Daniel Stier’s A Tale of One City opens with a photograph of two blocks standing on a pinkish floor; close-cropped and blank, it could have been taken almost anywhere. And that’s the point. A Tale of One City was shot in London but it’s intended as a look at consumerism and its cataclysmic production of sheer stuff in any contemporary city, no matter where in the world.
There are images of luxury products, carefully positioned in shop windows, there are chaotic market stalls, there are piles of rubbish, building sites, and the meagre belongings of those who sleep on the streets. Some of the images include layers in which the surface doesn’t match up to what lies beneath – a brick veneer being manoeuvred into position on a high rise, for example, or a suitcase sporting a photomontage of popular tourist sites. Nothing is quite as it seems, but it’s all so overwhelming it’s hard to say how exactly it seems. “That feeling of overwhelmingness is exactly what I tried to express,” says Daniel Stier.
Daniel Stier took these photographs from 2017-2019, but the project started out by accident when he was scouting for a location for an ad campaign. Looking for a very specific spot he suddenly started seeing the city anew, and interpreting the visual chaos he’d previously enjoyed in more sinister terms. Roaming the streets with his camera, London seemed less a geographical place than an accumulation of things; everything around him seemed to be about buying and selling, he says, including the buildings. “The city felt like some kind of metabolic system, a place of constant destruction and construction,” he explains. “All those things, whether they are high-end luxury goods or cheap plastic trash, form into random conglomerations and quickly disappear again. That goes for the makeshift beds as well as the carefully designed window displays. It’s all about survival.”
Based between London and Berlin, Stier shoots advertising images as well as editorial and personal projects. When he showed his work at the Biennale für Aktuelle Fotografie last year (which was curated by respected photography specialist David Campany), he mixed up his commissioned and non-commissioned images; he says it was a joy to do so, and also says the Biennale was an eye-opener because it showed how freely earlier generations of photographers moved between their commissioned and self-assigned work.
But he adds that his trained commercial eye gave him an extra insight into “all the visual tricks employed to flog us new stuff” when he was shooting A Tale of One City, and adds that the project may be “a bit subversive”. As with his other work the photographs are seductive, the tight framing and bright colours helping draw the viewer in. But in this case they aim to push an idea, not a product.
“It’s clear that we are producing too much stuff, with all the obvious problems that come with it,” says Daniel Stier. “The city is purely driven by market forces and the circulation speed of money, commodities, and labour can’t sustain any hiccup or we end up in devaluation, crisis, chaos. It’s also that I saw all those goods start to resemble each other, whether they are expensive, luxurious accessories, or everyday consumer goods – all end up as rubbish.”
By Diane Smyth
Diane Smyth is a freelance writer based in London, who works with photographers and with publications such as The Guardian, FOAM and The British Journal of Photography, where she edited for 15 years. Diane has also curated exhibitions for The Photographers’ Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. Her instagram is @dismy.
A Tale of One City by Daniel Stier is published by DSPress, 30€. More information here.