March 31, 2010


Travellers, Agia Pelagia, 1930s

It is difficult for anyone today to fully appreciate the isolation of most Greek island communities in the first half of the twentieth century. A relatively poor island like Kythera (Cerigo) might have regular if infrequent steamer communication with the port of Piraeus and the capital, but only a small percentage of the population would have the means, the opportunity or even much reason to take advantage of it. Except for once or twice in a lifetime journeys prompted by military service, emigration or severe medical emergency, travel on the packet steamer would normally be restricted to the island’s economic elite, commercial travellers and civil servants.

This anonymous photograph, dating from the early thirties, shows a representative enough group preparing to embark from the beach at Agia Pelagia, on the north of the island. The seven men are all wearing their city outfits, including suits, hats, ties or bow ties and town shoes. The man in the middle is holding what appears to be a small wooden box with a strap handle; it could be a container for something fragile, like a medical implement or medical samples, and he might be a doctor. The only woman among the group of travellers appears to be wearing peasant dress, but it seems nevertheless to be of better quality than the superficially similar outfit of the servant girl on the far left, who has a farouche expression and is holding some traveller’s gear, including an umbrella. Their luggage includes leather suitcases and the ubiquitous baskets and hampers which, closed by a piece of white muslin stitched into place, still served to carry everything from produce to clothing well into the seventies.

Behind them can be seen the rowboats which, in the absence of a proper harbour or mole, will carry the passengers and their luggage to the steamer when it arrives. The boatmen are elaborately indifferent to the photographer, but most of the gentlemen appear pleased with themselves.

Δύσκολα μπορεί κανείς σήμερα να κατανοήσει την απομόνωση που χαρακτήριζε τις περισσότερες νησιωτικές κοινωνίες κατά το πρώτο μισό του εικοστού αιώνα. Ένα σχετικά πτωχό νησί σαν τα Κύθηρα μπορεί μεν να είχε τακτική, αν όχι απαραιτήτως συχνή, επικοινωνία με τον Πειραιά, αλλά ένα μικρό μόνο ποσοστό του πληθυσμού θα είχε τα μέσα, την ευκαιρία αλλά και τους λόγους να επωφεληθεί. Με εξαίρεση μοναδικές περιστάσεις όπως στρατιωτική θητεία, μετανάστευση ή σοβαρά προβλήματα υγείας, το ατμόπλοιο της γραμμής χρησιμοποιούσαν κατά κύριο λόγο οι οικονομικά προνομιούχοι, οι έμποροι και οι δημόσιοι υπάλληλοι.

Η ανώνυμη αυτή φωτογραφία των αρχών της δεκαετίας 1930 απεικονίζει μια χαρακτηριστική ομάδα ταξιδιωτών που περιμένουν να επιβιβασθούν από την ακτή της Αγίας Πελαγίας, στα βόρεια του νησιού. Οι άνδρες έχουν όλοι βάλει τα καλά τους, δηλαδή κοστούμι, καπέλο, γραβάτα ή παπιγιόν και λουστρίνια. Ο άνδρας στη μέση βαστάει ένα μικρό ξύλινο κουτί· ίσως πρόκειται για ιατρό, και το κουτί θα μπορούσε να περιέχει κάποιο εύθραυστο ιατρικό εργαλείο ή φαρμακευτικά δείγματα. Η μοναδική γυναίκα μεταξύ των επιβατών είναι ντυμένη σαν αγρότισσα, η ενδυμασία της όμως μοιάζει σαφώς καλύτερης ποιότητας από τη αντίστοιχη της κοπέλας στα αριστερά. Η δεύτερη αυτή πιθανώς να είναι υπηρέτρια· βαστάει τα υπάρχοντα κάποιου επιβάτη, ενώ η έκφρασή της, αντίθετα με τις εκφράσεις των ποιό εξοικειωμένων με τη φωτογραφία επιβατών, δείχνει αλαφιασμένη. Οι αποσκευές αποτελούνται από δερμάτινες βαλίτσες αλλά και τα πάσης χρήσεως πανέρια, που συνέχισαν να χρησιμοποιούνται μέχρι τη δεκαετία 1970 τουλάχιστον.

