I wonder what's in those containers?

2023, series of 9, digital collage of photographs and text, archival pigment ink, each 40 x 50 cm, framed, in total 123 x 153 cm. Exhibition view: KLEMM‘S, Paris Photo, 2023

I wonder what's in those containers? I was standing in the Mulhouse container terminal, shivering, next to a young watchman, years ago. The question was a joke, an attempt at small talk over a hasty cigarette. At the time, I was interested in the international flow of goods, which could only become so mighty and all-encompassing through containerization. Today, castles of colorful steel crates dot the entire globe. So where else could such an abstract concept as “globalization” be captured photographically? more
The security guard had been assigned to me by the terminal operator, to lecture about the dangers of the terminal. Bonsoir monsieur, une cigarette? And he does try to answer my question, very conscientiously in fact: household goods of all kinds, medicines, electronics, tools. Everything comes from Rotterdam. Chemical products, cosmetics, clothing, machines. Everything goes to Rotterdam. Toys. Frozen food. People. –People? Yes, he says. He has already heard knocking twice during his nightly patrols. He called the police. People came out, hungry, thirsty, and exhausted. Some had to be carried on stretchers. I did not believe him. I believed, rather, that he was dabbling in macabre jokes. And what about in these temperatures? And what if the human containers were stacked all the way up, or all the way in the middle? Then no one hears the knocking and screaming, he explained. Then people are also at some point frozen. There is someone squatting in there, somewhere, he told me as we parted, for certain. All right, I said, it’s freezing cold, I have to go. I did my work. It was all very quiet. Sven Johne, 2023 less
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