Corresponding with a Friend, in Pictures

Over the past few months, the photographer Anton Kusters and I have been having a conversation on Instagram and on our respective websites, under the hash #image_by_image. Our original idea came out of a sense that we both wanted an open, playful space for ideas. We decided to simply write to each other in public, and see what might happen. We added the constraints of one image and a tight character limit per post, and no more than one post per day, no less than one per week.

image left: Ivan Sigal — read his full post here /// image right: Anton Kusters — read his full post here

“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.”

Anton, in his post on the project, describes the conversation in the following way:

“Here there is no new work to be promoted. No cool status updates to be done. In a way, through our dialogue, we’re gaining — and at the same time offering — insights into our own thinking, our own preconceptions, our worries, our incessant looking for maybe not even answers, but just understanding a little more. If there ever were a true behind-the-scenes: these are things that actually occupy much of our thoughts and shape our work, without being our work…”

“…up until we started doing this I had no idea I was actually hugely missing doing this. It feels like writing letters by hand in a pre-digital age. The tempo, the time required. There’s something quite unique about those regular short bursts of introspection for writing and the accompanying simultaneous dialogue.”

image left: Anton Kusters — read his full post here /// image right: Ivan Sigal — read his full post here

“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.”

Initially, while the conversation was public, we didn’t share it widely. In fact, we barely knew each other at the beginning, and we weren’t sure where it might go.

image left: Ivan Sigal — read his full post here /// image right: Anton Kusters — read his full post here

“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.”

Now, after some 40 posts, we’ve decided to contextualize it, so we put together an abstract that encapsulates what we’re doing:

#image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters, posted both on Instagram and on the participant’s respective websites. It is an experimental public dialogue that sets simple rules, and allows the trajectory of the discussion to proceed in inductive fashion, image by image, and text by text.

image_by_image is constructed as a weak or fragile narrative, based on associations of word and image, of fragment and concept, of reuse and reflection, of frank acknowledgement of struggle, doubt, skepticism and humility before the power of ideas and the claims of images. It is rooted in philosophies of anti-authoritarianism and a mistrust of grand narratives.

The rules of image_by_image are that each participant posts no more than 1x per day and no less than 1x per week, and that each post have one image and a maximum of 2,200 characters of text. It has emerged that the images are often fragments or details other images, or rephotographed through screens, lightboxes, scrims and other surface textures. The images work at several levels — as notes, as referents, as counterpoints, as punctuations, as divergences.

Our emerging practice with image_by_image is to enliven the consideration of images in social media, explore their meaning in dialogue with concepts and our shifting understanding of them through associations across time and history. It is a rebuttal to the assertion that images in social media are necessarily one-dimensional pictograms. It is also a way of stripping back social media speech to the simple level of the exchange of ideas, rather than the mimicking of self-broadcast through the social media tactics of sensation, self-promotion, and aggressive projection.

Over time, themes have emerged on image_by_image based on the common concerns of the participants. We consider history, memory, memorialization, travel, tensions between narrative and conceptual images, the processes of making art, and the challenges of our respective projects. We traverse the psychological geographies of Nazi Germany, the former Soviet Union, Japan, Europe, and the United States, as well as the tenuous journeys of migrants and personal memoir.

image left: Anton Kusters — read his full post here /// image right: Ivan Sigal — read his full post here

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.

image_by_image can be found with the #image_by_image hash, 
by following
@ivansigal and @antonkusters, or on our websites:

Anton Kusters’ books Yakuza and Mono No Aware are available on his website. Ivan Sigal’s book White Road is available from Steidl.