JTF (just the facts): Published by Skinnerboox in 2022 (here). Hardcover (17 x 21.5 cm), 134 pages, with 60 color and black and white photographs and illustrations. Includes texts by the artist. Design by Nicolas Polli. In an edition of 500 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: Anna Krieps is a Luxembourgish freelance photographer and art director, currently based in Berlin. She has been fascinated with space since she was a child, and her new photobook titled Stardust is an attempt to put together a story about our human relationship with the cosmos. Starting with her childhood inspirations and mapping outward to a more collective dream, Krieps creates a fascinating narrative around questions related to space exploration.
As a photobook, Stardust is relatively small and intimate, easy to hold in your hands and browse. It immediately feels personal and comfortable. The cover, dotted with three small holes, features a silhouette of what looks like the Atomium building in Brussels, and a dark finger at the bottom points upward. The visual flow of Stardust is interrupted with short blurbs, which appear on golden pages, and an essay by the artist, broken into several parts, also appears in gold against white pages. There are no captions or any additional information about the photographs and visuals, leaving it up to the viewer to interpret them.
The book opens with end papers that feature illustrations of a space capsule with a parachute, followed by the sequence of images printed on black paper showing a rocket taking off, the moon’s edge, and shots of the starry sky. This introduction sets the mood for a range of celestial dreams and explorations, and soon, a text in white placed against a golden background reads “Every star tells a story, it is illuminated by the light of ancient time…”. This opens to a page with a photo of an old photograph of a child standing outside a house holding a toy airplane. “Can I be an astronaut?” reads the text on the following spread, connecting the universal back to the personal.
To build up her narrative, Krieps uses both her own photographs and archival imagery of various kinds, and introduces us to a number of characters she encountered while doing her research. Krieps’ childhood dreams about space exploration are reinterpreted by her sister, Vicky Krieps (a famous film actress in real life), who appears in a number of the photographs. We first see her at the very beginning of the book, in a spread that pairs an illustration of an orange spacesuit with the USSR lettering and a photo of Krieps’ sister also wearing an orange spacesuit.
Krieps says that her head “has always been filled with wonder for what is up there,” and her fascination and curiosity motivated her to find people who were also “driven further by their wonder, some into space itself.” One of these people is the professional astronomer Claude Deramo, who built an observatory in his garden and started taking photos of the stars. Her second interviewee is Jean-Marc Picot, also a deep sky photographer. With each of them, she discusses their passions as well as the specific techniques they use. Their curiosity about outer space is undeniably manifested in their desire to capture clear photographs of stars.
Krieps also visited the Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, a man who actually flew into space (in 2013). We first see him photographed seated in old training equipment, and then he also appears posing next to a centrifuge. The photo was taken at Star City, once a top secret Soviet location that served as home to Russian cosmonauts and space training facilities (Yury Gagarin prepared for his historic flights here); today it is a sort of space explorer’s utopia. Another black and white image depicts a towering statue of a launching rocket that rises on its exhaust plume – this is the Monument to the Conquerors of Space, a giant obelisk installed in Moscow in 1964 to celebrate the achievements of the Soviet people in space exploration.
As the pages of Stardust turn, Krieps brings together dreams, reality, and utopia. There is a black and white picture of an abandoned amusement park in Switzerland; it was designed by Erich von Däniken, an ancient astronaut theorist, and thus, all attractions advocated the idea that aliens visited Earth in the long distant past. In the photograph, a sphere appears over a building with mountains in the background, while a hand with deformed fingers is clicking the trigger. Krieps also adds in photographs of various satellite dishes, geodesic domes, a lunar rover, a landing module, and several old space capsules. Together, they represent our desire to explore, question, and move forward.
Near the end of the book, a photograph of a man wearing a golden bodysuit is placed next to a short text reading “He who does not know / what the world is / does not know what he is, / and he who does not / know for what purpose / the world exists, / does not know who he is. / nor what the world is.” This spread reminds us that our curiosity, here in the form of space exploration, helps us to address fundamental questions about our place in the universe. And then another full bleed photograph captures Vicky Krieps wearing a spacesuit in a bathtub; she looks away, deep in her thoughts or dreams.
Seen as one artistic statement, Stardust brings together an eclectic but charming collection of images, mixing them with personal stories of people Krieps encountered on her journey. It is the layered realization of the artist’s personal curiosity and her larger fascination with people who live out their hopeful dreams. The book ends with a sequence of starry night shots, followed by a close up of rocket engines, marking the astonishing journey from dreams to their realization.
Collector’s POV: Anna Krieps does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. Collectors interested in following up should likely connect directly with the artist via her website (linked above).