Sven Johne’s practice, which often deploys documentary photography and its bias towards social issues, is based on a conceptual methodology. He approaches his subjects like an investigative reporter by conducting
research about the background of media reports and found footage, visiting the places mentioned therein and embarking on a documentation resulting from his research. In so doing, photos, texts, videos and archives are generated that are theoretically linked and engage in a process of questioning as regards their authenticity and meaning. What is of essence here is not only necessarily the “truth value” of the image, but rather the explanations provided, the dependence on text to provide meaning, and the image’s relationship to the world. The main conceptual
thrust of Johne’s work functions either as apparent or real evidence of personal fates that are in turn expressions or manifestations of current conditions of social, economic and political constellations. The
narrative nature of documentary photography is thus a particular field of enquiry for the artist. His work engages an analysis of what we can possibly know, how we can show what we know and how we can talk
about it.His documentary images do not exclusively belong to the domain of what is immediately visible, but are also dependent on our knowledge of what we have seen and how we describe it. For his Griechenland-Zyklus (Greece Cycle) (2013) Johne travelled to 37 different destinations in Greece, such as Athens, Mykonos, Delphi, Corinth, and Corfu. In all
of these places he took a photograph of the starry night sky, made a note of the date, time and place and described a personal experience about it. The headings of the photographs, e.g. African Peddlers in Patras, or Innkeeper in Agios Germanos do not refer to what is visible on the photograph but the overarching narrative is one that points to the effects of the crisis in Greece, the plight of the immigrants, for example, and the social and economic upheaval that has taken grip of the country since the crisis erupted.
But none of this is visible in the actual photographs. One only sees a starry night sky, and a text describing the details of the image. What is at stake here is the missing of representation: the gap between text and
image. At a time where the ubiquity of images has also rendered them powerless, raises key questions about the way that documentary images function, how we read into them, and how they affect us. At the
same time, Griechenland-Zyklus posits an ambivalent narrative between aberration, hope and salvation. To borrow the artist’s words, “Where the sky is darkest, the stars are brightest”.