All posts by lars

Photographic Memory

With the app CCamera, you can take pictures that already exist.

Marco Land had his own work copied first. A couple years ago, as he kept a “visual diary” on Instagram, one of his pictures became an unexpected viral sensation. “Somebody had taken a screenshot of one of my posts,” he remembers. His work was shared and reposted by complete strangers. It took on a life of its own—naturally without any credit to the photographer. “When it happened a second time, I became curious about the strange culture of using photos on the internet.”

A designer in training, Marco ended up writing his Bachelor’s thesis about photography on the web. He studied the staggering numbers of photos taken and shared on social media each day and put them into categories. They were incredibly similar. “Looking at those figures, I began to wonder if it has remained possible to create something truly new.”

Photography, unlike painting, relies on whatever the photographer puts before the lens. There are, in theory, only a finite number of subjects—and with millions of pictures shared every day, it’s more than likely that most of the world has already been photographically catalogued.

Pictures much like yours, but not actually yours

Marco decided to reverse course: “Instead of trying to take more innovative, faster, or better photos, wouldn’t it be fun to go the other way?” Just like his work had been appropriated, he wanted to use what was already there. “I wanted to build a camera that takes pictures, which already exist.”


The app CCamera is the result of his quest. Built two years after Marco had the idea, the goal of the app is extremely simple: Point your camera at something, click the button and you’re shown a photographic approximation. The app produces a picture similar to the one you took, but taken from the internet.

Technologically, it isn’t too complicated either: Once you take a photo, the app feeds it into a Google API to perform a reverse search and produces a match. The original image isn’t retained since all you’re shown is the result: A picture much like yours, but not actually yours.

The results vary between scarily accurate and comically wrong. A picture of a friend might produce a lookalike—just as snapping a broccoli might result in a picture of a tree.

At their best, the results are uncanny: Taking an existing photos is a powerful reminder of how many parallels there are between your life and those of complete strangers—or how many motifs have become a trope. Not all lives are the same, but the way we picture them through photography often is: Recurring images of smiling faces, holiday destination, and coffee cups. Think you’re taking unique photos? There’s probably someone else out there, thinking the same.

Never quite accurate, but never really wrong either

Because of that, CCamera unmasks everyday situations as more ordinary than they seem—simply by showing that the constellation of objects or people before the lens has appeared somewhere else before, if slightly differently.

Meanwhile, all errors show the limitation of even the most sophisticated image recognition technology. When you take a picture of a sheet of paper and the phone interprets it as a pillow, the app displays a childlike sense of discovery about the world. CCamera sees things like a child might, and makes similarly well-intentioned but misguided misinterpretations.
“I wanted the app to be a critical commentary on the way we look at and use photos,” Marco says. Yet it accomplishes much more. It seems to ask “What is a photograph?”

Is it an accurate depiction of whatever happens in front of the lens? Or can it just as well be an interpretation, like a painter’s flattering sketch of a person? CCamera suggests that photography is a mere act of approximation. Never quite accurate, but never really wrong either.

Check out the app and read more about the project at ccamera.org.

Street View’s Strange Solitude

Exploring the world through Google Maps, the Agorophobic Traveler carves out haunting impressions from a parallel universe.

A couple of years ago, cycling through a sleepy Dutch city, my friends and I came across one of Google’s signature Street View cars. It was an unusual sight: A white sedan, adorned with a small Google logo on the side, and that roof-mounted camera peering down like an insect eye. We waved.
When the images became available on Google Maps many months later, there was no visible trace of our waving selves; just an empty intersection in that sleepy Dutch city.

Strangely Devoid of Life

In fact, most images you see on Google Street View seem strangely devoid of life. This is particularly obvious in the work of Jacqui Kenny, an artist who goes by the name of The Agoraphobic Traveler.
Held back by anxieties and a fear of crowded spaces—the dictionary definition of agoraphobia—, Kenny has chosen to see the world in an unusual fashion: By exploring the image database of Google Street View. She writes: “I found remote towns and dusty landscapes, vibrant architectural gems, and anonymous people, all frozen in time. I was intrigued by the strange and expansive parallel universe of Street View, and took screen shots to capture and preserve its hidden, magical realms.”
Google Copyright/Created by Jacqui Kenny
Google Copyright/Created by Jacqui Kenny
Google Copyright/Created by Jacqui Kenny
On her site and Instagram account, she shares her “Street View Portraits”, and I can’t help but agree with the impression they depict a world unlike our own. They are very ordinary things; but in such an unusual way and so devoid of life that they seem somehow removed from the reality we experience every day.
That is because they are, in a way, removed: In its attempt to photograph most of the planet, Google has effectively turned our surroundings into an enormous photographic tapestry. Their massive picture, free for anyone to roam around in, is entirely devoid of “decisive moments” or carefully chosen frames. Browsing the imagery, the Agoraphobic Traveler breaks the picture back down, she selects what catches her eye.