Πίσω τους διακρίνονται οι βάρκες με τις οποίες, ελλείψει λιμανιού ή λιμενοβραχίονος, θα προσεγγίσουν το ατμόπλοιο. Οι βαρκάρηδες δείχνουν αδιάφοροι στον φωτογράφο, οι κύριοι όμως μοιάζουν αρκούντως ικανοποιημένοι με τον εαυτό τους.

March 27, 2010


Paul Seawright: From Hidden, 2003

There is another and subtler sense in which these images reference the hidden. With the exception of Nuristan, the landscape of Afghanistan, as I remember it and as Seawright’s landscapes confirm, tends inexorably to the minimal. The lowland deserts are mostly of the stony dasht variety, flat gravel plains stretching endlessly to the horizon, interrupted by occasional dry river beds or low outcrops of rock. The Hindu Kush range which covers the northern part of the country consists of largely barren slopes, often tortuously broken and ridged, between which sometimes nestle threads of piercingly blue water or patches of green vegetation clutched by the rock. The colours are generally muted, greys and light browns, mineral purples and ochres; even the rare greens seem faded. Above all, whether in the mountains or the desert, very little seems to obtrude on the landscape, which is made up of foreground and background, but only rarely of middle ground; when something does appear in the middle distance (a rider, a tree, a ruined tower or wrecked vehicle), it does so with unexpected presence. Such open, unvarnished statements of fact ought to suggest candour and guilelessness, but in fact they have precisely the opposite effect: surely, one feels, there is something hidden here after all - beyond that ridge, under that slope, at the far edge of the horizon. The paradox of Afghan landscape, successfully captured by Seawright, is that it always seems to be concealing something.

"Hiding in the Open" in Paul Seawright, Hidden. Imperial War Museum, London 2003. ISBN 9 781901 623758.

March 23, 2010


Sometime during the seventies, the younger members of the Greek community of Brisbane, Australia, celebrated a national holiday with a staged pageant incorporating a generous cross-section of Hellenic themes and symbols - an occasion fortunately captured for history (and the social pages of the local press) by an anonymous feature photographer from the Brisbane Telegraph. By far the heaviest emphasis, judging by the number of participants, is given to a freely imagined version of ancient Greece, though a smaller, more modestly dressed and staged contingent in the rear embody the revolution of 1821 and its robuster virtues. Their putative ancestors, in fact, seem closer to a Cinecittà version of Roman decadence than to the dour Spartan ideal, judging by the surprising amount of leg some of the young ladies are flashing. Among the symbolic items held aloft or displayed by their more modest sisters are a generic Grecian urn, a lyre, a basket of fruit and what looks like, but surely cannot be, a basket-ball.

Κατά τη διάρκεια μάλλον της δεκαετίας 1970, οι νέοι και νέες της Ελληνικής παροικίας του Brisbane της Αυστραλίας γιόρτασαν κάποια εθνική εορτή με την εικονιζόμενη πανηγυρική παράσταση, την οποία ευτυχώς για την ιστορία απαθανάτισε άγνωστός μας φωτογράφος της τοπικής εφημερίδας. Κρίνοντας από τον αριθμό των συμμετεχόντων, η μεγαλύτερη έμφαση δόθηκε στους αρχαίους υμών προγόνους, αν και μια μικρότερη, ποιό σεμνή από κάθε άποψη ομάδα αντιπροσώπευσε το στιβαρότερo εικοσιένα. Γεγονός είναι ότι οι φερόμενοι ως πρόγονοι των τελευταίων θυμίζουν περισσότερο την εκδοχή Τσινετσιτά της Ρωμαϊκής παρακμής και λιγότερο τις αυστηρές αρετές των Σπαρτιατών, αν κρίνουμε τουλάχιστον από τo πόσο μηρό επιδεικνύουν στο δίχως άλλο εμβρόντητο παροικιακό κοινό ορισμένες δεσποινίδες. Μεταξύ των συμβόλων που προτάσσουν παρατηρούμε αρχαιοπρεπή δοχεία, μια λύρα, καρπούς και κάτι που μοιάζει εκπληκτικά με μπάλα του μπάσκετ.

