opposite

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One Response to “opposite”

  1. pwork Says:

    This photo by fotis (no pun intended) made me think a bit on how photographic representations are set. Here, it is not an issue of cropping the picture, but instead a framing of the subject that is the outcome of a stance. Much like the shadow that the inexperienced photographer casts and unwittingly enters the frame, the bodily stance of the photographer is revealed in the picture she takes. One has, however, to think outside and away from the picture. This is tricky when one considers that centuries of ocular schooling have trained us to do quite the opposite. Paintings, photographs, tv, dioramas, camerae obscurae, view-masters (TM, I guess) have taught us to look for the centre point, by conditioned reflex. One has to think here of fotis perching on top of this crumbling building that is still in use as a storehouse, striking a difficult pose which is captured in this picture and its serene – almost ‘traditional’ – perspective. We have paid little attention to the body of the photographer, and its conditioning by the eye (to the extent of my knowledge, which is meagre). Look at concepts like ‘camera-stylo’ however. They are intended to endorse creative freedom, urging the ‘auteur’-writer-director-photographer to use her camera like a pen, regardless of convention and style. Yet they overlook the body work that goes into holding that pen, the position of the camera, the little steps taken in one direction or the other, like a Chinese dancer, the deep crouch, the lunge, that orient the camera eye to that centre of ocular pull. The rules of photographic expression function through the focal point of the camera to shape the body of the user. History enters through the lens.

    However, as many of his pictures, this is an ironic take on precisely the conventions that shape our vocabulary of pictorial language. The vanishing point of the picture comes to rest upon an olive tree in the background. The mid-range is a riotous jungle of bush. The foreground is occupied by the edge of an agricultural building, with a makeshift flow made of a tin can. The stone walls that are visible in the background could have been cultivation terraces, but they are not. They are the remaining ruins of the Poseidon sanctuary.

    Now, in ‘classic’ perspective terms, the action takes place at the forefront. So here, to put an old and disused chimney centre stage is to tell a story, and assume a critical stance. The story here is our emphasis on the livelihoods of people living in and around the grounds of the archaeological site of Poseidon. It is not so far back in time that this photo of the area would have looked incredibly different. The whole area visible in this picture was cultivated with wheat, olives, vegetables. There were horses, donkeys, mules, pigs, chicken. There were men and women and little kids. There were work songs and the smell of cooking. There were paths to the spider’s nest, now perched on top of this chimney. There was love and toil (well, I guess there still is). The area was populated by ‘Arvanites’ families , migrants from the nearby island of Aggistri, who came here at the beginning of the 20th century to extract resin from the numerous pine trees on the island. So, there was political economy as well. The resin prices went down by the end of the 1960s and what was once a profitable trade, employing the whole family, now became obsolete. The younger boys immigrated or went to sea. The girls married and left the island, usually for Athens. What remains of that lively village community –besides the material ruins – are memories narrated by its inhabitants. Which are a record of a/the fall.

    Think that to slightly tilt the camera upwards, and to focus more carefully on the sanctuary, would not afford us the opportunity to tell this story. In that case, perspective would become an instrument to focus attention to the back, to the ancient remains. But then fotis would stoop a bit less, I would be much less pedantic – consequently my back would hurt less from sitting in front of the laptop–, and the caption would be oh so easy: Poseidon sanctuary, view from the southwest.

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