A Sight Worth Recording

Does that make her a curator? A new type of photographer? In his book ‘Understanding a Photograph’, John Berger wrote that any photograph contains a simple encoded message: “I have decided that seeing this is worth recording.” The Agoraphobic Traveler may not be behind the camera, but I would argue that she nevertheless engages in photography: Her pictures tells us that a particular sight is worth recording—even if it has previously been recorded by Google.
Google Copyright/Created by Jacqui Kenny
Google Copyright/Created by Jacqui Kenny
Google Copyright/Created by Jacqui Kenny

The Strangest Kind of Travel Photography

What makes the shots so memorable is how they present the world. As Google shoots during daytime, all pictures are naturally filled with light, and since the insect-eye cameras have a unique vantage point, all photos are wide-angle shots taken from the same height. The genius in these pictures therefore doesn’t stem from technical skill, but from what photographer Sergio Larraín has described as the game of “organizing the rectangle”.
The Agoraphobic Traveler has selected empty streets and white walls, free-standing buildings and wide plains. Perhaps there’s a correlation between her fear of crowded spaces and the tendency to select such open spaces. Google obscures the faces of anyone they capture, so none of the people we see can be identified, giving the images an uncanny sense of isolation.
When I contrast these shots with the way I see the world, I feel like they depict a dystopia. A strange land where an unforgiving sun always beats down and people perpetually turn away. If I hadn’t encountered that car myself, I would have trouble believing that the pictures are taken in our world. But this way, I can’t stop looking.
Interested in seeing more Street View Portraits? Check out the site of The Agoraphobic Traveler for an extended gallery and the opportunity to buy prints of her work—with all proceeds going towards charity.

Reality Turned into Fiction

Martine Stig likes to push your buttons.
Her photo book ‘Noir’ contains a series of black and white photos taken during some sunny days in Amsterdam. At first sight, the pictures show unremarkable, everyday occurrences: Birds sit in a tree, light reflects off a building, a car is parked by the curb.
But leafing through the book, you’d be hard pressed not to feel like something nefarious is going on: Faces are obscured. People lay on floors. Even the architecture seems threatening, the birds an ominous presence. The book’s title appears like a double entendre; alluding both to heavy blacks in its monochrome images and the uncanny nature of the famous film genre.



Film Noir is known for its surreal montages, and the same is true here: Throughout the pages, Martine keeps showing us the same pictures over and over again. Each recapitulation puts a picture next to another one, and thereby into a new context.
It’s a disorienting effect, exemplified by a clinical shot of a spiral staircase: Just as though you were on the steps yourself, flipping through ‘Noir’ can feel like going in infinite circles. Pictures reappear in different sizes, next to other shots, and you’re left pondering the meaning.
That disorientation, of course, is exactly what Martine intended: “It’s a game I like to play”, she admits.

“The order determines meaning.”

The artist has a deep-rooted passion for film, and how image patterns create narratives: “I have studied the rules of montage, how connect images in cinema,” she explains. Indeed, the only words in the book are a quote by Soviet film pioneer Sergei Eisenstein: “The essence of cinema does not lie in the images, but in the relation between the images.”
Martine wondered “What if I applied those rules to documentary reality?” She sketched out the motifs she would need to tell a story and then went out into sunny Amsterdam to capture them with a telephoto lens. That means the things we see in the book aren’t at all related, but tied together by aesthetic, cadence, and—most importantly—your own assumptions. “This way, you can turn documentary into fiction”, Martine says. “The order determines how a viewer interprets their meaning.”



Working with designer Hans Gremmen, she edited the shots into what she individual scenes, each reusing previously shown pictures. “What we discovered is that we could create a new reality without having to stage anything.” That’s also where ‘Noir’ departs from other photo books, and their usual fare of carefully-selected works: The scenes send viewers on a journey to discover connections—right before challenging those connections by mixing the order back up.

Martine Stig uses photography to research the perception of reality. She’s also a member of the artist collective Radical Reversibility. Martine lives and works in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


“We are so used to photography depicting the world that we forget that it is actually a construct,” Martine remarks. “I like the fact that you can see the meaning change in the book, because it exposes the effects of chronology and matching: We are accustomed to see certain images and fill in the blanks.” What looks like looming catastrophe really isn’t: “It’s just a another sunny day.”
’Noir’ cautions you not to jump to easy conclusions, but it could also be seen as warning against the seductive power of images. Photos are a powerful form of communication and seeing them out of context can give rise to completely unfounded meanings. Is it call for more vigilance not to be manipulated? Martine doesn’t want to be that direct: “I didn’t make the book to ring the alarm.” She’s more subtle than that.

Instant Gratification

Italian photographer Claudia Cuomo is making sure instant photography sticks around in the digital age.

Press the shutter and hear the whizz of the camera. You pull out the photo with a satisfying snap, just as a shimmer of color appears in its white frame. Everything about instant photography is iconic: From the unwieldy cameras and their washed out pictures, right up to the (widely-debunked) call to “shake it like a Polaroid picture”.
An iconic status is helpful when technology moves on. Like vinyl records or video tapes, instant photography has been utterly disrupted: Take a picture with your phone and you can see it instantly, no waiting let alone shaking required. Polaroid cameras and their siblings are paradoxes in our age of digital photography, but they’ve nevertheless stuck around. Their fans have carved out a niche for it; one in which people like Claudia Cuomo now thrive.