Kythera Photographic Archive, no. KPA00011 / Κυθηραϊκό Φωτογραφικό Αρχείο, αρ. KPA00011

March 22, 2010


Cela te revient comme un droit de regard, tu es pour l’instant quelqu’un que le dispositif photographique met en demeure de proposer, sur ces images, un grand nombre de récits possibles. Tu n’es pas, d’abord, un sujet qui écrit, qui regarde ou qui lit, tu es celle qui me raconte, toute la nuit et tout le jour : ce qu’elle croit voir en regardant, mais en regardant seulement et toujours de la photographie. Et, à la différence de ce qui se passe avec toute autre "image", l’histoire ici ne précède pas le récit.
Jacques Derrida, lecture de Droit de regards, 1985

Permission to look comes to you as of right, you are for the moment someone empowered by the photographic apparatus to suggest a great number of possible narratives based on these images. You are not, to begin with, a subject who writes, observes or reads, you are the one who tells me stories all day and all night: who narrates what she thinks she sees through looking, but through looking only and always at photographs. And, contrary to what occurs with every other kind of “image”, here narrative is not preceded by history.
Jacques Derrida, a reading of Droit de regards, 1985

Έχεις το δικαίωμα να κοιτάζεις, να παρατηρείς, είσαι για την ώρα το άτομο στο οποίο το φωτογραφικό σύστημα δίνει την δυνατότητα  να προτείνει, με βάση τις εικόνες αυτές, έναν μεγάλο αριθμό πιθανών αφηγήσεων. Δεν είσαι, καταρχήν, αυτή που γράφει, που παρατηρεί ή που διαβάζει, είσαι εκείνη που μου αφηγείται μέρα-νύχτα: που αφηγείται αυτό που νομίζει ότι βλέπει κοιτάζοντας, κοιτάζοντας όμως μονάχα και πάντοτε τη φωτογραφία. Αντίθετα δε με ότι συμβαίνει με κάθε άλλη «εικόνα», εδώ η ιστορία δεν προηγείται της αφήγησης.
Jacques Derrida, ανάγνωση του Droit de regards, 1985

March 20, 2010

CHANGE 20.03.10

 20 March 2010, 6.03 pm

March 19, 2010


Martina Lindqvist, A Thousand Little Suns
Stefania Mizara, Gaza War Days

Yiorgis Yerolymbos, Road Trip: USA

wip, which stands for 'work in progress', is a digital photographic magazine produced by photographer and designer Simos Saltiel out of Salonika. In a field all too often characterised by fussy and over-elaborate design, wip would stand out for its refreshingly simple yet elegant appearance alone, but it also consistently manages to come up with intriguing new imagery from a wide variety of sources, whether in the form of single images or, as has been the tendency with recent issues, a more extensive sampling from ongoing sequences.

wip7, the latest to appear, includes eerie landscapes by Martina Lindqvist, excerpts from Yiorgis  Yerolymbos' personal journey across the USA and Stefania Mizara's Gaza journal, as well as notable work by Natasha Gutermane, Abraham Pavilidis and Vanessa Winship. With "Smacznego!- Bon Appétit", Georgios Makkas reprises Anne Testut's wonderful 1995 "Europe à table" series of European families enjoying meals of widely differing qualities and conditions, but this time restricted to Poland (and including recipes). As was the case with the earlier work, "Smacznego" succeeds perfectly in exploiting photography's indiscriminate capacity for scavenging formally irrelevant yet deeply fascinating detail: in the example below, the eye bounces from the book-shaped landscape painting with its built-in clock (can there really be a total of four time-pieces in this one room?), touches briefly on the sixties wallpaper and Tomasz's magisterial dundreary whiskers before coming to rest, bemused, on a pair of bunny-rabbit slippers peeking coyly from under the table.

We live in this flat since 1974. The neighbours are OK and it is a calm and quiet place with good access to facilities... You can see the school from our balcony. We have a MacDonald's restaurant near us and the cinema is not that far away.

