This program is part of the Critical Jamming series, presented by the ICP Lab. The ICP Lab is a new home for visual storytellers to experiment with technology and create interactive and immersive experiences.

How does one look at horror so that it still resonates after having been seen so many times before? How does one use imagery to get people to react to the craziness and trauma happening around them? Can metaphor help us to rethink our collective history and prevent some of the abuses of the past?

Anton Kusters's Blue Skies Project, the focus of our discussion, is a collection of 1,078 photographs, each one taken of the skies above every last known location of every former SS concentration camp that existed between 1933 and 1945. It is a new way of looking at history and trauma, an attempt to rethink representation, and a movement into the future of imaging. Please join Kusters and a panel of poets, thinkers, historians, and artists as we reflect on his work’s meaning, and how else we can intervene today.


Fred Ritchin (moderator)
Bayeté Ross Smith  
Carole Naggar
Anton Kusters
Ruben Samama
Ivan Sigal
Debi Cornwall 
Nayland Blake
Maaza Mengiste


Fred Ritchin is dean emeritus of the International Center of Photography School. Previously he was professor of Photography and Imaging at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts where he co-founded and co-directed the Photography and Human Rights Program. He has been picture editor of the New York Times Magazine, executive editor of Camera Arts magazine, and founded the Photojournalism and Documentary Photography one-year program at ICP. Ritchin is author of three books on the future of imaging, most recently Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary, and the Citizen, and writes, curates and speaks widely on issues of human rights and media. In 2016 he was presented with the John Long Award in Ethics from the National Press Photographers' Association for his lifetime contribution to the field.

Carole Naggar has worked as a writer, curator, educator, and photography historian since 1971. She cofounded and was special projects editor of Pixelpress (1999–2006) and has been a regular contributor to Aperture magazine and Time’s LightBox. She has been series editor for the Magnum Legacy Biography series since 2014, publishing biographies of Eve Arnold, Bruce Davidson, and Inge Morath. She has also published biographies of George Rodger, David “Chim” Seymour, and Werner Bischof. Among her recent publications are Saul Leiter: In My Room (Steidl, 2018), Magnum Photobook: Catalogue Raisonné, with Fred Ritchin {Phaidon, 2017), Voyage à Kyoto (PixelPress, 2015), and Bruno Barbey: Passages (La Martinière, 2015). Her fiction Tereska and Her Photographer will be published in 2019, as will her memoir Récits Instantanés. She is currently working on a book of photographs by George Rodger on the Bergen-Belsen camp.

Nayland Blake is an internationally acclaimed interdisciplinary artist and educator whose work is included in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Des Moines Art Center, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the University Art Museum, Berkeley. His writing has been published in Artforum, Interview, Out, Outlook, and numerous exhibition catalogues. He has been on the faculty of the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts and has taught at the San Francisco Art Institute, the California Institute of the Arts, the University of California, Berkeley, Parsons School for Design, New York University, the School of Visual Arts, and Harvard University Department of Visual and Environmental Studies. He is represented by Matthew Marks Gallery in New York.

Bayeté Ross Smith is a visual artist, photographer, multimedia artist, and filmmaker from Harlem, NY. He began his career as a photojournalist with the Knight Ridder newspaper corporation. Smith is a TED Resident, part of residency class three. He has worked as a multimedia artist and producer for the New York Times and American Documentary Inc./POV. As an artist he has exhibited his work internationally with the Smithsonian Institution, the San Francisco Arts Commission, the Brooklyn Museum, the Oakland Museum of California, the Schomburg Center, the Lianzhou Foto Festival (China), FotoMuseum Provincie Antwerpen (Belgium), Goethe Institute (Ghana), the Zacheta National Gallery of Art (Poland), and America House (Ukraine), to name a few. His collaborative projects Along the Way and Question Bridge: Black Males were showcased at the Sundance Film Festival among other festivals. His work has also shown at the LA Film Festival and Sheffield Doc Fest (England). His accolades include an Inaugural IDEALab Fellowship, an International Center of Photography Infinity Award for New Media, and a Jerome Foundation fellowship. He is a faculty member at the International Center of Photography and New York University and associate program director of the nonprofit Kings Against Violence Initiative, a hospital- and school-based non-profit violence prevention organization based in Brooklyn, NY.