The Italian photographer uses instant film to create moody pictures, playing to the very strength of their deficiencies: She picks out scenes where the odd colors, ghostly skin tones, and missing detail add something to the picture. Her compositions and subjects combine the film’s inherent surrealism with a sense of adventure.
“Shooting Polaroids means taking a risk,” she tells me. “The camera is a tool and a toy at the same time; you never know what you’ll get.” It’s precisely the challenge that she enjoys. When I speak with her via video call, she regularly disappears from sight to retrieve another model from her impressive collection of instant cameras; each letting her experiment in new ways. “Each one gets you different results. They’re mechanical instruments, very imprecise ones. But that’s what makes them so different from digital cameras.”


When I mention the paradoxical staying power of instant photography, Claudia laughs: “It’s simple: When a shot costs €1, you take each picture only once.” She’ll shoot digital as well, but finds it particularly fascinating to create pictures that are so unique. Although you can digitize them by scanning, there’s only one physical copy, and even that is determined by your camera, the age of the film, or the temperature and light when it developed.
“People are looking for something real, for something authentic,” she says. “An instant photo can’t be retouched. It’s a proof of something real. Sure, it may also be imperfect, but who cares? That’s exactly what’s so great about it.”
“In fact, many are reassured by the physicality of the pictures: Sometimes I shoot the same thing twice to give a picture away.”


Claudia came to photography from an unusual angle: She works as a model and eventually switched from being before to behind the the camera lens. It has given her a unique vantage point from which to look at the medium—and a conviction that the authenticity we’re all after is very much a trend.
“Right now, everybody wants lifestyle shots: No make-up, only natural lighting.” In the fashion world, agencies will ask for ‘polas’ or other such snapshots as part of the casting. That type of photography is a sure way of getting un-retouched natural light pictures.
That’s a style, of course, contains its very own paradox: “Instant photography has a fake allure of cheapness. That makes it seem more democratic than it actually is: The film is quite expensive.” It doesn’t dissuade her, though: “I just love how the photos come out. There’s nothing quite like it.”

"Poetry breaks through the bullshit"

Matthew Zapruder believes that poetry—often misunderstood to be obscure—is exactly what we need to find clarity this time and age.

Let’s get it out of the way first: I’m relatively unfamiliar with poetry, but drawn to it from my experience with prose and music. Is poetry a logical extension?
Yes and no. Music and poetry are different: Lyrics are written to function in relation to musical information. They have to work in that system, and music has a lot of emotional information in itself. Poems are really written in dialogue with silence. That’s why lyrics pulled out of music often sound like really bad poetry—not because they’re badly written, but written for a different purpose. Music isn’t unrelated, though.

“Some people get angry at poems”

Explain.
Listening to music changed my idea of what good art was. The first time I heard The Velvet Underground, I didn’t get it. It took me several listens until, of course, I fell madly in love with it. When I came into contact with other art, I was prepared that it might take a little time. Not that something was wrong with the art but that I maybe wasn’t ready for it.

Matthew Zapruder is a poet, poetry editor of the New York Times Magazine, and associate professor, St Mary’s College of California.
Photo: B.A. Van Sise


That’s how you begin your book ‘Why Poetry’—by addressing the misconception that poetry is deliberately difficult. Why do so many people have that idea?
One reason is the way poetry is taught in school, at least in the United States: As a riddle, or code that you have to crack. Students are asked to figure out what the poem really means, what the poet is really saying. That makes them feel like they can’t know, or that they have to have all this background knowledge to read poems. Another thing is that poetry is different: It works differently, it looks different on the page than prose does. Anytime you come in contact with something new, it can be destabilizing. Some people get angry at the poems, using that terrible demand that they be more “accessible”…
Why is that demand so terrible?
It sounds as though poems were built in a way that makes it impossible to enter them. Which simply isn’t true. The whole point of my book is to explain how one might enter these poems. And it’s actually much simpler than people make it out to be. Just as in music, you need to have the right balance of confidence in yourself to stick with it, and also humility in relation to the art. And that’s something you get through experience.

“Language itself is corrupted”

Your fascination with poetry stems from a fascination with language itself. What can poetry teach us about the way we communicate?
An interest in the actual meaning of words is so bound up in the experience of reading poetry. That serves a kind of training. People who read a lot of poetry are not easily taken in by bullshit in language—whether that’s political or business language, or any of the euphemistic crap we’re always exposed to. Poets or people who read a lot of poetry catch onto that stuff pretty quickly. That’s true for a lot of really good writing.

Matthew Zapruder’s book ‘Why Poetry’ was released on August 15th, 2017.


