Daniel Stier, A Tale of One City

JTF (just the facts): Self-published in 2021 (here). Hardcover (23 x 28 cm), 104 pages, with 61 color photographs. Includes essays by David Campany and Marvin Heiferman. Design by Doublestandards.net. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: A Tale of One City is a new photobook by the London-based, German photographer Daniel Stier. It portrays a place of constant construction and destruction, where the visual chaos of everyday life and the overwhelming accumulation of capital and goods are dominant. The title of the book references Charles Dickens’s famous 19th century novel “A Tale of Two Cities” depicting the dangers of social upheaval and inequality. 

A Tale of One City is a hardcover book in white cloth, with the title engraved in the center of the cover in an all caps black font. The photographs are all vertically oriented and the same size, and appear one or two per spread. The book has black endpapers and opens with a couple of glossy black spreads. A fictional story titled “Karl was missing” by David Campany begins the book, offering a rather dark and tragic start to the narrative. The text reuses the same heavy black font from the cover, making its graphic presence even more dramatic. Just before we move to the visual flow, there is a song that Stier suggests to turn on – “Juggle Tings Proper” by Roots Manuva. 

The series was made between 2017 and 2019, at the time of the Brexit uncertainties and right before the global pandemic began. All of the photographs are seen in highly saturated colors and are tightly framed. The visual kaleidoscope includes images of carefully displayed luxury products, piles of garbage, construction sites, candy-colored plastics, products of mass consumption, mannequins, diamonds, etc. While pound symbols and recognizable architectural elements hint that the photographs were taken in London, many of these images could have been shot pretty much anywhere, and that’s exactly the intention. Stier’s photos constantly create stark contrasts: excessive wealth and poverty, homelessness and luxury constructions, excess and deprivation. 

Through editing and sequencing, Stier also brings in a certain mood of absurdity. A shot of a store display with a number of random unconnected items such as ashtrays, magnets, battery packs, and Jesus paraphernalia appears next to a pile of packaged and cut meat for sale at the supermarket; similar price tags make the juxtaposition only more ridiculous. Another spread pairs a shot of a pile of what looks like construction garbage – black garbage bags and wooden parts – with a pair of black and white Prada shoes presented on a pink display. The black color in two photographs really stands out, making the contrast even stronger. And then, a wall of colorful toilet paper packs is paired with the top of a skyscraper under construction against a mostly blue sky, the absence in one image matched by the growing presence in the other. 

Mixed together, cheap goods begin to look like luxury designer products, and endless construction sites suddenly look all too repetitive. Excess and consumerism are at the center of city life, and the luxury products will eventually also turn into garbage. People are completely absent from Stier’s photographs, creating an even more apocalyptic feeling.

The last couple of images in the book show advertisements of London’s landscape placed in the chaotic urban environment. One shot of the recognizable financial district is seen within a messy construction site, and the last image shows a framed photo hanging on the wall, capturing the city from above. They both remind us that we are being sold a very particular image of the city, and the reality, especially since Brexit, may indeed be quite different. And while the book focuses on London, it serves as a incisive metaphor for any contemporary metropolis. A Tale of One City takes a playful swipe at the delusions of global capitalism, offering bright social commentary on the visible perils of consumerism and excessive growth.

Collector’s POV: Daniel Stier is represented by Twenty Twenty Agency in London (here). His work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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