Astres Noirs is a collaborative book between Katrin Koenning and Sarker Protick, two photographers I hadn’t encountered before and since it was also their debut book, it was a refreshing position from which to read it. The book acts as a visual dialogue between Katrin and Sarker and faintly reminds me of platforms such as A New Nothing (in the best of ways). We see a growing number of these visual conversations online, but few of them make it to paper and those that have made the leap nearly always impress me. Astres Noirs is no different and the fact that Katrin and Sarker are based thousands of miles apart furthers this genuine exchange.
The physical realisation of this book is incredibly thoughtful and elegant. Neither its size or design aims to make an overly assertive statement, yet its black uncoated pages and silver white ink make it an exceptionally physical book, a physicality that is carried through the images themselves. Perhaps the most noticeable feature of the design is how certain pages are physically joined, a manifestation of their relationship with each other, and a nod to the nature of conversation; those involved having independent input, yet each utterance has a relationship to a continuous dialogue in its entirety.
The images themselves are equally as beautiful as the design, familiar scenes are transformed into ethereal and cosmic formations, and the title translating to “Black Stars” sits perfectly alongside them. It is interesting that whilst the objects photographed are of such familiarity to us, the images taken on mobile phones have changed into something completely different; something that sits between the normal and abnormal, blinding white patches next to absolute blackness resonates with looking at star constellations and other fragmented light constructions. Not only this, but the images’ aesthetics seem to subtly relate to the dialogue Katrin and Sarker are having; the cosmic nature of the pictures creates a feel of distance in epic proportions which mirrors the physical distance and separation in reality between them.
Astres Noirs is certainly an intimate and personal publication, after all a conversation is arguably only of true comprehension to those involved. As a reader it as if we have been given a temporary and fortunate seat in the room of this personal dialogue. To an extent, we are given the opportunity to engage through the publication itself, yet there seems a distinct divide between engaging with Astres Noirs, and directly joining the conversation that Katrin and Sarker are having. Personally this is a frustratingly beautiful position to be in; whilst I can participate with Astres Noirs to some degree, Katrin and Sarker maintain an inward dialogue, one that I can’t directly join or ever fully comprehend. And what I do really like about Astres Noirs is the way in which it doesn’t seem to have a specific aboutness to it (if you haven’t read Jörg M. Colberg’s opinion piece on aboutness I would definitely recommend it). What I mean by this is that the book doesn’t seem to adhere to a single or at least straightforward narrative and it doesn’t need to. There isn’t a static, rudimentary concept that would only act as boundaries for Katrin and Sarker and instead it flows back and forth, unrestricted and organically just like most conversations do, and from this it offers itself to a healthy and wide array of interpretations. Astres Noirs really is an alluring book. It presents a beautiful, thoughtful and poetic dialogue between Katrin and Sarker, the physical distance between them echoed in the book itself. The images in their own right are something to admire, but for me personally, it is the combination of beautiful photography and an astutely realised physical item to the point where they become one that they have succeeded in the most.
Astres Noirs is published through French independent publishing house Chose Commune and is more than a worthy addition to any collection, purchase it here.