Friday, June 12, 2009
Day Two June 9th Hard at work in the Benaki photo archives
Lectures: Day 2 June 10th
Joel Smith “American urban landscapes through photography”
Joel Smith, curator of photography Princeton University, gave us some tools with which to approach urban images: he began by stating there is a mis-match between maps and photographs. Maps give us command over space, they offer a schematic structure while a photograph depends on where the photographer is located; it is a monocular view.
Turning to speak of photographing the city, Joel offered four analytical categories: Frieze, Set, Mirror, and Organism.
1/ Frieze: a low relief image, a form that approximates sculpture, a puzzle that is fitted together, or interlocking motifs that add up to a larger meaning. Walker Evans, Ansel Adams, Stieglitz, Gropius photographs were offer as examples. Joel Smith’s own photograph of the Parthenon [June 8th 2009] was exemplary. It focused on an icon as a vast symbol that locked the view into a frieze. Iconic images such as the Flatiron Building in New York City tend to force the language of the photograph into a specific overloaded direction. Joel is suggesting that a frieze is constructed such that all parts function in relationship to each other in a mathematical or puzzle like manner. One part of picture is so dominant, i.e. iconic, that it erases other parts of the image. The frieze effect is most prevalent in urban photographs.
2/Set: photographs in which the city becomes a backdrop to human activity --- whether narration implied or not, or photographer acting as a director controlling every detail of the view, the city gives meaning to the image only as a backdrop. Joel offered examples of de Corshier’s [sp?] “Hustlers” (1991) and “Heads” (2001). Cartier Bresson also used the city as an adjunct to life – deploying the formal language of the frame his figures disappear into the city, up the stairs, behind the railing, etc. Gary Winograd, Helen Leavitt, Robert Frank are other examples in which figures are surrounded by the city and effected by it, but framed off from the city. Other photographers utilize mirrors to scatter the image, or like Andrew Moore’s photograph “Upper Floor Sarajevo” (2001) utilizing a sniper’s hole in a wall to frame the city.
3/ Mirror: reflection of self-awareness as an artist. Minor White’s 1950s photographs of San Francisco are an example: he crops the image, aligns the image with a window behind, suggesting a metaphorical image of the scene. Or Harry Callahan’s Chicago façade 1950s reiterates the subject, walls us off, stressing the artistic purist elements and fragments not a view of the city.
4/ Organism, [Joel could also have used the term ‘machine’]: Andrew Moore’s “Underneath the Brooklyn Bridge” points to life beyond the frame – he lets go of control, of an enclosed universe, suggesting there is a larger life of the city, beyond the frame of the image. The presentation of multiple photographs become complementary, life and activity and structure, at various scales, literal parts of the city are combined within a single image.
Serial photographs also fit into this category: the network of streets and neighborhoods such as Park Avenue, Soho or Atgee’s Paris photographs, Berenice Abbott’s New York images. One set of images is linked to another, the structure of one set of city images influencing another recording, also evoking life outside the frame. Montage or a combination of images also can reference life outside frame, across time. For example, Robert Flick’s images of serial views, printed in grid format, cataloguing an overview of the fragmented images of Los Angeles. Flick structures these images like a map reading from west to east, north to south.
Alexandra Moschovi’s lecture on “Tales of Urbanity in Contemporary Greek Photography” gave us an idea of what is going on in Greek photography today . Why there are not many examples of ‘urban photography’ in the 1950s, and what the shift towards the city in the 1970s and 1980s is all about.
She began by describing the 1952 Hellenic Photographic Society and the work of Harissiadis, Meletzis, Voula Papaioannis and Costas Balafas. Both professional as well as amateur photographers presented Greece to tourists. Their common subject matter focused on the Greek mountains, the light of Greece, the sky, fishing villages and fishermen, sailing on the Aegean sea. An entire picturesque vocabulary of Greek landscape was deployed such as in Voula Papaioannou’s album Hellas 1949 for European and America Tourists. Socialists’ photographers such as Spyros Meletzis “Mount Olympus” c 1950 idealized the countryside, with images of nature lovers, hikers, the Greek mountains. A Greek Portfolio c1960, 1972 by Constantine Manos and Ioannis Lambros’ posters for Greek National Tourism were other examples of this Romantic picturesque genre.
The Popular Cinema of 1950s and 1960s continued these themes: Athens was a backdrop for romantic comedies. “ Magic City” ( dir Nikos Koundouros, 1954 ) or “Never on Sunday” ( dir Jules Dassin 1960) focused on yhe Greek working class, keeping the city itself as backdrop. The architect, Aris Constantinidis took up photography but the city does not appear in his works. Photography was exclude from art museums at this time, there were no art galleries supporting the work, so a critical approach to photography did not develop.
This began to shift in the 1970s with a turn to the city as subject matter. A new generation comes to age distinguishing themselves from professional and amateur photographers and tourist organizations. They set up the Photographic Centre of Athens in the late 1970s and stressed the purity of the photographic medium. Since there was no infrastructure in Greece to support such photography, many went to USA, Germany or France to live and practice. Straight photography, un-manipulated negatives, on the periphery of high art was practiced by Yiagos Athanassopoulos, 1977 and Giorgos Depollas for Lonely People, 1975. Tachydromos magazine commissioned a series of the 1981 Elections from Nikos Panayotopoulos, and Stelios Efstathopoulos, developed a photographic essay on Gypsies, 1989.