What sets poems apart?
They preserve a very individual free space in my imagination. They make me feel that I can resist a lot of the misuse of language and abuses of concepts. When I read a poem, I suddenly feel like life is not hopeless. That it’s not all capitalist politics and monstrous business people trying to eat our souls.
I’m curious about that political implication. You explain that poems use poetic language. They redefine words we’re overly familiar with for an emotional effect. That means: Something false can be true, or at least feel true in a poem. Isn’t that dangerous?
That’s exactly Plato’s critique of poets in ‘The Republic’. He argued for kicking these people out because they were such convincing liars. I think that’s true! There are lots of things poets say in poems that are total exaggerations or lies or contradictions. If you treat poems like life advice, like political manifestos, then you’re likely to be mislead. But that’s not what they’re meant to do. Language itself is corrupted, that’s what allows people to behave in monstrous ways.
One would think we needed more clarity, then, not less.
More clarity is exactly what poetry brings. I went back to read ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ where Hannah Arendt describes the trial of the Nazi official Adolf Eichmann. Things would come out of his mouth that were clearly untrue, and he would contradict himself from one moment to the next. She uses that example to trace how language had been corrupted and degraded by the Nazis, and led them to a space where one would no longer think about what words actually meant. Poetry does the opposite. Adorno famously said “There can be no more poetry after Auschwitz”, but I think he was mistaken about what poetry is. He has the same Platonic idea of a poetry that somehow…
…obfuscates reality?
Yes, that poets are hiding the true meaning of things. That poets write in a coded, deliberately obscure language. The opposite is true for the vast majority of poems. The poet means exactly what she or he says on the page. If you read Rilke, whose work is very abstract and conceptual, each word still means precisely what he wants it to say. When Rilke says “Every angel is terrible” then that is what he means! He means: Every. Angel. Is. Terrible. Nothing else. He is precise in an airy, abstract way.

“Poetry can put you into the consciousness of another person”

That brings us right back to the misconception of poetry being an abstract thing just trying to be beautiful. In your book you argue the precision is necessary, likening poems to machines designed to put us in a specific state.
Exactly. And that is due to the experience of reading a lot of poetry from a lot of different time periods. I have been reading poetry for decades now, and I don’t think it’s coded language.
I find the idea fascinating that a poem is like a machine, making us think a certain way. Why is that mode of thinking so useful?
Lots of reasons. Firstly because it’s awesome to feel that way. It’s a different kind of experience of what our minds and lives can do. I also think that it’s inherently free. And just in a world in which we’re constantly boxed in by obligation and capitalist or financial imperatives, it’s just liberating to be in a free space of the imagination, to be free of those concerns and considerations.
After the most recent presidential election, it also occurred to me that the problem isn’t people not having enough information. I don’t think the reason why people are racist is because they haven’t been told that black people are equal to white people. It is because they can’t imagine what it’s like to be another person and the effects of their actions on those people. Or maybe they can’t truly imagine, and see, themselves. All literature, all art, serves the purpose of helping us understand the perspective of others. But poetry in particular can literally put you in the consciousness of another person.
How?
If you’re reading a poem and it’s working for you, their mind works in unison with you. You go along with them. It’s a very instructive experience that makes you think differently and that changes you. And I feel like that’s something we can use more of.
Being more empathetic?
That’s the effect of it—but it’s true on a more affective level, since reading itself takes us out of the solipsism of our own mind, our own limited consciousness. I read a lot of ancient Chinese poetry, from the 9th century, for instance. Even though I’m reading it in translation, it’s such an amazing experience to read along and be more or less haunted by a 9th century Chinese poet. It breaks me out of my own bullshit, and that’s a great experience to have. We could use more of that.

“The only thing that will save us is imagination”

When I first saw the title of your book, Why Poetry, I first thought it was missing a question mark. But as I started reading, I realized I had fallen into the old trap of thinking every art needs to have a use.
Well, I think it does. The first lecture I gave, which became part of the book, was called ‘Useful Poetry’. People laugh when they hear that. But it does have uses, even if it doesn’t need to. In the end of the book I write about the limits of our understanding, how poetry itself comes up against the limits of language, which is what makes it feel so exciting, so scary, so powerful.
The reason, by the way, that the title doesn’t have a question mark is mainly because it is attempting to provide some answers. But of course, along the way, asking as many questions as answering them.
Speaking of uses: You also make the point that poetry could help us regain our attention span. We live in distracting times, not only because of hyper-connectivity and the drumbeat of the news, but also because as a society we seem to be suffering from collective FOMO—fear of missing out. You write about a ‘the scarcity of silence’ and sound hopeful that engaging with poetry can help us be more mindful overall.
I think the constant exposure to bad news is paralyzing. Another hour of reading Twitter about the latest thing Donald Trump said or about climate change isn’t going to change anything. In general, I find that it’s hard to not do something, but easier to do something else instead. If you want to break a habit, like browsing the internet for hours, replace it with a better habit.
The good thing about poems is that they impose a certain kind of concentration and difference between how we experience the world. I find that helpful—particularly when I am really overwhelmed. I will shut off everything, put away the phone, close my door, and just pull out one of my books. And if just for a few minutes, be in that different space. And it really is renewing–a bit like meditating or exercise.
In preparation for making a difference?
To refocus, get your mind together to get the energy to do something. To have some interesting thoughts, to be in community, to demonstrate, to resist. Lord knows, the world out there can get you to a point when you’re just paralyzed. But the only thing that’s going to save us is imagination: People are going to have to have some different thoughts. Right now, the thoughts we’re having are not enough.

