesterday. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Out of nowhere, a dog gently approaches me, acknowledging and accepting my presence. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ /// is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters. @ivansigal @antonkusters ///

Dear Ivan, ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Navigating without seeing is like life: we don’t have the capacity to see where we’re actually going, even though we can  sometimes understand a broader picture. In E, I see a metaphor: as with your image of people walking with umbrellas, we’re constantly navigating with seemingly little context, sunk away in thoughts with never a clue, scarcely learning to recognise shapes along the way. Our strength is that we’re not alone. E seems to understand that more than most.

In a comparable way, for the last years I’ve been making images without a lens, asking a camera to record images for me with an eye that I do not have myself. Nothing between reality and medium, everything reduced to two-dimensional recorded shapes that I retroactively try to understand while relating to the moment I experienced.

And then there are those moments when I suddenly find myself in a tree along my path, which I’ve apparently climbed to seek out a horizon. Hoping to be closer. But that’s the thing about a horizon: it’s hope. It’s meant to be far. Of course I’ll never arrive. The fact that my hope defines a path in ways I cannot understand is kind of OK. When in doubt, I just need to turn around and look back where I was yesterday.

Out of nowhere, a dog gently approaches me, acknowledging and accepting my presence.

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

Dear Anton, Once we have learned to see shapes, it is most difficult to unsee them. In your image I struggle to see  two black dots as anything but eyes, and a shadowed slit as a mouth. During those cold travels with E (I’ll call her E), we discussed sight in its many permutations. As both an aid and impediment to understanding, as desire, as pain, as memory, as illusion. We spoke of the design of cities and towns, where one could live without eyes, and where one was rendeyred captive by the construction of buildings and streets, the availability of public transport, of sidewalks, of neighborhood shops and services. E mentioned that she lived in Russia because the cities could be navigated without sight. She lived in Yekaterinburg I believe, a city with a compact core, but she had come from a suburb, where she was utterly dependent on others for movement. We tried to find words to describe depth perception, how to interpret shape and form, what an image might be to someone for whom image is abstraction. We tried to find language that would approximate visual language – composition, space, and time, movement through a seen world. E described her perfect work of art as an image that fit her field of vision exactly, spreading over the visible until it covered everything, a screen, a sky, a color field. Her idea of making a work of art was based on the capacity for sight afforded by her lensless eye. She was struck by the idea of colors on a single plain, and their alteration. Which tells me, now, that even though her instrument for seeing is different than ours, her impulse to shape with that instrument is the same. /// is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters.@ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram ///

Dear Anton,

Once we have learned to see shapes, it is most difficult to unsee them. In your image I struggle to interpret  two black dots as anything but eyes, and the shadowed slit as a mouth.

During those cold travels with E (I’ll call her E), we discussed sight in its many permutations, as both an aid and impediment to understanding, as desire, as pain, as memory, as illusion. We spoke of the design of cities and towns, where one could live without eyes and where one was rendered captive by the construction of buildings and streets, the availability of public transport, of sidewalks, of neighborhood shops and services. E mentioned that she lived in Russia because the cities could be navigated without sight. She lived in Yekaterinburg I believe, a city with a compact core, but she had come from a suburb, where she was utterly dependent on others for movement.

We tried to find words to describe depth perception, how to interpret shape and form, what an image might be to someone for whom image is abstraction. We tried to find language that would approximate visual experience – composition, space and time, movement through a seen world.

E described her perfect work of art as an image that exactly fit her field of vision, spreading over the visible until it covered everything, a screen, a sky, a color field. Her idea of making a work of art was based on the capacity for sight afforded by her lensless eye. She was struck by the idea of colors on a single plane, and their alteration. Which tells me, now, that even though her instrument for seeing is different than ours, her impulse to shape with that instrument is the same.

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

 

Dear Ivan I'm obsessed with context. Saw your image yesterday and read your words, and all I could think of was “what if this woman were the one who could actually see?”. I know, having all of humanity stacked up against you makes it pretty much impossible to be considered the norm for seeing correctly. And what does that even mean, ‘the norm’, besides being a product of specific set of circumstances. All I remember being young was trying to understand why, trying to turn things around, trying not to judge, and slowly realising that everyone can only look through their own eye anyway. I guess realising the inevitability of one’s own context is the most I could hope for. It makes me wish I could see like the woman in the image, constantly dependent on others to interpret, something we all seem to shun, her act of seeing and seeking context being so much more. So much richer than mine, petty, arrogant, rusted and willing only to believe my own. /// is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters. @ivansigal @antonkusters ///

Dear Ivan,

I’m obsessed with context. Saw your image yesterday, and all I could think was “what if this woman were the one who could actually see?” I know, having all of humanity stacked up against you makes it nearly impossible to be considered the norm for correct seeing. And what is  “the norm,” besides a product of specific set of circumstances. All I remember when young was trying to understand why, trying to turn things around, trying not to judge, and slowly realising that everyone can only look through their own eyes. Perhaps realising the inevitability of one’s own context is the most I could hope for. It makes me wish I could see like the woman in your photo, constantly dependent on others to interpret, something we all seem to shun. Her act of seeing and seeking context being so much richer than mine, petty, arrogant, rusted and willing only to believe my own.

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

Dear Anton,

I’ve been thinking recently about a person I traveled with some years ago, on buses and old turboprops around Kazakhstan. It was January and we traveled for several weeks, and in my memory we were never able to get warm. She was blind, or nearly so. Her eyes had no lenses; she could see only light and shadow. She carried a small magnifying glass and with this she was able to focus on shapes. She had acquired the magnifier as an adult, and was learning to understand what she was seeing image by image. For instance, she was able to see photos of her daughter, but could not read the expressions on her face. She carried those photos everywhere, and showed them to people we met, taking on faith that her daughter was cheerful and smiling in the pictures. During the time that we traveled together, to Shymkent, Aktau, Pavlodar, Semipalatinsk and other cities in Kazakhstan, along icy roads and in long, cold waits in bus stations and airports, we explored the difference between icicles and lamp posts, lamp posts and radio towers, streetlights and the full moon.

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