‘Our conversation kept me going’ - On potato-roses and burning treetops by Annemie Martin and Jana Kießer - whynow

‘Our conversation kept me going’ – On potato-roses and burning treetops by Annemie Martin and Jana Kießer

800 km apart, two self-isolating photographers came together to start a visual dialogue using a single photograph as a starting point. With Jana Kießer in Berlin and Annemie Martin in Lake Constance, Germany, the pair agreed to publish a photo each day – a distant call and response. 

While serving as a daily challenge, the exchange had a therapeutic purpose too, bridging the physical gap between them and creating what Annemie calls: ‘a conservation of this period through writing and photographing.’

Can you introduce yourselves and tell us how this project originated?

JANA: We are Annemie Martin and Jana Kießer, and we live and work as freelance photographers in Berlin. We got to know each other through our joint studies at Ostkreuzschule für Fotografie Berlin, which we completed in 2018.

At the beginning of the lockdown, we became aware of the platform stayathome.photography by Jonas Feige and Yana Wernicke. The website offered the possibility to have a photographic conversation in corona times. So we started our conversation on 22 March 2020, which we soon supplemented with texts and moved to our own website. We’re also working on a book about the project, which will be published by the end of August.

ANNEMIE: I have often thought about working with another photographer. Artist duos fascinate me and I often find their works very exciting. But there have always been many questions for me: what theme, with whom I would work, how I would implement it… Now, I think it’s great that this mutual work came into being without us having planned it in any way. And although it has become a collaborative work, everyone has made their part, their personal contribution.

How has the pandemic affected your everyday lives and state of mind?

ANNEMIE: We left Berlin quite head over heels, because we didn’t want to spend the lockdown in an apartment without a balcony and didn’t know what was coming anyway. I was a bit nervous about the crowdedness in Berlin and was longing for my home, my family, security, the familiar and fresh air to breathe. When we arrived at Lake Constance, we took care of my 89-year-old grandmother, didn’t go out in public anymore, spent a lot of time in the garden, in online seminars and took care of our almost one year old son. Some things remained the same and some things were completely different. It was somehow quiet and restful and at the same time, surreal and threatening.

JANA: I spent the lockdown commuting between my shared flat and my partner’s one room apartment. I was lucky I did not have to work during the lockdown, so I was able to concentrate on our photographic conversation. I photographed more at home, took a closer look at my surroundings. Everything happened much more slowly. I observed the light in our flat and photographed fruit still lifes. I often went for a walk and took my camera with me, which I’d rarely done before in my daily life. For me, the time was very creative and I’m grateful for that part. I also wanted to use the time to reflect and learn. With a friend I started “theme weeks”, in which we read books and watched documentaries, for example about racism and colonial history. In the evenings we talked on the phone about it.

Can you explain how your photo exchange works?

JANA: Annemie started our conversation with a photograph of her little son, to which I replied, and so on. At that time we were about 800 km apart: me in Berlin and her on an island in Lake Constance. We agreed we’d publish a picture every day. Finding a suitable answer and a good picture at the same time was challenging, but also an interesting new way to work on a series. In the meantime, we have extended the intervals between our answers, as life has become much faster again.

ANNEMIE: We both started writing down our thoughts, memories and dreams. That was suddenly a new component of working with pictures and text, which we both found very exciting. At first the texts appeared to be more personal, intimate diary notes, especially for ourselves. At some point, we decided to integrate them into our work and publish them. The feedback we received was very positive; during our exhibition at Âme Nue Artspace in Hamburg in July, the visitors immediately felt addressed by the description of seemingly banal everyday stories. All in all, it is a conservation of this period, through writing and photographing.

What has been the most challenging part about this pandemic so far? What has pushed you to carry on taking pictures?

JANA: Insecurity, worries about my grandparents, the fact that nobody knew how long the lockdown and self-isolation would last. I could not have imagined that one day we would be wearing masks in the supermarket or queuing in front of the drugstore. Many things that I took for granted before were suddenly changing. Working together with Annemie during this difficult time motivated me, it was this one thing that I had to do every day: find a photo to answer her. Our conversation kept me going.

ANNEMIE: The most difficult part for me was actually the fact that you cannot simply meet who you want to meet. For a while I found it okay and also enjoyed the rest and deceleration, but I missed my friends and the members of my family I couldn’t see, because they belong to the risk group. At the same time, I think we were in a very privileged situation compared with events worldwide. Also, my friends and relatives abroad (e.g. in South Africa and Ecuador) faced partly much more extreme situations and experiences than we had here in Germany; that made me feel queasy.

Lastly, what have you enjoyed most about this photographic conversation?

JANA: The excitement with which I am waiting for Annemie’s answer and the challenge to take a good picture within one day that works as an answer; the empowering feeling of working in an artist duo and being able to read Annemie’s experiences in her photographs and texts.

ANNEMIE: I agree 100%. The discovery that Jana and I work very well in a team and that working photographically in a duo brings a lot of added value and joy!

Annemie Martin graduated from Ostkreuzschule für Fotografie Berlin in the class of Werner Mahler in 2018 and is currently studying in a photography master program at the HAW Hamburg in the classes of Prof. Linn Schröder, Prof. Vincent Kohlbecher, Irina Ruppert and Prof. Dr. Anke Haarmann.

annemiemartin.de | Instagram: @annemiemartin

Jana Kießer graduated from Ostkreuzschule für Fotografie Berlin in the class of Prof. Linn Schröder in 2018. Her graduation work and self-published artist book “this remains between us” was awarded with the German Photo Book Prize Silver in 2019. In her work, she deals with sexualised violence and abuse of power.

janakiesser.de | Instagram: @jana.kiesser

Both work as freelance photographers and their work has been shown in national and international exhibitions and publications.

Click here to view Jana and Annemie’s photographic conversation On potato-roses and burning treetops.

Rampa  They Will Be