The self in a wider context (2007–2012)

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.

12. London, May 2007 (The Garden, Redemption), 2007, digital silver-print, 60 × 60 cm.

13. Patras, August 2007 (A Hometown Hierarchical View), 2007, digital silver-print, 56 × 56 cm.

14. Kiato, August 2008 (Gulf with Bathers), 2008,

digital silver-print, 60 × 60 cm.

15. Patras, September 2008 (A Hometown Overview), 2008, digital silver-print, 110 × 110 cm.

17. London, January 2012 (St. Paul's in Athenian Fog), 2012, digital silver-print, 106 × 106 cm.

18. Moulki, April 2012 (The Return of the Flock),

2012, digital silver-print, 86 × 86 cm.

16. London, July 2009 (Trafalgar: The One, the Other), 2009, digital silver-print, 120 × 120 cm.

Narcissism revised

The interest in narcissim, ‘linguistic elements’, structures, and geometries was retained in my practice, in both analogue and digital images; however, gradually my interest moved toward narration. Instead of highlighting the variable notion of narcissism, my practice became increasingly focused on employing a variety of codes at different stages of making, framing, and layering information and developing strategies to retain the photographs’ indexicality or ‘naturalness’. My aim was to highlight the genre’s complexity and produce an empirical synthesis of a multiplicity of elements where narcissistic structures (mirroring, mise en abyme), devices (self-portraiture, the double, polyphase scenes, references), and emphasis on digital manipulation and/or the image’s material support gain a central, more meaningful role.

A number of ideas about the multiple and mutable meanings of photographic self-portraiture influenced the transition toward an increased emphasis on narrativity. It came about through understanding narcissism and counter-narcissistic forces as indispensable for the creation of a fictional universe (for artists and viewers), as well as through the consideration of narcissism emerging both through language – as a theme or a code that implies schemes of wholeness (in self-portraiture and other structures/devices that reflect narcissism, i.e., mirrorings, the double, or mise en abyme)  and within language, as a threatening void to suggest an order different to the representational one and to appeal to the viewer’s imagination and subjectivity. The change of emphasis was also effected by the understanding of the capacity of codes and representational systems to confer schemes of wholeness and effect viewers’ perceptions through their ‘polysemy’  the plurality of potential meaning that they can incorporate (Barthes 1977).

Representationality and narrative devices, such as ‘polyphase scenes’, ‘tell-tale’ objects (atmosphere, light, texture, spatial relations, etc.), gestures, symbols, references that activate the beholder’s general knowledge, temporality and chronology, ‘syntax’ through the use of many characters, and mise en abyme, understandably prioritise visual narrativity because they instigate perceptual continua within the image, or the world outside the image, and contribute to what Werner Wolf calls an ‘indexically narrative’ image. In this sense self-portraiture and photography are narrative devices too. Self-portraiture refers to the artist’s narcissism and to schemes of completeness; it encourages the viewer to project their conscious preoccupations and unconscious associations and incorporate them in the resulting narrative; it also introduces a variable proximity to the world outside fiction. Photography increases the image’s representationality and indexicality (in the multiple sense used by Sonesson [1989]). It can also convert fragments of the image into narrative devices, thus creating a ‘punctum’ effect. Additionally, different ‘kinds’ of photography refer to different contexts or eras, affecting our perceptions and enriching our narratives accordingly.

These devices are central to my images; nevertheless, their use encompasses a conscious acknowledgment of their relationality and variability. Narrative devices can gain a multiplicity of interchangeable roles according to additional elements included in the image, or because of viewers’ individual experiences and perceptions. Also, codes and representational systems interact and mutate, as do viewers’ perceptions and unconscious associations. Perhaps our visual awareness and the current modifications of photography’s theorisation (because of digitisation and wider incorporation in art) also affect what we are prepared to accept as constructed and the way we process codes (automatically/consciously). These ideas are important for my practice because they imply that constructed photography allows the incorporation of our subjectivity to a greater degree than in Barthes’s theory and the constant provision of new possibilities, representational and interpretational.

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