“There is no such thing as a dull product. Only dull approaches to interesting products.” ~ David Ogilvy
The wit and wisdom of Mr. Ogilvy can be extremely valuable to marketers and advertisers because pretty much sums up everything. Nevertheless, the same is true if you replace “product” with “photo”.
Let’s take the example of photos depicting stairs. What could one say about stairs? They come in various sizes and widths, they’re made of cement, wood, or maybe skateboards and salt, if you leave it to your imagination. That’s pretty much all there is to it, right? Stairs. Elevators are better, anyway. Stairs. Pretty boring, eh? Well, not quite. Stairs are pretty awesome, actually. You don’t have to believe me. You just have to scroll down a bit.
Stairs are awesome ’cause you can find them everywhere. If you live in a place where it snows 5 months a year, stairs might be your only spot (also good if you have NO spots). So many things you can do with a ordinary stairs! Standing jumps, one-leg standing jumps, pliometrics jumps, one-leg pliometrics jumps, controlled landings, the bigger the set is, the better it is! More stairs = more possibilities! Running jumps, strides, same leg strides, you can mix all of those together and be REALLY creative. Things get too easy? Then bring a weight vest and do it again! So there, you have it!
Stairs trigger so many feelings. Some people are desperately in love with stairs. Stairs are stellar for true hardcore parkour! Squat hops down stairs is a great exercise to build stronger legs for parkour. Other people don’t even look for stairs. They don’t even notice stairs. They look for ramps. They only notice stairs whe they are looking for a place to nail the nextdoor teen brat. Some people fear stairs. It’s called “bathmophobia”. Some other people hate them. Well, but that’s a reasonable feeling to have, it would be actually hard to love stairs after you have had hip replacement surgery. Whatever your relationship is to stairs, they just don’t go unnoticed.
Stairs are fucking awesome. Stairs are faster than elevators. Stairs are like an avalanche. Stairs block ways. Stairs are easy way outs. Stairs are sometimes squeaky. Stairs are very helpful getting up on roofs! Stairs are a particular hazard until your hip is strong and mobile. Stairs are intimidating. Stairs are a great place for a ghost story: the child under the stairs, the man down the back stairs, footsteps on the stairs, just pick one title and, there, you have the perfect ghost story! Stairs are dada. Stairs are great for fitness. Stairs are way too mainstream. Stairs are overrated, walking looks stupid. Stairs are not the problem.
This series (by J. Scriba) is meant to offer a new perspective on stairs. J. Scriba is reclaiming and playing with stairs as a space and structure that is both oppressive and non-oppressive (pretty much like the Schrödinger’s Cat-paradox, haha). He even makes it more challening by adding travellers to the whole stairs ecuation. Some of them seem to put a lot of effort into climbing those endless stairs, lugging heavy bags along to where they are so eager to get. Others seem to be decending, disillusioned perhaps – shyly glancing at those who are climbing. Scriba stretches the stairs into infinity, he makes them become a means of transportation AND a mythical plane on which all sorts different realities become imaginable. The travellers are authentic in their daily routine, yet become actors in a much greater play.
Where are they going? Where are they coming from? They are the stairs and the cement and their bags and their stories. They are fleeing, passing through, hoping, imagining, sweating. They most definitely, are carrying a baggage. You’re mesmerized and transfixed by the way the whole idea of relocation, displacement, immigration or just plain travelling and moving about is affecting a person. And more importantly, how the stationary people react when something travelling, moving and migratory comes their way. Sighting. The contact. Brushing aside?
But you also find him disquieting. You can see that people are uneasy and weary of strangers. The way we are seen. A big unknown, not quite here. Ah, and a suspicious looking bag… There are cheap vinyl sport bags, holdalls, suitcases, guitar cases, briefcases. Thanks God, I haven’t seen any Luis Vuitton yet. I like to imagine the content of those bags. Long time ago similar travellers brought the idea of zero, indo-arabic numbers and place-value notation into then backward Europe… Commerce, banking and sciences took off. What do they carry with them? Are you curious? Or anxious? Or both?
There are a million stories in the naked city: love stories, heartache stories, anonymous stories of real people, it is hard to know which ones to tell. Scriba knows it. That’s why he does not spell everything out word for word, but leaves things up to our imagination. After all, the story behind an unfinished story is the most powerful tool for a photographer to use. Unfinished stories have a way with calling out to you by your name. There is something vulnerable about unfinished stories that invites nurturing; like a crying child who loses the way home. These abandoned tales want you to cradle them in your arms once more, to soothe them, deal with all their loose ends and complete them. How desperately you want to give in to all this subtle imploring and play their hero. But what you don’t know is that they want to seep into your system. That’s is the only chance they have for survival.
Scriba’s photos are maybe not that impressive, but quite effective in the way they leave lots to the imagination. It’s minimal art. It’s “in situ” art. It’s art for art’s sake. It’s igniting sexy curiosity. It’s the art of creating a sneaky plot. It’s the art of effective storytelling.