by Peter Stohler

The Berlin-based artist Karen Stuke has been using a camera obscura, a self-made pinhole-camera, since 1994. Her interest in the camera obscura goes back to her engagement in the world of opera and Theater, which she has also been documenting with conventional recording techniques since her studies in Bielefeld.
For the series OPERA OBSCURA, she captures long opera performances in a single shot as an exposure lasting several hours. This process necessitates the exposure of a negative. The photo is therefore basically documentary, but the result is alienated since a distinct artistic glance is cast on the performance.

Blurring is also an element of other photo series. For SLEEPING SISTER (ongoing since 20021), she photographed herself the entire night. Her movements affect a ghostly blur.
In AUSTELRITZ (2013) produced for the London Artspace „The Wapping Project“ and named after the eponymous novel by W.G. Sebald, Stuke again uses the stylistic device of blurring that in this work corresponds with the memory of the transport of Jewish children from Prague to London in 1938/39 that gradually takes shape in Sebald’s novel.

Men falling from a plane during the landing approach: what at first sounds like a lurid headline is something that Stuke pursues with artistic means. Blurring is part of the multi-year project THE MEN WHO FELL FROM SKY, which the artist began in 2014 and has been working on until this day.
Stuke drives to the approach corridors of Heathrow Airport in London, where for decades persons – mostly young men from the Global South – have been falling from the wells of the landing gear.

Karen Stuke meticulously researched individual fates, retracing them in photographs. She takes pictures of airplanes in the sky over London. Of course, they are not and cannot be documentary, because the artist was not present the moment the horrible event occurred.
She took the pictures afterwards, making sure that she got the right types of aircraft and the correct flight numbers. Half fiction, half fact.

The fates of the men falling from planes are of interest to the photo artist because she wants to empathise with and understand the despair what the men must have felt before setting off on the life-endangering journey. But by using blurring, Stuke’s approach of not only carpeting the aircraft but also visiting original locations like streets, pavements, or a freshly filled grave does not turn into cheap sensationalism catering to our voyeurism. Her artistic reconstruction is instead concerned with maintaining a respectful distance that makes empathy possible.

Peter Stohler, GrimmWelt, Kassel.
from the book: „Storytelling“, 2020