12 November 2020

The Retelling of a True Story Stranger than Fiction

12 November 2020 - Written by Laurence Cornet

In her series Sirius, Anna Szkoda narrates the tale of a real criminal case that occurred in Germany in the 1970s-80s and could have been born in Philip K. Dick’s tormented psyche.

© Anna Szkoda, from the series Sirius

It’s the story of a man who, night after night over long phone conversations, invents a poetic fiction for a young woman he had met at a club. The catch is, the fiction nearly costed the woman her life. “[…] the aspect of this, succinctly speaking, naivety and instability have piqued my interest, as well as the insanely elaborate carousel of lies that the young man managed to spin over such a long period of time”, Anna Szoda writes.

The man pretended to be coming from Sirius, a few light years away from Earth, and promised the woman to bring her soul to Sirius. For that, she first needed to pay 30,000 marks so that a monk could meditate on her behalf. Which she gladly did.

© Anna Szkoda, from the series Sirius

He then noticed a blockage in her soul’s progress and recommended her to give up her current body so that she could reincarnate into another one – that of an artist in a red room overlooking a lake. The plan was simple: she simply had to drop a functioning hair dryer in her bath while in it. In the meantime, she would have subscribed a life insurance under his name so that he could give her the money back to sustain her new self.

The plan didn’t go as expected though and she failed to electrocute herself in the bathtub. The voltage, it appears, was not high enough. The man lost interest and the woman started to doubt and ended up revealing the whole scam. Diving into the court archive as well as in the fiction that the man had invented, Anna Szkoda used photography to “remistify the case, to look at its poetic qualities instead of its juridical consequences”, in her words.

© Anna Szkoda, from the series Sirius

Each photograph works as a clue to grasp this eery enigma. The long hours on the phone, the unidentifiable monk, the appealing stars, the bathtub and the. The photographs are mainly set in suburban Germany. “These kind of in-between landscapes that have a very particular and somehow rugged magic about them. This is, I believe (but I am very well aware that this might be a projection) the landscape that brought about the intricate and lonely madness of the Sirius case and that in turn inspired me to find the adequate imagery”, Szkoda notes.

Dots of surreal flashes through the series – a source of light bright as a freshly crashed comet in a private garden ; smoke blurring a road lined with fir trees ; a couple walking side by side in a red lit landscape and thinking how Sirius has been thought to be red for centuries, one can only imagine they are on the star, as in the woman’s most sincere dreams.

© Anna Szkoda, from the series Sirius


Anna Szkoda is a Polish photographer based in Germany, working within the documentary realm.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Paris focusing on cultural and environmental issues. She is also the editorial director of Dysturb.


This article is part of our feature series Photo Kernel, which aims to give space to the best contemporary practitioners in our community. The word Kernel means the core, centre, or essence of an object, but it also refers to image processing.

Written by

Laurence Cornet

Reading time

3 minutes

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