March 17, 2010


Spanish photographer José Luis Rodriguez has been stripped of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year title by London's Museum of Natural History after the judges decided that his prize-winning photograph depicted a tame wolf called Ossian rather than a wild animal on its way to supper in a farmer's paddock. According to Chris Gomersall, a wildlife photographer involved in judging who was quoted by the Guardian, "In wildlife photography there are ethical guidelines and there has always been an explicit understanding that if you take pictures of a captive subject, you declare it on your caption". Rodriguez denies the allegations, but apparently other Spanish photographers have recognised the wolf, while animal behaviourists have suggested that a wild animal would be far more likely to squeeze between the bars of the gate than indulge in balletic leaps.

In retrospect, the photograph really does look too perfect, too dramatic, as though Gregory Crewdson and a cast of dozens had spent a week setting it up. Maybe the image's original title, "Storybook Wolf", should have set alarm bells ringing. But is this really a problem? It is, after all, an extremely striking image. And as art critic Jonathan Jones asked in his blog, "Is José Luis Rodriguez's use of a tame animal for his award-winning wildlife shot really so criminal? At least he didn't use Photoshop".

The answer, as ever in issues of photographic authenticity, is that it depends almost entirely on context. In the very specific context of wildlife photography, the image is a lie, because it breaches the explicit understanding between photographer and viewer that images will involve the minimum possible artifice; while it is understood that the photographic depiction of a wild animal by a human is even more vulnerable to distortion of all kinds than most forms of representation, deliberate fraud cannot be countenanced here any more than it is, or should be, in reportage. On the other hand, had Rodriguez exhibited his image in a gallery, he would almost certainly be gathering plaudits and critical acclaim. Time for a paradigm shift, or just a career move?

March 16, 2010


Georgios Katsagelos: Havana, 29.09.2008
  Georgios Katsagelos: Istanbul, 25.04.2008

Nightime in Havana. Despite the late hour, harsh neon lighting highlights a decaying refreshment stall on the corner of a once handsome town square. According to a sign on the wall, it remains open for business twenty-four hours a day (24 horas!), offering a very meagre selection of cigarettes, beer, rum and mint liqueur. Leaning on the worn counter, an exhausted-looking woman cat-naps with half-closed eyes, waiting for some benighted customer.

Istanbul. Standing in front of a crumbling, graffiti-covered wall, a young girl with an attractive, slightly Asiatic face casts a neutral, even rather cool look at the camera. Some unknown hand has made a small, heart-breakingly ineffective attempt at covering the wall in a fresh coat of white paint, but the effort seems to have been abandoned almost immediately, and the roller leans against the wall, echoing the girl’s stance.

From the monograph by Georgios Katsagelos, Trying Harder, University Studio Press, Thessaloniki 2009. ISBN 978 960 12 1842 7.

Νύχτα στην Αβάνα. Παρά την προχωρημένη ώρα, στη γωνία μιας άλλοτε μεγαλοπρεπούς πλατείας ένα φθαρμένο από τον χρόνο κυλικείο προβάλλει κάτω από σκληρό φθοριούχο φως. Σύμφωνα με την αναρτημένη πινακίδα, λειτουργεί όλο το εικοσιτετράωρο (24 horas!), προσφέροντας μια περιορισμένη επιλογή από τσιγάρα, ρούμι, μπίρα και λικέρ μέντας. Ακουμπισμένη στο φθαρμένο γκισέ, μια γυναίκα με την εξάντληση αποτυπωμένη στη στάση της μοιάζει να λαγοκοιμάται με μισόκλειστα μάτια, περιμένοντας κανέναν ξενυχτισμένο περαστικό.

Κωνσταντινούπολη. Όρθιο μπροστά από ένα τοίχο με βρόμικο, σκασμένο σοβά, γεμάτος εγχάρακτα γκραφίτι, ένα νεαρό κορίτσι με όμορφο, ελαφρώς ασιατικό παρουσιαστικό ρίχνει στον φακό μια ουδέτερη έως και λίγο ψυχρή ματιά. Κάποιο άγνωστο χέρι έχει κάνει μια μικρή, σπαρακτικά αναποτελεσματική προσπάθεια να καλύψει τον τοίχο με φρέσκο στρώμα λευκής μπογιάς, το ρολό όμως του μπογιατζή στέκεται εγκαταλελειμμένο, σε αντίστιξη με το κορίτσι.

