Review: Über Grenzen/On Borders by Ostkreuz Agency


Book Reviews, Photobooks


Having previously tackled the topic of “city” before, members of German photography agency Ostkreuz decided to turn their attention to borders, literal and metaphorical ones: Über Grenzen/On Borders. Seventeen photographers went out to explore the concept, ranging from the very personal to what one might consider the standard photodocumentarian approach. Border are what separate us, borders are what we can consider transcending (the German “über Grenzen” actually has two meanings: “on borders” and “across borders”). Consider. (more)

Often enough, we don’t do that because borders offer solace. People usually would rather prefer a frozen, static disaster than work towards erasing a border that has long ceased to make much, if any sense. Über Grenzen tells stories along these lines, some of them more obvious (the border between South and North Korea, for example) than others (hustlers and transvestites at the old bus station in Tel Aviv).

Inevitably, the reader might pick her or his favourites in Über Grenzen/On Borders; s/he might find some pieces more engaging than others. Given the large number of photographers and the variety of their approaches, the consistently high quality of the contributions makes this hard. I found myself gravitating towards a wonderful essay by Anne Schönharting about the wall that separates Catholic and Protestant areas in Belfast, featuring amazing portraits. Or there are Dawin Meckel’s portrait of the Lubicon Cree in Canada or Annette Hauschild’s photographs of Roma in Italy, Kosovo, Hungary, and Slovakia. Your mileage might vary.

Regardless of one’s preferences, I think there is so much to be gained from a group of photographers getting together to work on the same topic: The viewer is given a chance to see so many different aspects of what one might think of something rather simple. Photography, when well done, is an amazing tool to tell stories, to bring us, the viewers, closer to all kinds of things and people. Photography, freezing time, allows us to stare in wonder, allows us to look and to see, to discover. In a group effort, this effect can be magnified, as is the case here. Yet again, Ostkreuz deliver.

Über Grenzen/On Borders; photographs by Ostkreuz photographers; essays by Andrea Böhm, Wolfgang Büscher, Fabian Dietrich, Anna-Christina Hartmann, Marcus Jauer; 296 pages; Hatje Cantz; 2012