Talking photobooks: Standing by Kinshasa


While photobooks generally offer a relatively controlled way of urban imagineering in that they convey a specific visual narrative of the city’s past, present, and future, Alexa Färber’s format of ‘talking photobooks’ turns them into a resource for research and debate. Talking photobooks enable different positions on and readings of what a city has been and promises to be. In this conversation between Alexa Färber (Vienna), Laura Kemmer (Berlin) and AbdouMaliq Simone (Sheffield), three urban researchers discuss the acts of ‘suturing the city’ depicted in Filip DeBoeck’s and Sammy Baloji’s (2016) eponymous photobook – not as a form of repair, but as a sociomaterial mode of organizing provisional arrangements that remain provisional. We tackle the relation between city and standby from two directions. First, we discuss how photography articulates the disparate temporalities of urban promises, asking what DeBoeck and Baloji’s work reveals about the ‘urban now’, a spatio-temporal and social configuration that is couched between the broken dreams of a better future and the ‘not yet’ of urban redemption. Next, we probe how Suturing the city exposes acts of ‘standing by’ these promises despite an ever-ubiquitous urban failure. Can photobooks re/activate modes of with-holding, dis-engaging, and out-living the city’s essentially loose promises?

Full version:
Concept: Alexa Färber. Postproduction: Işıl Karataş.


DeBoeck, F. and S. Baloji (2016) Suturing the city: Living together in Congo’s urban worlds. London: Autograph ABP.

the author(s)  

Alexa Färber is a professor at the Institute of European Ethnology, University of Vienna. Her research is situated at the intersection of the anthropology of knowledge, urban research, and audio-visual research. In addition to studying project-based representational work and the urban dimensions of thrift, she is currently exploring the notion of the city as ‘promissory assemblage’. She recently published ‘How does ANT help us to rethink the city and its promises?’ in A. Blok, I. Farías and C. Roberts (eds.) (2019) The Routledge companion to actor-network theory.

Email: alexa.faerber AT 


Laura Kemmer is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department for Human Geography, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, working on urban transitions, infrastructures and more-than-human collectivities. Together with AbdouMaliq Simone, she recently published a piece that inquires into tactics of ‘standing by’ urban promises in Rio and Jakarta, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space (January 2021, online first).

Email: laura.kemmer AT


AbdouMaliq Simone is a senior professional fellow at the Urban Institute, University of Sheffield, and an honorary professor at the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town. He writes widely on issues of global urbanism, popular economies, urban racialism, and Islamic political practice. Most recently, he authored Improvised lives: Rhythms of endurance in an urban South, Polity Press (2019).

Email: a.t.simone AT