Από το λεύκωμα του Γιώργου Κατσάγγελου, Προσπαθώντας περισσότερο, University Studio Press, Θεσσαλονίκη 2009. ISBN 978 960 12 1842 7.

March 14, 2010


Antoine Bon, photographer and historian, was a researcher at the Ecole Francaise d’Athènes (the French School of Archaeology in Athens) in the interwar years. Among historians, he is best known for the two-volume study of the Frankish period in the Peloponnesus, Le Morée franque, illustrated with his own photographs, which has been described as “a towering edifice of scholarship”.

Through two influential books, En Grèce (1932) and Retour en Gréce (1938), he was one of the first foreign travel photographers to go beyond ancient ruins in his depiction of Greek landscape. Much less known are some 217 photographs of Brasil, published like his earlier books by Paul Hartmann (Paris) in 1950 under the title Brésil: deux cent dix-sept photographies de A. Bon, M. Gautherot et P. Verger. A partial list of Bon’s publications can be found in that useful but somewhat chaotic online resource, Open Library.

The two Greek albums went through several reprints, including facsimiles of the original editions published in 1948 by that pillar of Greek cultural life, the Librairie Kauffmann. Both include a stately if at times overheated text by Fernand Chapoutier, another stalwart of the Ecole Francaise: “The reader may perhaps expect to find only ruins in this book. The version of Greece offered up to him is both sparser and richer, unobscured by any fiction. She has not decked herself to receive strangers. To depict her, we have had no recourse to artifice: no astonishing points of view, no artful play of lens. We ambled along, like well-meaning and curious tourists; a beautiful image would present itself; to fix it, a pocket Kodak sufficed. We never went in search of rare spectacle, nor did the peasant woman pose before the lens in her finery. Greece would wake, go about her business and fall asleep again, thinking herself alone; the reader will discover her as though she had been caught by surprise”.

Ο φωτογράφος και ιστορικός Antoine Bon ήταν συνεργάτης της Γαλλικής Αρχαιολογικής Σχολής Αθηνών την περίοδο του μεσοπολέμου. Στον χώρο της ιστορίας είναι γνωστός κυρίως για την δίτομη μελέτη της Φραγκοκρατίας στην Πελοπόννησο, Le Morée franque, εικονογραφημένη με δικές του φωτογραφίες, που χαρακτηρίσθηκε στην εποχή του «μεγαλειώδες οικοδόμημα μάθησης».

Υπήρξε από τους πρώτους ξένους φωτογράφους που απεικόνισαν την Ελλάδα πέρα από τα αρχαία μνημεία, δημοσιεύοντας δύο εξαιρετικά δημοφιλή λευκώματα, En Grèce (1932) και Retour en Gréce (1938). Πολύ λιγότερο γνωστό είναι το λεύκωμα που δημοσίευσε το 1950 με φωτογραφίες από τη Βραζιλία.

Τα δύο ελληνικά λευκώματα αναδημοσιεύθηκαν συχνά, συμπεριλαμβανομένων των ανάτυπων της πρώτης έκδοσης που κυκλοφόρησε το βιβλιοπωλείο Κάουφμαν (Αθήνα, 1948).  Συνοδεύονται από πληθωρικά κείμενα του επίσης συνεργάτη της Γαλλικής Σχολής Fernand Chapoutier: «Ο αναγνώστης ίσως περιμένει να βρει μόνον ερείπια στο βιβλίο αυτό. Η όψη της Ελλάδας που του προσφέρεται είναι συγχρόνως  λιτότερη και πλουσιότερη, απελευθερωμένη από μύθους. Δεν είναι φτιασιδωμένη για να υποδεχθεί ξένους. Για να την απεικονίσουμε, δεν βασισθήκαμε στην τεχνική – ούτε εκπληκτικά σημεία θέασης, ούτε εξεζητημένη εναλλαγή φακών. Πήραμε τον δρόμο μας σαν καλοπροαίρετοι και περίεργοι τουρίστες· όποτε ξεπρόβαλε μπροστά μας κάποια ωραία εικόνα, αρκούσε μια Kodak τσέπης για να την απαθανατίσει. Ποτέ δεν αναζητήσαμε σπάνια θεάματα, ούτε φωτογραφίσαμε την αγρότισσα με τα γιορτινά της”.

