Each year, British Journal of Photography presents itsOnes To Watch – a selection of emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of nearly 500 nominations. Collectively, these 15 talents provide a window into where photography is heading, at least in the eyes of the curators, editors, agents, festival producers and photographers we invited to nominate. Throughout the next few weeks, we are sharing profiles of the 15 photographers, originally published in the latest issue of BJP, delivered direct through thebjpshop.com
Each year, the British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch. Last year in 2021, BJP asked the talents to nominate one other photographer from their network, forming the Ones to Watch: Community. We are excited to present Ones to Watch: Community 2022 – a four-part series that explores an ecosystem of artists in community together. The fourth and final chapter features the work of Luciana Demichelis, Sadia Marium, Sjoerd Knibbeler and Maria Kniaginin-Ciszewska.
The physical limitations of photography have always been a source of inspiration for Sjoerd Knibbeler. The Amsterdam-based artist spent his childhood in forests or by the sea with his father, an amateur biologist and photographer. “We would go bird watching, catching insects, looking for rare plants or mushrooms,” says Knibbeler. “When I was old enough, he gave me my first pair of binoculars, followed by a microscope and finally a camera and taught me how to use them. There was always a quest involved in finding a certain species, and I kept lists of my observations.” However, he adds, “the adventure of it all was always more interesting to me than the factual outcomes.” This obsessive desire to manipulate the elements and discover how things work is now the beating heart of his creative practice.
Over the last decade, Knibbeler’s visual experiments have seen him try to capture the wind in a photograph, build model spaceships and satellites, which he photographed at night with the moon as his only light source and he created a camera obscura to refract light in its spectral colours. These experiments in materiality are born from a rigorous mechanical process where the artist invests months experimenting before finding his image. His most recent self-directed challenge was to build a waterfall. Flooding his studio multiple times, the 6ft installation was activated hundreds of times for him to capture the variations on camera.
“Each new work or series involves learning a new skill, and this becomes an integral part of the work,” Knibbeler says of his process. “It could be origami, wood or metal working, glass cutting and at the moment it is making silicone moulds. I never become very proficient at any of those skills because they only serve a specific purpose for this one work or series. I’ve learned that apart from the actual physical results, I need to experience the struggle and have a genuine sense of discovery in the process of learning.”
“For me, his work is important because he mixes photography and science in creative ways,” says Christelle Boulé, who nominated Knibbeler. “His work is incredibly beautiful, but the most interesting part is how he creates them.”
“As a visual maker working between fantasy and real life, I’m interested in creating and representing different female forms, pushing at the limits of icons and what is considered taboo,” says Maria Kniaginin Ciszewska. The Polish artist uses her subversive style to explore her lesbian identity, build community and counter the lack of queer visual culture in her country. “In Poland’s LGBTQ+ community today, there is a great sense of awareness, acceptance, and empowerment,” the artist tells me. “People are tired of not speaking up, visually and verbally. I think that the great power is that we are unbreakable and know that we live in the most homophobic country in the EU, but it only encourages us to act, react, and create even more.”
In her first book, Reaching Heaven Thinking You Are Going To Hell, Kniaginin-Ciszewska collaborates with her girlfriend to create a lesbian vision of the future. Framed as a set of postcards, where the duo play a range of characters in different everyday scenarios, from going on their honeymoon to meeting their grandmother, they speak to the dissonance of living in a country where LGBTQIA+ rights are not just under threat but fail to exist. In making this work, the artist hopes to use photography as a bridge to manifest a better future.
“Spicy, juicy, confronting, and sensual. Maria’s world is that of pleasure and wonder,” says Marysia Swietlicka, who nominated Kniaginin-Ciszewska. “Saturated by colour, humour and her Slavic-ness, she challenges the Polish stereotypes, never ceasing to shock simultaneously. Her images lure us into an erotic world of milk and honey, creating icons for us to look up to.”
Literature and cinema inform the work of the Bangladeshi artist Sadia Marium. Her work deals with physical and psychological states, exploring issues relating to land, borders, the body and concealed pasts. She heightens these topics by presenting scene fragments, conjuring multiple conflicting narratives that speak to the disorientating present. “My visual language migrates,” Marium explains. “I draw from cross-disciplinary learnings in film, photo and printmaking and blend them with socio-political settings, overlaps between fiction and reality, vernacular aesthetics, micro-histories and the juncture of private and public space.”
In Days Untitled, Marium reckons with her time spent in isolation at the now closed Monomita Mental Hospital in Dhaka. Admitted by her family, who now refuse to acknowledge the months she spent there, the experience led her to reflect on more significant questions about the stories we tell ourselves and who has the power to decide what is seen and unseen. Blending staged photography, film, text and performance, the project uses repetition and stillness to grapple with the tension between the environment and her inner psyche. The result is a quiet yet haunting portrayal of psychological distress and the trauma that lingers long after the event takes place.
“In her works, she looks into how personal and hidden memories can be presented in the public domain,” says Debashish Chakrabarty, who nominated Marium. “Clichés and social codes are repetitively dissected and questioned through her works. She is an important artist to watch.”
In Limbo, the Argentinian photographer Luciana Demichelis makes images at electronic raves. The project speaks to the euphoria of the dance floor and how music is often a conduit for identity formation and freedom. Between the sweat and smoke, they photograph bodies in motion, dancing alone but together. When lockdown happened, Demichelis couldn’t complete the project in the same manner, so they experimented with making representational images with friends in open spaces or by video chat. Together these two modes of making create a world that exists somewhere between fiction and reality.
“Being a photographer in these times is about taking risks and assuming responsibilities,” say Demichelis. “I relate my work to acting, performance and staging. Choosing to talk about pleasure and about the right to be able to make choices about our own lives. To imagine a world where everything could be different.”
Demichelis’ latest work was made exclusively for Obscura, an NFT Platform founded by photographers Cooper Ray and Alejandro Cartagena. Joining 138 global photographers to respond to the theme ‘The World Today’, they hope to create a visual timestamp of the 21st century. Demichelis’ series speaks to the concept of sovereignty in three contexts: space, body and the economy. “Precariousness affects us in multiple ways, Demichelis says. “But we always find new ways to be able to do what we dream of.” The sprawling project asserts multiple, often disparate ideas, from the urgent need for more satellites over Latin America to enable internet access for a wider selection of the population to what it feels like to be a non-binary person on the continent.
Cristobal Ascencio, who nominated Demichelis, says: “In blending fiction and documentary practices, their photographs seem reminiscent of a place that seems familiar, but not entirely. It’s here that Demichelis’ evocative storytelling thrives.”
Creative director, writer, podcaster and photo director, Gem Fletcher works across visual-cultural fields, focusing on emerging talent in contemporary photography and art. She is the photo director of Riposte Magazine, and hosts a photography podcast, The Messy Truth.