Light floods the frame. Bleached flares of afternoon sun gently inundate an otherwise lush woodland scene, its tangles of ferns, vines and low-lying foliage ensnaring the forest floor. It is a filter of haze, almost psychic in its effect. A proximate image describes a partial domestic scene, morning light creeping up a bedroom wall. It is adorned with a framed print of a classical still-life painting, a pair of pillows anchoring the composition at its base.

Elsewhere, fire rips through the undergrowth in a perfect line; a plastic Christmas tree glows meekly in a darkened room; a woman, captured mid-step, wanders among a constellation of tall trees, a birdhouse hanging obliquely from a high branch.

“Katrin Koenning’s long-running series Indefinitely read as if a syntax of transient moments and fleeting extracts.”

The images that populate Katrin Koenning’s long-running series Indefinitely read as if a syntax of transient moments and fleeting extracts. Shot between Australia, New Zealand and her native Germany over eight years, they waver between the lucid and dreamlike, spanning continents and oceans, cities and forests, crystalline visions and elusive flashes of happenstance. That the Melbourne-based photographer’s family and the vast distances which separate its protagonists underpin Indefinitely says much about these images, which might otherwise seem disparate at a glance.

“I was less interested in representing the family as it was – and describing the distance between us – and more interested in this more lyrical idea,” says Koenning, who relocated from Germany’s Ruhrgebiet to Australia in 2003, when she was 25.

“I was less interested in representing the family as it was and more interested in a more lyrical idea.”
–Katrin Koenning

“There is this space that is migrational in nature,” she continues, pausing to consider the premise. “I was really interested in how we use language around that. It’s connoted so negatively – that migration is akin to a void or a lack or that it is empty or lonely in some way – and are all these kinds of sad or melancholy connotations.”

Koenning’s work points to a more poetic understanding of transience. The distances that separate she and her family are not empty, but instead filled with details: different species of flora and fauna, oceans, landscapes, movement, weather and shifts in season. Likewise, her representation of those closest to her eschews traditional modes of portraiture to assume a more abstract and formal guise. They become actors that return and repeat, the arch of a back or the turn of a shoulder becoming crucial gestures.

Koenning’s work points to a more poetic understanding of transience.

“If you take that idea [of a migrational space] and think about what that actually means emotionally, it opens up this whole arena for a different way of thinking about this supposed void,” she says. “It creates a ground to be filled with story and detail.




“It’s about [the family] and this unusual space around us,” she offers of the work. “Not just the family in isolation.”

“It’s about [the family] and this unusual space around us. Not just the family in isolation.”

–Katrin Koenning

Indeed, these images exist both within and outside of traditional notions of place; they embrace and quietly unravel documentary modes and aesthetics. Moments of transience or “in-between-ness” find their way in shared experience; images of materials, substances and the environment in movement, reaction and combustion double back to the human, familial subject. We’re left in a state of flux – at once melancholy, euphoric and liminal in nature – the tension between connection and disconnection ever present. Koenning’s family members become abstracted figures in a flickering, drifting tableau.

We’re left in a state of flux – the tension between connection and disconnection ever present.

It’s not a sensibility that has simply come about. There’s a particular intrepidness to Koenning’s photography, which has seen her exhibit throughout Australia, Europe, the UK and US, and win various international prizes, including the 2015 Daylight Photo Award. Indeed, for all her work’s thematic and conceptual specificities and minutiae, Koenning’s images speak of the exploration of her place in the wider human and environmental context.

Much of her early output dealt with notions of travel more directly, with series such as the aptly titled Transit (2007–2014) featuring portraits of seated travelers – on buses, trains, airplanes and in cars – lost in thought or sleep, while other work such as Thirteen: Twenty Lacuna (2009–2011) saw her take to the bustling streets of central Melbourne, evidencing a quietly dramatic, almost cinematic engagement with light and shadow in the process.

She views her practice through a wider prism of narrative, or as she puts it, “story”.

It’s no mistake that Koenning worked in a journalistic context before making the shift to photography. She views her practice through a wider prism of narrative, or as she puts it, “story”.




“It’s how I fell in love with photography – this idea of story,” she says. “I was working in journalism – in radio and the print media – before I even studied, so I was interested in story before I was interested in photography.”

