We’re featuring what our Issue 15 guest editors have been up to since the issue was released at Paris Photo in November 2022. Each of our 50 guest editors on the issue selected an image by an artist from our international open call to feature in a spread next to an image of their own in Issue 15. To see their work in the issue order your copy. Our guest editor Mårten Lange is working on a wide range of topics including nature, technology, and the urban environment. We’re catching up with him in the form of a Q&A about his book Ghost Witness.
Der Greif: Mårten, in your book Ghost Witness we encounter an immersive, haunting study of China’s hyper-accelerated urban metropolises. What inspired your idea for this series?
Mårten: I’ve been interested in ideas about cities, globalization, and being haunted by lost futures for a few years now. My 2017 book The Mechanism deals with this topic. In China, I discovered a more distilled and extreme version of this than what I had previously seen in for example Tokyo and New York. I felt that I had arrived at the very edge of these ideas and was compelled to try to make a body of work about it.
Der Greif: As part of your artistic practice, you walk through megacities in East Asia, exploring rationalized urban planning and messy everyday lives. Do you feel like occupying a certain role when taking photographs in these environments? Like, for example, a tourist?
Mårten: I am a visitor, someone passing through. I feel like an outsider for sure. Everything is new and transient, and so am I. Seeing something for the first time is a great privilege.
Der Greif: I want to ask you about audience. Do you have any interests in how Ghost Witness is conceived by others - who the audience is and what they’ll mentally take away from your photography? Is that something you think about?
Mårten: Yes, of course I’m interested in what people think of my work. I don’t make the work with a particular audience in mind. But it is a type of visual storytelling, so I’m always keen to know what thoughts it sparks in others.
Der Greif: Thank you again for being one of our fabulous 50 guest editors for Issue 15. In the print magazine, you decided to include a photograph that you have created in 2019, during your time in China. Apart from the fact that the image speaks to the submitted work you selected from the Open Call on the theme “Collectivity” - can you elaborate on parallels between your Issue 15 image spread and your series Ghost Witness?
Mårten: I chose to juxtapose my image of fish spawn with Amy Woodward’s image of a mother with her two daughters. It’s a simple analogy about birth, growth, and life. There is no parallel to the Ghost Witness series, except that the image I chose was taken while I was in China working on that project.
Der Greif: In collaboration with American artist Daniel Everett, your new book project Vantage Point features around 200 images that try to uncover the inner workings of the city of Tokyo. The project started in 2016, when the two of you discovered that you’ve taken the same picture of the same building, with the same angle and with the same crop - the same vantage point in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
Like in Ghost Witness, also here the notions of architecture, urban environment, and technology overlap in this compilation of images. Please share with us how your fascination with these themes has developed, and if we can expect more related work from you in the future.
Mårten: I was an exchange student in Tokyo when I was 24, and it was the first time I experienced a city on that scale. My fascination with large cities has lasted ever since and I’ve returned to Tokyo many times. It’s a special place in the sense that everything is always shifting and not many things are particularly old. It’s very different from the European experience. The fact that the city is moving so fast means that there are always big construction projects going on, and the inner workings of the city are on display. Power lines are not underground. Ventilation systems are not hidden, but cover the buildings like a nervous system. It’s very naked. I’m fascinated by this feeling of being allowed to see something that is usually hidden. It’s why I love construction sites (there are many pictures of that in the book).
I will probably return to these themes again, but in what form I don’t know.
Der Greif: Last but not least we like to ask our collaborating artists for advice to emerging photographers in our community. What do you think makes someone stand out?
Mårten: Someone who finds their own voice and follows it with commitment will always stand out. Take yourself and your work seriously, because your audience will. Don’t throw anything away, especially your failed experiments. Write, because words give shape to ideas. And finally, don’t wait for permission to do the things that are important to Ghost Witness by Mårten Lange is published by Loose Joints.