Oliver Endicott discusses Continental Drift by Nico Krebs & Taiyo Onorato 

“The road trips were an intensified way of following the elements of the unforeseen, the unknown, the chance, because every moment of the journey embodies the notion of chance.”

In 2013 Nico Krebs and Taiyo Onorato after the success of their work The Great Unreal, decided to head back out on a road trip but this time travelling 15,000km East from Zurich to Mongolia. They wanted to question their own ideas and notions of the “East” and the Orient as well as the myth of the road trip. 

Continental drift is a theory that attempts to explain how over long periods of time, continents would geologically shift in relation to one another. Krebs and Onorato’s imagery reflects this photographically, often blending documentation with fiction creating an uncertainty about where the borders and boundaries of their work lie. It’s also reflected in the landscapes they would often find themselves in, as a lot of the countries were in the middle of drastic change, moving away from tradition and convention to more industrial, capitalistic and progressive ideals. It is clear that Krebs and Onorato are interested in the edges and periphery of photography where the established norms of image-making and visual culture spill over and converge into a broth of experimentation, abstraction and fabrication.

Continental Drift by Nico Krebs & Taiyo Onorato
Continental Drift by Nico Krebs & Taiyo Onorato

Throughout the journey, Krebs and Onorato would collect makeshift tools and objects they would find and later repurpose. For example, they would place these objects physically onto the images they took during the trip to represent the items returning to their true home, converging past and present into a singular instance. The abstraction of scale and perspective within these particular images create strong visual symbols of how the landscape affects visual culture and tradition.

The work also contains close up portraits of people they encountered along their expedition. With more than one frame of the subjects, we see a sequence of the people’s expressions subtly change and start to move and breathe. The people throughout the series occupy a strange place within the work, particularly when the subjects look directly into the camera suggesting the subject is acknowledging the viewer’s presence and that we as a viewer are merely outsiders looking in.

Continental Drift by Nico Krebs & Taiyo Onorato

The subtle facial expressions representing the subtle changes is cultural identities Krebs and Onorato witnessed along the beak and open road. The focus on the eyes of the subjects is also a proposition of how our experience of images creates different outlooks and interpretations of the world and how our viewpoints are all completely unique. In a press release for the project, they suggest that whilst “Looking out of a jumbo jet, we see mountains and steppes, fields and villages passing by, 11 kilometres below us. Families live in each little building, and vehicles full of people move along the streets. Each of these people lives an individual life; each has a certain view of the landscape and a history. A dizzying thought.”

 

Continental Drift by Nico Krebs & Taiyo Onorato
Continental Drift by Nico Krebs & Taiyo Onorato

The innate suspicion that these images create encourages questions on the very nature of the image, Krebs and Onorato are interrogating whether images are merely fabrications of reality or perhaps reproductions of our reality that inform or misinform our understanding of the world and our place within it. Abstraction and manipulation of the image creates, in my opinion, a greater and more visceral experience of photography and the world around us, particularly in the case of Krebs and Onorato where the manipulation is only ever so slight in order for the viewer to second guess their experience of the work. To quote the painter Giorgio Morandi “There is nothing more surreal, nothing more abstract than reality”.

Nico Krebs & Taiyo Onorato

All images by Nico Krebs & Taiyo Onorato

Publications:

You can purchase Continental Drift from Edition Patrick Fey Here

Article by Collective Photographer, Oliver Endicott

If you enjoyed this article by Oliver, check out our conversation with Toby Glanville