A Life Well Documented

‘Minutiae’ is an app that prompts users to photograph their lives. In the process, it breaks with all conventions of social media and the internet.

Any life is the sum of small moments: Minutes that become hours, hours that become days and years. “Everything is a fearless process of becoming”, writes photography critic John Banville.
Like him, many inventors and documentarians have grappled with the passing of time and the way it accumulates into a human life. American inventor Buckminster Fuller kept a “rigorous record” of his life: He documented each of his days between 1917 to 1982 in the “Dymaxion Chronofile”, a 700 volume diary of his life in 15 minute intervals.
Much of Fuller’s time was undoubtedly consumed by writing his journal, which is why newer generations of so-called lifeloggers rely on technology to construct a record: In the 2000s, Microsoft engineer Gordon Bell began wearing a camera that took a photo every 30 seconds. Meanwhile, designer Nicholas Feltron used an app that had him answer a quick questionnaire about his activity several times a day. At the end of the year, he assembled the data into “Yearly Reports”, breaking life down into beautiful graphs.
In recent years, the notion of lifelogging (or flogging, its rather unfortunate abbreviation) has become rather commonplace: It’s something many now voluntarily do on social media, building a record of their days through incremental status updates or Instagram posts. And as technology becomes so pervasive that it starts disappearing, it’s easier than ever to live a life well documented: Phones already seamlessly track such diverse data as location, physical activity, or even health.
Artists Martin Adolfsson and Daniel J. Wilson have taken on lifelogging from a completely different angle: They argue that it’s the unremarkable, random moments that are worth documenting – and have built an app to do just that. I sat down with them to talk about how their app Minutiae does it, and how they broke with all conventions of social media in the process.

My dictionary defines the word ‘minutiae’ as “the small, precise, or trivial details of something”. What’s so fascinating about triviality?
Daniel: We began this project through the New Museum, which had a theme called ‘The Invisible City’. Part of that was a focus on big data, which was on the rise in New York City. We realized that big data always means you lose the small details: The outliers, the round edges. When we created the app, we wanted a name that hinted at recapturing moments that would otherwise disappear. Moments that seem like they don’t have an impact, even though they do.
What do you mean?
Daniel: We won’t know what the impact is until the experiment has run its course in four years. But studies have shown that an old photo triggers memories. We don’t want to show you something you remember, like the birthday from four years ago. We want to show you something like the sink you used to wash dishes in four years ago. Chances are you won’t remember that – but now that you got it documented, it’s going to bring back a bunch of other memories. The photo is a memory trigger.

A photo taken with Minutiae.


Another photo from Minutiae. The kitchen sink you might remember in a few years.


Social media networks like Instagram work by showing life as a succession of exceptional moments. You are suggesting that’s an illusion.
Martin: We can all just look at daily life around us. Every now and then there are highlights, but most of our daily lives are made up of routine moments, repeated day after day. Over time, we tend to not think of these moments as significant, even if at some point they might have been. When you first move into an apartment, everything feels new and exceptional. But over time, it becomes routine, just like everything else. Minutiae helps us document those moments we wouldn’t consider important when we experience then, but over time become more and more valuable.
The unexpected ones
Look at what happens on Instagram: People share highlights, but I believe that ordinary moments are more valuable in helping us gain an understanding of a person’s life that unique highlights do – just because they’re more relatable.

Since you mentioned the word ‘routine’: Your app relies on routine as well. Once a day, it prompts users to capture and upload whatever they’re doing. Walk me through that.
Martin: Once a day, all participants receive an alert, regardless of time zone. This means all participants take part in a routine, or rather a ritual. You have a window of one minute to respond to the notification. Once you open it, you have five seconds to actually take a picture…
…to prevent artful composing?
Martin: …and to make people more spontaneous. The more time you have, the more you can overthink your photo. We want you to document what’s in front of you with all honesty.
What happens with the picture?
Martin: Slowly but surely, you build a own timeline consisting of 1440 pictures. Each represent a minute, and all those minutes add up to one day. Since you only get an alert a day, it takes you 1440 days to collect all the minutes. When you access the app outside of the alert, you just see a screen, a grid of 1440 squares. If you miss an alert, you just get a black square and a new alert the next day. Each square represents a day of your life, so if you’re asleep for one third of the day, one third of your squares are going to be black.