Daily life, exploration of the photographer’s immediate environment [ Army 1985 -6 series In the army Yiorgos Katsaggelos] developed a politically charged documentary approach. Nikos Markou’s series “Perama” 1982 and “Gazi” 1984 and Yiago Anthanassopoulous series “Athenians, 1968-96 “captured the unpredicted and shifting nature of city life. Costis Antoniadis “Used Photographs”, 1986 dramatized place and people. They were problematizing the medium yet using the city only as backdrop … their ‘sociological’ gaze still was informed by the ‘pastoral’.
Photographs from Panos Kokkinias and Yiorgos Yerolymbols, the work of T.A.M.A. [Temporary Autonomous Museum for All] shifts this perspective, They offer a different perception of the unruly aspects of city, canceling out straight purist spaces and individual identity of earlier photographs. By the 1990s there is a definite blurring of boundaries in Greek photography. The Thessaloniki Museum of Photography opens in 2002, aiding this subversion of ‘photographicness’, and transferring perspective to a new photographic realism. Panos Kokkinias “here we are’ 2002 – 2006 offers an inversion from a public view to private life, an alienated and existential experience of life in the city. Subjects such as protests, riots, celebrations, socio-cultural immigration, police, and gypsies are more evident as subject material in other photographers of realism. A new interest in the city develops; perhaps as an intuitive return to the city.
Panos Kokkinias, photographer “presentation of works”: Panos Kokkinias gave us a personal presentation of the development of his work. His concern involves the question of how space effects how we function, how we feel about what we are. He started with ‘straight photography’ – but pondered what straight photography meant? Maybe it entailed the use of a small camera, black & white photographs of streets and places, deploying Gary Winograd’s literal description of the camera’s view. Kokkinias photographed crowds and animals, putting a book together, with themes such as alienation, what is this all about, what about existence cropping up. Eventually he published a small book entitled Sinking
This type of questioning continued during his studies at Yale: who am I as a person or photographer, what is my state of mind, can it be photographed? He began to stage his photographs [food, split milk, peanut eater, t.v. as his ‘place’ or a self portrait smoking, ‘myself became my house’ in which interiors were a substitute, a mirror reflection of his inner state of mind. He also shot interior spaces at Yale: gym photographs with telling details, mattress that is American, photo between two windows nobody knows, squash room batting ball against it. Or he photographed an escape hatch, the empty spaces of Grand Central Station, placing human figures in empty spaces. It was important to capture a sense of the place/space and what was going to happen there. He did not conceive of an idea and then find place to photograph that idea in, but first found a place visually and then envisioned a scenario taking place there. Gradually the spaces he was photographing opened up, his images getting wider and wider.
In 1996 Kokkinias returned to Greece, the light changes effected his work. He stopped doing interiors and began to work outdoor work in nature with figures. His urban neurosis transferred to nature, and, strange behavior, black humor or sarcasm became apparent. How do we feel in the world? The size of the image is important, we are small in the world therefore he used large format in which details became apparent.
Kokkinias began to pursue a PhD but what was going to be the subject? Why not explore the question of where we are, absurdity of not understanding the world and what we are going to do about it? He developed a group of portraits as his PhD in which alienation is the subject and the question examined ‘Can photography discuss existential matter?’. This shift also changed the way Kokkinias was working. The title of this group is ‘Here we are’; ‘but what do we do now?’ ‘Can photography deal with existential subject matter?’ The start of ‘Here we are’ began with someone entering the world, then wandering in urban environments [In the Megaron Musici a guy wears the badge of a visitor; the place dictates the mood] Kokkinias mixes genres: staged to non-staged views, reality plus fiction. He focuses on the non-places we move through, that we spend time in by traveling. These are moments of realizing or feeling ‘I am in the work’, ‘what is all this about?’ He utilizes a telephoto lens so that no interaction occurs between the image and the lens [A car leaving, broken umbrella, small world you don’t know where you are.][ Metro photograph: it is ordered, its visually clean not like rest of Athens. Is the platform another non-place? Waiting, waiting for Godot, waiting for the train.] [Underground drive through underpass, a prostitute in a red dress waiting in sunlight on narrow pavement not for pedestrians, an opening in roof allows sunbeams to come through pointing towards her yet the photograph is haunted by emptiness, nothingness, and death.]
[Escalators: you arrive somewhere, you have moments of waiting, empty, you wonder about your life,
reflections are there without the people there, they have been erased digitally, yet reflections left which the cleaning lady appears to be wiping away. This set up a kind of magical realism, which Kokkinais will pursue in the future.]
He refers to this set of photographs as ‘very short films’. We project our imagination onto/ into the space and we don’t care that it’s an illusion, we get absorbed. This sets up a kind of momentary narration. He likes a space without an idea and takes notes on spaces that he might use later. He began his photographic career wanting to make films, but with photography he did not need to have as much money, a big crew, and he discovered he could use photography to say something similar as he might in a small film.