March 12, 2010

CHANGE 12.03.10

12 March 2010, 5:25 pm


Ron Haselden's ongoing 'Postcard' series started in early 2008. They are arrangements of sets of photographs which are emailed out to people all over the world as virtual postcards, marking ideas and moments throughout the years. The images, mostly of Brittany, where Haselden has his home, reflect aspects of a constantly changing landscape.

March 10, 2010


Kai-Olaf Hesse: file 0552
Kai-Olaf Hesse: file 5905
Hansgert Lamber's ex pose verlag, the independent Berlin photographic publisher, pioneered the concept of a uniform series of elegant, minimalist artists' books under the name edition365. With a print run of 365 numbered copies, the edition is meant to provide photographers and other artists with a place for smaller work, for work-in-progress, an exhibition catalogue or simply a give-away.  

Latest in the series is Kai-Olaf Hesse's 05/09 (from the digital files), a gleaning of transitory but compelling images snatched from the urban landscape.

March 9, 2010


A shooting party at Modi farm, on the Chalkidiki peninsula, Northern Greece, in the mid-1950s.

March 7, 2010

CHANGE 07.03.10

7 March 2010, 7:30 am

March 5, 2010


 Mary Paraskeva, The Erechtheum, Athens, n.d.

Ian Jeffrey’s perceptive comments, below, specifically address the earliest amateur photographs taken with the Kodak celluloid-based films of 1890, but they apply equally well to amateur travel photography of the rest of the 20th century – indeed, to virtually all amateur snapshot photography, irrespective of period or technology. They certainly apply to the quasi-totality of contemporary cellphone photography.

“The problem which emerged in 1889 was – as it had been in 1839 – one of intention or ‘commission’. What kind of pictures could or should be taken with these new cameras? Travellers could buy competent photographs of tourist sites all over the world, and if they were interested in geography and anthropology there were comprehensive sets of stereocards available, which covered almost any topic. That left accidents of travel, encounters, mere contingencies, and it is precisely these subjects that appear on the earliest Kodak rolls: street-scenes, pieces of landscape, small events. [..] Nor was it clear what should be done with the pictures afterwards, for if they were of minor events of travel they could hardly be cherished. In fact the round Kodak pictures of 1889-90 were little more than reminders or prompts: a hotel in Switzerland, a terrace overlooking an Italian lake, the shore of the Adriatic. That is, a snapshot of 1889 had a moment of maximal use when its author recalled time and place for the benefit of friends, but thereafter it could only fall into desuetude, its narratives forgotten. The more this happens, the more mysterious and even tragic these pictures become, for they exist as evidence of commonplace time, merely lived through.”

Ian Jeffrey, Revisions: An Alternative History of Photography, p.66. National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford 1999. ISBN 0 948489 60 X.


The sign reads “Bring us any photograph you want and we will turn it into cake”. I’m not normally a fan of text-based cuteness, but if it helps, you can think of this snap as a gloss on the post-digital vernacular applications of photographic imagery. Found in Crete by Penelope Petsini and Nikos Panayotopoulos.

Όλα είναι τούρτα. Το σχόλιο αυτό πάνω στις δημώδεις χρήσεις της μεταψηφιακής φωτογραφίας στη Μεγαλόνησο οφείλουμε στην Πηνελόπη Πετσίνη και τον Νίκο Παναγιωτόπουλο.