There’s also a social component.
Martin: Once you’ve taken the photo, you can peek into someone else’s timeline for 60 seconds: To see someone else’s photo taken at the same time as yours, and to scroll back and forth in their timeline to build a short narrative about that person’s life. After 60 seconds, the app shuts you out, and the next time you take a picture, you’ll be matched with someone else.
You play with the assertion that this is an unsocial network, which departs from everything we think of as a social one. Why add the social component at all?
Daniel: It is social, but also not social. You get to peek into someone’s life but there’s no way to connect with them whatsoever. It is more of a voyeuristic experience.
To see how normal their lives are?
Martin: That’s the point. You take a step away from the curated self, from the highlights, and actually peek into a mundane, everyday moment. I’ve been using the app for three, four months now and it’s remarkable how similar everyone’s life is, regardless of whether you get matched with someone in South Africa, Israel, Egypt, or Sweden. Everyone shares a similar routine.

Normal life, randomly captured.


In the early 2000s, Gordon Bell experimented with lifelogging, wearing a camera around his neck that took a photo every 30 seconds. He stopped his experiment after eight years, saying that the activity “wasn’t bringing a lot of value to my life.”
Daniel: There’s no guarantee of value, but what we find interesting is both our own experience and the results of the Harvard report. Nobody denies that a photo album or taking photo has a value to it – it’s good to document your highlights. But we already have multiple ways of remembering highlights already: Camera, Facebook, Instagram, and our memories.
None of those mediums captures the mundane moments.
Martin: Exactly. The Harvard study found that people who were instructed took both ‘highlights’ and ‘boring’ photos. After just six months, they were asked what they wanted to see – which was the boring moments. Because they don’t remember them. That’s what the Minutiae project is trying to experiment with. It is an art project, an experiment, after all. For some people it might be more meaningful than for others.
Isn’t €16,99 a bit high of a price for confronting me with how unremarkable my life is?
Daniel: A lot of the ideas in Minutiae go against what is the dominating business model of apps: Trying to maximize the amount of users, trying to maximize the amount of time spent with the app, and trying to sell as much user data as possible. Our app is not free, we’re paying for bandwidth and server cost. What you get for that is never getting advertised to and never having your data sold. I like that some people are upset about the price. It reminds us that when something is free, you are the product.
Martin: It’s actually $14.99 in the U.S. But Apple charges more money in other countries and unfortunately we are unable to change it. But we’re not a start-up and out business model isn’t that – this is an art project and art costs money.
You’re getting a lot of attention because you’re so radically departing from what we consider an app should do: Users aren’t pushed towards perfection, they barely even have agency.
Daniel: The most common rating we get on the App Store is five stars. The second most common one is two stars. You either love it or hate it. Some people think an app should be free, on their own terms, trying to make their lives more interesting. But Minutiae doesn’t fall into any of those traditional categories. Some people find it ridiculous, others love it. This isn’t Facebook, we’re not trying to get everyone on the planet on board. This is a project for people who are into it and actually go through with it will have an interesting experience, something meaningful in the end.
Martin: Everyone is participating in the same ritual at the very same time, regardless of nationality, religion, or gender. I think that’s pretty unique, and that makes it fairly unique. And to make it more democratic: The Android version is in the works.
Check out the artists’ website or download Minutiae on the App Store.

Donald Trump’s Horror Picture Show

Photography of the presidency shows that Trump cares about optics, not visuals.

I enjoy looking at the world through the prism of photos, and US presidencies offer a lot of iconic ones. Take this picture of Nixon’s last lunch before resigning:

Photo courtesy of the Nixon Library


It’s a surprisingly intimate capture, mostly because it leaves so much to the imagination of the viewer. Here’s a plate of food, an obvious product of its time, and we’re left to ponder Nixon’s thoughts as he sits down, presidency in shambles, to drinks a glass of milk.
Another shot I like was taken during the Truman administration. It shows the White House completely gutted during a major renovation. The stately home, the picture seems to imply, is just a façade, with everything else down to the support beams in constant flux.

U.S. presidents are as much media personalities as they are politicians; their coverage is carefully orchestrated. That’s why these little glimpses behind the curtain of the presidency are so revealing, and why they used to be so hard to come by.
Until the Trump presidency.
What we’ve been seeing over the past five months, at least to my eyes, has been a perfect storm of revealing photographs. Photos that barely leave anything to the imagination, that are startling in their clumsiness.
Take today’s image of Trump posing with regional leaders in Ryadh. It’s a photo that makes you wonder how anyone involved would consider it a great idea:

Focus just on Trump, Sisi, and King Salman in the center of the frame. They are isolated by the lighting of the picture, huddled around the oddity of the glowing orb, with the rest of the room plunged into darkness. This picture is about them, it is about power, meant to signal unity. But the three central figures look terrible: King Salman appears frail and old, as though he was leaning on the glowing orb for support. Trump’s eyes are lit up strangely, making him seem like a wax figurine rather than an actual person. And Sisi, albeit looking the most normal of the three, sports and expression of creepy determination.
This photo is very, very strange, and it perfectly encapsulates the absurdity of Trump’s presidency. But it’s also just the latest weird shot of Trump’s Horror Picture show, which began the freshly-minted candidate riding to his announcement speech on a golden escalator.