Ivan Sigal is a photographer, artist, and writer and a leader in the development of alternative media organizations, known for his documentary explorations of societies undergoing conflict or political transition. His photography is in the collections of the Corcoran Gallery, the National Gallery of Art, and in private collections. He is the author of White Road, a two-volume monograph about Siberia and Central Asia (Steidl, 2012). This work was a solo exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC from 2012 to 2013. His work has also been featured in numerous group shows and publications. Sigal is the executive director of Global Voices, a 2017–2018 Kluge Fellow at the Library of Congress, the board chair for the Open Society Foundation’s Documentary Photography Project, a former fellow of Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, a co-founder of Screen Projects, and a 2016 Nonfiction Fellow at the Carey Institute for Global Good.

Anton Kusters (b. 1974) is a visual artist working with photography, book, and installation. He is the author of Yakuza and Mono No Aware. Stemming from an initial documentary approach, Kusters is concerned by the limits of understanding, the difficulties of representing trauma, the loss of the experience of place, and the act of commemoration. His work investigates other ways of seeing, mechanisms of memory and remembrance, and the significance of viewer placement and subject position. Kusters has a master’s degree in political science at KU Leuven (Belgium) and is co-founder of Burn magazine. His Blue Skies Project premiered at ICP Museum on April 19, 2018. He lives and works in Belgium and Japan.

Ruben Samama (b. 1985) is an award-winning sound artist, composer, and record-producer currently dividing his time between Amsterdam and New York. His work mainly focuses on creating an alternate reality where, by purposely omitting information or presenting the subject in an abstraction, the listener has the freedom to go through the rabbit hole and back. Through his work, Samama proposes a loosening up of perspectives and encourages fresh ways of relating to one another.

Debi Cornwall is a conceptual documentary artist and former civil rights lawyer who examines American power in the post–September 11 era, marrying empathy and dark humor with systemic critique. In exhibitions and lectures, Cornwall employs her vivid, disorienting photographs of Guantánamo Bay and its global diaspora, along with government archives and first-person texts, to generate renewed discussion about the human impact of the War on Terror. Her book, Welcome to Camp America (Radius) was named among 2017’s top ten photo books by the New York Times Magazine, among others; shortlisted for the Paris Photo-Aperture First Book Prize and les Rencontres d’Arles Photo-Text Award; and nominated for a 2018 ICP Infinity Award. Cornall was a 2016 nominee for the Baum Award for an Emerging American Photographer and is a recipient of the Duke University Archive of Documentary Arts Collection Award for Women Documentarians and an inaugural Fotofest Charles Jing Fellowship.

Maaza Mengiste’s debut novel, Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, was selected by the Guardian as one of the 10 best contemporary African books and named one of the best books of 2010 by Christian Science MonitorBoston Globe, and other publications. A recipient of a 2018 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, she is also a Fulbright Scholar, a Puterbaugh Fellow, and a runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Her fiction and nonfiction examine the individual lives at stake during migration, war, and exile, and considers the intersections of photography and violence. Her work can be found in the New YorkerGranta, the Guardian, the New York TimesRolling Stone, and BBC, among other places. She was a writer on the documentary projects, Girl Rising and The Invisible City: Kakuma. Her second novel, The Shadow King, is forthcoming.

Read an exclusive conversation with artist Anton Kusters about collective memory and making images about the Holocaust: The Blue Skies Project: Reimagining History and Trauma

ICP’s Center for Visual Culture and accompanying programs have been made possible through the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Additional support is provided by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and The Bern Schwartz Family Foundation. 
TOP IMAGE: Auschwitz II - Birkenau | 1471595 (est.) | 50.034568, 19.181185 © Anton Kusters