Katja Stuke and Oliver Sieber’s photographic work is image production in an understated mode. No photographs of decisive moments; not even any that search their surroundings for major events or specifically original motifs. Rather, it is casual photography: serene, attentive, more at a walking pace than that of lightning speed; a photography of process, oriented as much to time as to space.
The relationship between this photography and the individual image, which is still the unit of measurement for conventional photographic publications and exhibitions, is inevitably a sceptical one. Stuke and Sieber work in series and sequences; they layer and mix material, take pictures of screens and posters, build rows and constellations, they shift motifs back and forth between different media and apparatuses. When individual prints do appear in their oeuvre, they are immediately parcelled out, such as in the split close-ups of ‘Supernatural’, or they are set in relation to a collection, such as in the two prints taken from the stack of images in ‘Fax from the Library’.
Just as the photographic image here does not exist alone, so does photography in these works not exist in isolation from other pictorial media and apparatuses. ‘Fax from the Library’ is a sequential presentation of images that are choreographed being drawn into a fax machine; in ‘Supernatural’ and ‘Osaka Public / Osaka Private’ faces and figures are photographed from various screens; ‘Cry Minami’ reacts to a television broadcast extrapolating a frame in mulitple editions from it into the public sphere. ‘Japanese Lesson,’ a mashup that has been reassembled and updated time and again since 2005, is both a slide show and an evolutionary archive of Japanese visual culture, in which photos from diverse publications (posters, reports, advertisements, magazines, magazine covers) as well as materials of every description are collected, in other words: film stills and frames, television images, manga, pop-cultural icons, and whatever other pictorial material can be found flying around public and virtual space.
This photography has little to do with the Japanese iconography of tea ceremonies and rock gardens. It could also be said that it has little room left for it, as Stuke and Sieber‘s interest by no means focusses on the nostalgic or the exquisite image of Japan, but on the more prosaic spectacle of those vernacular landscapes that are equally urban and peripheral, medial and material. The Japan that presents itself in these photographic series and constellations is a land of asphalt roads and sidewalks, electricity pylons, garage doors and transit areas mapped in various ‘walks’ and divided up into so many views of a certain neighbourhood or a given stretch of road. If this process is a meditative practice (as Stuke and Sieber have referred it on many occasions), then it is also a pragmatic, very worldly oriented practice that has developed into a central method of site inspection and inventory.
The sequencing of these ‘Walks’: in 4 x 5 or 5 x 6 or 6 x 6 images that are presented on the walls of an exhibition (or on the page in a book) correspond to the natural process that is characteristic of the photographic work by Stuke and Sieber as a whole. After the picture is before the picture; one photo does not stand for itself, but is part of a sequence and constellation; what is captured in one photograph will look somewhat different in the next; and completing a series with a particular photo does not necessarily mean that it has been finalised. As a general rule, the work of these two photographers almost always shifts the photographic work beyond the moment and the motif towards a movement that is conceived as open and that only comes to a temporary standstill with the last image of the photographic ensemble.
The ‘walks’ (at the locations San‘ya, Shibuya, Ichinomya …) that continue on between each shot could one day be captured again at the same place as where the last photo was taken. Photo books, these apparently compact objects, conserve the constant movement of leafing through pages, just as fanzines are made to be published not as unique specimens but in series, and photo tables, these underestimated exhibition pieces, can be used to draw attention to both the succession, the parallels and the superimposition of photos and photo books. Oliver Sieber constructed the ‘Imaginary Club’ as well as the ensemble ‘J_Subs’ from individual portraits of Japanese young people whose styling equally reflects the individuality and internationality of different subcultures, could be either extended or reduced by a few portraits at any time and even if they are not continually transforming (as with mashup) it is true that their structure and composition can be conceived as reversible.
Although a certain proximity to film is recognisable in the sequential image of the ‘walks’, in the fax transmissions, in the minimally deviating screenshots and in the sequentially presented or leafed through pages of the photo books, it does not mean that this photography is working on blurring the transitions between the individual images. On the contrary: in Stuke and Sieber‘s work much attention is paid to frames and distances, to the edges and boundaries of the image, and also to the in-between that marks the difference between one photo and the next, something that is very precisely defined in the hanging. One premise of this photography is that no one image is the same as another, a second premise is that no image should assert itself individually. A third is that the time of their creation and circumstances of their production is stored between the images and remains inscribed in the sequences and constellations.
Take your time: photography is the medium that seems to capture duration, above all in the form of the set moment. (Back then, there, this, on that occasion, at that time.) Here, however, duration is an interval that goes beyond the single image and even the individual series, stopover time rather than transit time. Especially as Stuke and Sieber carry out their photographic activities more as settled travellers preferring to remain in one place rather than changing the scenery too often. Travelling, something that can also be learned from these photographic works, can amount to remaining: on site, in the neighbourhood, on the subject, in conversation, with those who are connected to the neighbourhood or to the subject.
Or to return and to continue the inventories and conversations, as the two photographers have been doing for many years during their travels to Osaka.
Process photography. The principle that Stuke and Sieber followed on their travels to Japan is not one that should be limited to just Japan or to travel. (But rather, a new setting: Paris, where a working grant in the Cité des Arts resulted in them resuming site visits and a movement of casual inventory.) In fact, the principle is by no means limited to producing images, at least not when one is dealing with two protagonists who take photos and duplicate technical images of all kinds as photos, but who also approach photography in the mode of layout, viewing, and the design of fanzines and photo books. Two protagonists who collect fanzines and photo books,
exhibit them and initiate conversations about them; who like to work in workshop mode just as much as in bar talk mode, as long as the encounter at the bar coincides with the release of another issue of their own photo magazine and with the processes of browsing, showing and telling.
ANT!FOTO, the title under which some of these bar talks and encounters are planned for the current year, is also the formula that Stuke and Sieber have chosen for their highly diverse activities in dealing with the photographic image, in order to convey it, if not as a specific term, then as a keyword.
ANT!FOTO, as the beautifully designed website antifoto.de, constantly updated and expanded by the two artists, communicates (and documents), is an extremely hybrid project, its form changes as it sometimes appears as an exhibition, as a fanzine, as a print, a series, a book, a workshop, as a collection of images or as a film. An ANT!FOTO manifesto also exists, and it is enough to read just a few lines from this manifesto in order to discern that it is written programmatically against any and all fixed definitions of photography, but, above all, against a fetishistic approach to the so-called artistic image (work, unique specimen, original): „photography is too good to be regarded as art only“. According to the remarkable interpretation by boehmkobayashi.de, dealing with photography is a communicative and social practice, also: a practice of networking and distribution that functions only as intermedia and inter-materially, and finally, in all its casualness: a rather important contribution to the question of what photography could look like over the next decades, both inside and outside of the exhibition space.
Stefanie Diekmann is a scholar of media and image theory. After various positions as a visiting professor at, among others the University of Berne,
the University of Texas at Austin and the Freie Universität Berlin she was
appointed Professor of Media and Theater Studies at Ludwig-Maximilians-
University in Munich in 2010 and Professor of Media Studies at Hildesheim University in 2012. Her academic work focuses on questions of intermedia (mostly photography, film and theater), image theory, documentary film and the audiovisual aspects of interviewing. Her recent publications include „Six Feet Under“ (Berlin/Zurich 2013), „Die andere Szene“ (ed., Berlin 2014), „Die Attraktion des Apparativen“ (ed., with Volker Wortmann, Munich 2019) and the translation of the book „L‘Image partagée: la photographie numérique“ by her French colleague André Gunthert (Constance 2019).