By definition, documentary photography finds its crux “in the world” rather than the confines of the studio. It’s a scenario befitting Koenning’s eagerness to garner knowledge and the poetics experience. “I always thought photography was incredible for that reason,” she says. “Why would you choose to sit yourself in the isolation of the studio, when you could be out in the world? When you really look at things with an open mind, the world is an incredible place, and somewhere I can never get enough of.”

Her interest in the outdoors stretches all the way back to her childhood, in Germany. She recalls summers with her grandmother by the ocean and her years as a member of the Alpine Club, a youth program in which participants would learn the specifics of hiking and spend their holidays climbing the German Alps. “I went to Steiner school, so we didn’t have a TV,” she says. “I spent all my time outside, climbing trees and wandering. My happiest memories and my happiest place have always been away from the urban environment.”

“My happiest memories and my happiest place have always been away from the urban environment.”
–Katrin Koenning

Photography was something that fit this schema. It was a way to not only explore and acquire information, but also to make sense of it. “I’m interested in this idea of practice as a mode of ‘sense-making’ and ‘place-making’. It’s about understanding the world in some way, and what it means to be human or alive. It’s not about the huge things, but rather just the small things – not just finding myself in a place but also becoming a part of the place – imbedding myself in the city. Practice teaches you so much.”

“I’m interested in this idea of practice as a mode of ‘sense-making’ and ‘place-making’."
–Katrin Koenning

The sense that Koenning’s images appear loosened from the moulds of documentary – almost as if they’re too good to be true – speaks more to her persistence than to her process, which she places firmly in the documentary mode. Koenning’s ability to capture unlikely moments comes from her commitment to the cause.

Koenning’s ability to capture unlikely moments comes from her commitment to the cause.

“There are a lot of pictures from throughout my wider body of work that – if I hadn’t made them and didn’t know how they happened and I was to look at them from someone else’s perspective – I would think they were probably staged,” she laughs.




“But I think that is the beautiful nature of really, really long-term projects: after eight years of photographing something in a particular way, and then putting together some of those pictures in an edit, there are going to be incredible moments like that. They are few and far between, but when you photograph something for such a length of time, then you’re going to come across them.”

She invokes a story of her father suddenly jumping up on the kitchen table to peer into a manhole leading to the attic of his home at the sound of what he thought might be a rat in the ceiling. She happened to her camera (with flash attached) sitting on the table between them following a day shooting, and the rest is history.

“I’m interested in the idea of non-place,” says Koenning. “Removing it from notions of ownership or nationality. It’s almost about being in a kind of dream state and allowing your mind to wander.”

Katrin Koenning grew up in Germany’s Ruhrgebiet - once the country’s industrial heart. At 25, Koenning relocated to Australia and is currently based in Melbourne. Coming from a story of movement through language, culture and continent, Koenning is interested in our physical and emotional connection to place, and our relationship to environment. Based in still photography and the moving image, a lot of Koenning’s work is an inquiry into these themes and has at its core the idea of returning to things. Koenning is the former Editor of the Australian PhotoJournalist Magazine and is currently acting as curatorial adviser for Wallflower Photomedia Gallery, Mildura. Koenning lectures at Photography Studies College, Melbourne.




Dan Rule is a writer, critic, editor and publisher from Melbourne, Australia. He is a longstanding visual art critic for Melbourne newspaper The Saturday Age, a design and architecture columnist for The Age, the editor-at-large of Vault magazine and the co-editor of Composite Journal. In a career spanning more than 15 years, he has written on art, photography, design and culture more widely for publications including i-D, Oyster, TOO MUCH, The Sydney Morning Herald, Gallery magazine, Australian Art Collector, Artist Profile, The Big Issue and countless others, and has held editorial posts at publications including Broadsheet Media, Dazed and Confused, Music Australia Guide and Photofile. Dan has also completed major critical commissions for institutions and clients including the National Gallery of Victoria, Camera Austria, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Australian Centre for Photography, Thames & Hudson UK and more. He is the co-director of Perimeter Books, Perimeter Distribution and Perimeter Editions, for which he has edited and written several books on contemporary artists and photographers from Australia, the United States, Europe and the Middle East.