Think about the empty streets he walked through during inauguration. Think about his stern expression when signing his first executive orders, an expression turned into countless memes. Remember the staff: The men surrounding him as he signed away US financial support for women’s health. a or that photo of Kellyanne Conway kneeling on the sofa. Remember the President’s own pictures, gleefully shared on Twitter. Smiling selfies. Captions that will make any designer cringe.
To be fair, all these pictures are individual oddities. Some of them are funny, some blown up into disproportionate media spectacles, fodder for a public eagerly waiting to be horrified. But zoom out and look at those images together: You see a tapestry of absurd photos, terribly-executed attempts at seeming presidential. We’re only a few months into this presidency, but it’s clear that while Trump may care about optics, he certainly doesn’t care about visuals.
In the light of all that’s been going on, it seems petty to focus on the President and his staff having bad taste. But I believe that photos matter, that they are one of the ways how we make sense of the world. These pictures of Trump are as odd as his presidency, as careless as his statements, and oftentimes as ugly as the vindictive ideology underpinning the man’s ascent. No wonder we can’t look away.

An Inkling

Pictures from a world at the brink of change.

Sometime last year, I stumbled upon a rather simply black and white image. It shows three young men, dressed in formal attire and tilted hats, standing on an open field.
It’s a simple enough historic image, but it has a way of grabbing you: The white colors and the pale hands jump out at you, the dark suits hint at a lush velvet, and the facial expressions, solemn, if slightly amused, are perfectly framed by the rim of the wide hats. If I didn’t know better, I’d consider it staged, taken with a modern camera before a painted backdrop, as the three gentlemen seem to hover on the path they’re on, with the background a delicious blur.
I saved the photo on my phone, but I had no idea who had taken it until a few days ago when I read an article by Teju Cole that briefly mentions the German photographer August Sander:

In the work Sander produced around and just following the First World War, he created a catalog of images that stood in for an entire generation in Weimar Germany. Farmers, cooks, stevedores, teachers, priests, and manual laborers were all represented in their full dignity, and Sander achieved something like a double-portraiture in each case, because each actual individual was at the same time a representative type.

I punched Sander’s name into Google and there the three gentlemen and their lopsided hats showed back up – theirs is a fairly iconic picture, it turned out. Sander took it in 1914 during that mammoth quest to portray his fellow countrymen and entitled it “Young Farmers”.
Ironically, the manner in which I stumbled upon this photo, more than a hundred years later, mirrored the words I quote above: The picture immediately seemed representative of something. If not of a compendium of work, then at least of the keen eye of a photographer who knew exactly what he was doing and how to work his camera.
I poked around for more of his pictures and found a surprising number of striking photos by Sander. Here’s his shot of “The Architect Hans Heinz Luttgen and his Wife Dora”:

I had gleaned this from looking at his photos, but I didn’t quite understand what caused that uncanny sensation in the first place – not until I read Katherine Tubb’s article for the Tate, which goes into the history of Sander’s project and the political surrounding it.

“(…) Sander sought to depict an old identity in a new world that could no longer accommodate it.”

Sander happened to take photos right as the world stood on the stoop of a new age. His Young Farmers were to walk right into an age of machines and industrial production, the architect’s wife stared right into a future that would roll back all the rights she had gained during the Weimar Republic. The world in Sander’s images is about to collapse, and maybe, just maybe, his subjects even had an inkling.

Mental Souvenirs

The Parisian photographer Isa Gelb collects visual impressions of seemingly unremarkable things. The resulting photos are strangely arresting.

Can you introduce yourself?
I’m a French art director, graphic designer, and a self-taught photographer, based in Paris. I drink too much coffee and smoke too many cigarettes. I’m probably the laziest person on earth, and the queen of procrastination. I would have loved raising tigers or being a horse whisperer. I’m learning to be at peace with myself and how to feel more love for the world I live in. 

Film or Digital?
Definitely film.
On your website you write: “I have a camera and I take pictures. That’s it”. Is it?
My motto sums up very well how I approach photography. I find myself at a loss to talk more specifically about my pictures. They are just unspectacular moments taken while wandering here and there. I don’t try or want to document anything. I take photos because it makes me feel alive and attentive to my surroundings. 
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
In what way?
I feel like I don’t fit into this world, and taking pictures is a way for me to escape. I lose myself when shooting, and all my worries melt away. Saul Leiter once said “I go out to take a walk, I see something, I take a picture. I take photographs. I have avoided profound explanations of what I do.” I couldn’t agree more.
Is is a form of record-keeping? Or even building memories?
Not really memories because they are not connected to important things or people – but rather mental souvenirs. They are like a diary to me, I snap them and move on. Now that you ask, I realize that I seldom look at old pictures. But in some way, I feel happy they do exist because it means I exist too.
The reason why I’ve been so fascinated with your photography is how you can turn the mundane into something surprisingly poetic. Unwashed cars become a rich tapestry. Two barricades, barely touching, become humanized.
It’s funny because I’m often told that my pictures are “poetic” but that is never my intention. I don’t see them that way, but I guess viewers have a different interpretation because they are not familiar with what is behind the images that I take.
What is the process like?
I walk a lot, and look carefully. I pay attention to details, to things I find beautiful in their ugliness – if that makes sense – or to things that are naturally beautiful and attractive. I don’t think much while I wander, I just let things come to me and shoot as soon as something catches my eyes. That’s why I always carry a camera: At every corner there can be something interesting that I wouldn’t want to miss.
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
You seem to have a particular fascination with light: The way it falls through a window, draws figures on the carpet, or illuminates a scene. Is light another one of those seemingly mundane things we too often overlook?
Light makes photography. Light creates interesting ephemeral patterns that not much people, except photographers, pay attention to. I like the idea that when you capture a picture, you capture a piece of space but also a piece of time because these patterns created by light don’t last long. So you have a particular piece of time in your frame. Photography has to do with light, but also with time.
Your description of your walks reminds me of the flâneur, that iconic figure of the early 20th century, who walks around the city, quietly observing. Is this a role you recognize yourself in?
Yes and no. Yes, because I see myself as an observer and a solitary walker. But no, because  the flâneur feels comfortable, “at home”, everywhere he or she goes. I don’t. Also, because I don’t think I belong to the street photographer community, in the noble sense of the term.
Why is that?
Street photography is a broad subject with many different opinions. In my eyes, it’s about taking photos of life, most of the time including people. To be interesting, these photos must leave a strong impression on the viewers because of the power, the energy and even the drama they produce. My work is far from that. Anyway, I don’t want to be defined by a style or a genre. Being labelled is be the worst thing that could happen to me.

Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
You also run the photography magazine Underdogs – a showcase of new photography talent.
I’ve been looking at tons of online magazines over the last few years. And, it seemed to me that in each one there is a frustrating dissonance between what I like and dislike. This frustration spurred me on to produce my own creation among the countless photo zines mushrooming online – a place where I could feature, to the fullest extent, photographers and their work which I personally appreciate and admire.
The most difficult issue that I was confronted with was deciding on a concept for Underdogs. I have often discovered, with my many encounters with artists over the years, the reluctance or even dread that the interview or self analysis of work can produce in the mind of an individual. Sometimes, this comes from a photographer’s belief that the work speaks for itself, or that explanations can limit the imagination of the viewer’s own interpretation of the work, or they are bewildered with what to say about themselves. So I thought why not let them decide whether they like to write about themselves or their work? Contributors are given the option to explain their motivations, or to just leave their images as is.
The eleventh issue has been released in January 2017, and I’m very happy to receive positive feedback, and more subscribers. This gives me the energy to keep going on.
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
Isa Gelb
To see more of Isa Gelb’s pictures, visit her website. And while you’re at it, download a free issue of Underdogs.

Spatial Awareness

Between the 1970s and early 1990s, British photographer Joe Dilworth regularly peeked behind the iron curtain. His pictures are visual memories from a parallel society – and documents of a deep fascination.

“As a kid, I used to get in trouble for staring at people,” says British photographer Joe Dilworth. In photography, he found a way to channel his curiosity – but without staying completely out of trouble.
In his youth, he had visited Czechoslovakia as part of a scouting exchange with the Pioneer movement – a experience so memorable that he wanted to repeat it. “You weren’t supposed to go… which exerted a huge pull on me,” he says.
After studying Fine Art at Saint Martins and Goldsmiths in London, Joe regularly returned to Eastern Europe, an area that was then still firmly behind the iron curtain.

Berlin, 1989


Budapest, 1986


Budapest, 1989


Joe’s photos from the time document everyday life in the region over several years. He made multiple trips to cities like Budapest, Prague, and East Berlin, where he shot photos on the streets. But his photos are less accurately described by their individual subjects than they are by their overall theme. Taken together, these photos all revolve around space: The open space these cities contain, how people fill it, and how public life takes a hold within it.
“Going there was a way of slipping back into the past,” Joe explains. “When I was growing up, post-war London was an underpopulated city, with lots of ruins and emptiness.” But taking pictures there was more than just an act of remembrance – it was also an investigation of the differences. “The world there was a mirror image to capitalism, everything worked in a completely different way.”
When the Cold War had ended, Joe returned to these places and took more pictures. Thanks to his remarkably consistent style, the more recent photos fit neatly with the older ones. In fact, it often becomes difficult to tell which decade the photos were taken in.

Berlin, 1996


Budapest, 2004


Moscow, 2000


Many photos resulted from the way Joe himself interacted with space: The Rolleiflex camera he continues to use takes pictures from a waist level: It’s a unique angle that gives even his contemporary pictures a certain vintage atmosphere. And shooting from below allows the photographer to get close to his subject: “It’s a submissive gesture,” Joe explains, “and it automatically makes you part of the environment without imposing on others.”
It’s the difference between looking and staring, if you will.

Berlin, 2009


Buadors, 2007


Joe Dilworth is a photographer from London. He studied Fine Art at Saint Martin’s College and Goldsmiths in London. He also spent several years playing as a drummer in several bands, including Stereolab. He now lives in the German capital, where he is one of the co-founders of the photography book store Bildband Berlin. See more of his work on his website and make sure to follow him on Instagram.
Many thanks to Maya Hristova for help on this piece.