In the series of images presented here, I have used a multiplicity of elements and experimented with ambiguities, polarities, and balancing different codes as a strategy and as the conceptual ground for my work. The aim was to create a noematic mise en abyme to inform viewers’ interpretations one step at a time. This suggests liberation from the idea of a single narrative intention and distinctions between analogue/digital means and different traditions. Also, this strategy allows for the consideration of more elements for narrativity alongside narrative devices, such as narrative gaps, layering information, and self-portraiture as a ground for projection.
All images in this series are obviously staged and manipulated. This is understood not only because of the multiplication of my figure (the dominant figure in black), which is repeated in all images, and the perspective corrections that enhance the legibility of the images, but also because of several other details that do not comply with photographic optics/processes. The images contain much more detail than could be contained even in large-format film because they have been digitally composed out of a number of negatives. In some images lighting varies greatly in different areas of the image. For example, the images used to make image 13, Patras, August 2007, were taken at different times of day: for the top part of the work, the images were taken in the morning, whereas for the bottom the images were taken in the evening. In image 14, the images composing the left part of the work were taken in the winter, whereas the images for the right part were taken in the summer. In this work the right side of the landscape mirrors the left side. This landscape is constructed. The contractedness of the images is even more evident if the viewer is familiar with the areas presented. In image 15, which was taken in Patras, Greece, the mountains in the background belong to the surrounding areas and not to the particular view from the town. The image of St. Paul’s in London, image 17, is unpopulated, with sheep having replaced people. All images have been shot on film, and each image took days, and sometimes months, of preparation and shooting. The images were then scanned and brought together digitally.
Each work uses different visual vocabularies, ideas, themes, and references (from the history of art/photography/cinema, literature, culture, and sociopolitical issues and settings). Regardless of their differences and autonomy, the pieces’ shared starting point is my wish to create narrative scenes that utilise photographic self-portraiture’s basic contradictions. The images benefit from self-portraiture’s function as a ground for projection and the genre’s connotations, narrative devices, and narrative gaps between readable signs, and photography’s representationality and projective power, alongside legible codes, elements seen to operate counter to narrativity (e.g., an emphasis on manipulation), and new available possibilities (digitisation and people’s increased visual awareness).
All images share the idea of structuring and layering. Emphasis on different aspects of the work (exterior appearance, representationality, narrative content, self-portraiture) provides distinct layers of interpretation, which can inform the viewer’s perceptions and create contradictions or counterbalance one another to add narrative complexity. For example, the images’ sharpness and legibility, which have been enhanced through composing different layers and perspective corrections, help conceal their artificiality. In all these images, counterbalancing or concealing the image’s artificiality is not just a function of photography’s representationality, it also belongs to the photographic genres I draw on: landscapes and cityscapes. The images’ photographicness (representationality and/or compliance with known photographic genres) seals their content and allows the different objects, characters, gestures, reduplications, and references to gain a narrative role.
These polyphase scenes follow a logic similar to the one presented in Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981), describing the characters involved in a series of events leading to a predetermined crime. All the villagers know that Santiago Nasar is going to die by the hands of his wife’s brothers, and they kill him because everyone expects them to. The whole scene is laid in front of the viewers’ eyes for the details to be absorbed: when the microcosm is complete, characters operate as miniature portraits in fragmented incidents. These images aim to blend the personal and the collective. Characters are presented as self-determined, acting upon their will; nevertheless, they are also involved in and responsible for the events presented (even if they appear unaware of events in different parts of the scene). In a similar way to photographicness, structures help integrate all these characters and incidents into the image’s overall balance, while systematically dispersing tension across the whole scene.
Time is also represented in a fragmentary way. The following ideas apply to all polyphase scenes, but here I use the example of image 16 for clarity. The whole scene is static, representing a fragment of time and indexically incorporating events that just happened or are about to happen; the fountain’s falling water, birds’ wings, and passers-by’s feet being minor indications of movement. Nevertheless, the reduplication of figures undermines this familiar photographic effect. Some of the figures interact with other characters in the image, implying synchronicity. Yet, the disinterestedness of the surrounding figures offers an imaginary quality to these encounters. In other groupings the reduplicated figures interact with one another (e.g., the two figures on the lower part of the square by the fountain), introducing the idea of bilocation (as a mythic and abstract force), as happens, for example, in Maya Deren’s films. The three figures at the front-right side of the scene are placed in a sequence similar to those in Eadweard Muybridge’s studies of movement, and similar to figures in Bruegel’s painting The Parable of the Blind (1568). The two figures on the balcony suggest Jane Evelyn Atwood’s photographic portrait Blind Twins (1947). These references suggest the perceptually static over time appearance of (material or memory) records. The reduplicated figures do not comply with conventions of a linear passage or static-photographic time. Time is fixed in an interval incorporating different perceptual dynamics and narrative possibilities.
My work contains a few autobiographical elements. In fact, most images are set in places that I have lived in, and are inspired by personal experiences or impressions related to real events or existing ideas. Also, repetitive details often have a subjective symbolic character. For example, the reoccurring figure in black that I impersonate in a number of these images relates to Balkan customs and rituals of mourning, potentially operating as a reference to narcissistic dissociation but also as a submission to cultural patterns. Nevertheless, these elements, and other possible (imaginary) impressions invented by the viewer regarding the private quality of different elements, are intended to instigate a negotiation between the collective and the personal, between the idea of a sense of the self, or the self as agency, and their cross-cultural relativity for audiences from differing cultural backgrounds. These ambiguous signs invite variable meaning drawn from the viewers’ subjectivity. In fact, ambiguity is central to many further details in the work. For example, the sheep in St. Paul’s in Athenian Fog (2012), image 17, refer to naivety or innocence, to ‘freemen’ and ‘Freedom of the City of London’, the incidence of Odysseus’s escape from Polyphemus’s cave, and so forth; in all cases, they comply with a notion of agency for a progress of events or metaphorical meaning. Again, it is up to the viewer to decide on their meaning within the image. Here different elements operate as shifters, and are tangled with the representation they apply to, thus contributing to different interpretative possibilities.