March 4, 2010



The Institute of Classical Archaeology at the University of Strasbourg recently organised a small exhibition based on the Adolf Michaelis collection of some 2,300 mid-19th century photographs of ancient Greek sites and monuments, accompanied by a modest 80-page catalogue. The photographers were the usual suspects (Henri Beck, Aloïs Beer, Paul des Granges, Paul Bette, Pascal Sébah, Philippos Margaritis, Dimitris Konstantinou and William Stillman), and many of the images will be familiar, illustrating once again the restricted range of subjects chosen by both foreign and Greek photographers of that period; as Martine Breuillot comments in an accompanying essay, "during the 1850s, photography in Greece was strictly Athenian and archaeological". Sensibly, the most dramatic image, a panoramic view of Piraeus harbour by des Granges, has been placed on the cover of the catalogue, which includes extensive and informative captions (in French).

March 3, 2010

CHANGE 03.03.10

3 March 2010, 8:20 am

Change: the first of an ongoing series.

March 2, 2010


Panayotis Fatseas, Excursion to the waterfalls of Mylopotamos,  1923

Panayotis Fatseas (1888-1938) was the first photographer to practice on the island of Kythera, southernmost of Greece’s seven Ionian islands. More than two thousand glass negatives, mostly portraits of his contemporaries, remained untouched from his death until 2002. Since then the surviving negatives, many badly damaged by damp, have been curated and catalogued, and Fatseas has been revealed as a major Greek photographic artist of the first half of the 20th century. An extensive exhibition of his work was shown at the Benaki Museum, Athens, in 2008, accompanied a 160-page monograph.

Παναγιώτης Φατσέας, Πρόσωπα των Κυθύρων, 1920-1938. tetarto editions, Athens 2008. 160 pp. ISBN 978 960 87948 4 9.

March 1, 2010


Je me rapelle une photographie du journal Excelsior. On y voyait les généraux grecs attendre le verdict. La distance entre la fatuité de leur grade et la peine de mort était trop grande pour qu’ils la parcourussent. Ils souriaient. Derrière eux la foule savait; cela se lisait sur les têtes.”
Jean Cocteau, Lettre a Jacques Maritain (1926)

I remember a photograph in Excelsior magazine of the Greek generals awaiting the verdict of the court. The distance between the absurdity of their rank and the death penalty was too great for them to cover. They were smiling. However, the crowd behind them knew; you could see it in their eyes.”
Jean Cocteau, Letter to Jacques Maritain (1926)

I have never seen a copy of the photograph described by Cocteau, nor indeed do I feel I need to; perhaps that is why it remains for me a kind of platonic ideal of documentary photography. Partly of course because it sounds like the perfect distillation of a particularly dramatic historical moment, but mostly because it appears to reflect the workings of the gaze in photography with uncanny accuracy: the generals are smiling because they are looking at the camera, the crowd is grave because it is looking at the generals, and we in turn observe them almost a century later, at three removes from the action, through the gaze of the French writer.

«Θυμάμαι μια φωτογραφία του περιοδικού Excelsior. Έβλεπες τους Έλληνες στρατηγούς την ώρα που περίμεναν την απόφαση του στρατοδικείου. Η απόσταση μεταξύ της ματαιότητας του βαθμού των και της θανατικής καταδίκης ήταν πολύ μεγάλη για να τη διανύσουν. Χαμογελούσαν. Πίσω τους όμως, το πλήθος είχε καταλάβει· διαβαζόταν στα μάτια τους.»
Jean Cocteau, Γράμμα στον Jacques Maritain (1926)

Δεν μου δόθηκε ποτέ ευκαιρία να δω τη φωτογραφία που περιγράφει ο Cocteau, και ίσως για αυτόν ακριβώς το λόγο παραμένει για μένα ένα είδος πλατωνικού αρχέτυπου της φωτογραφικής τεκμηρίωσης. Εν μέρει γιατί φαίνεται να αποκρυσταλλώνει στην εντέλεια μια ιστορική στιγμή, κυρίως όμως επειδή αποτελεί ιδανικό παράδειγμα της λειτουργίας του βλέμματος στη φωτογραφία: οι στρατηγοί χαμογελούν επειδή κοιτάζουν τον φακό, το πλήθος διατηρεί τη σοβαρότητά του επειδή κοιτάζει τους στρατηγούς, και εμείς, τριπλά αποστασιοποιημένοι, τους παρατηρούμε σχεδόν έναν αιώνα αργότερα μέσα από το βλέμμα του Γάλλου λογοτέχνη.