6 ft apart | PARIS PETRIDIS


A. 6 ft apart | PARIS PETRIDIS

Body continuacion: 

B. Clay colored tourist dog | LIA YOKA

a photograph including the Bey Hammam Ottoman baths in Thessaloniki

In photograph No 23_3661[1] by Paris Petridis, there is a dog in front of the Bey Hammam, the first public architectural gesture of the Ottomans in Thessaloniki in 1444, notably large and imposing for the city’s standards at the time it was built.[2] In view of the technical rendering and composition of the photograph, the figure of the dog is key to understanding the function of the picture, but also pulls the strings that loosely hold together opposing enunciations in the image.

In terms of the photograph’s composition and framing, the dog might tend to appear as a neoromantic Rückenfigur[3], a proxy for the tourist and the wanderer, even a placeholder for the photographer, who wishes to underline the sublimity of the open vista, and announces to the belated viewers that, unlike them, he has arrived on time. The dog might act, in other words, as a historic obstacle to our look, establishing planar and temporal depth, and also reminding us that there can never be any direct visual experience of any monument, that all we can hope for is the filter of a forensic shot of an undead façade, looking down on us - while all the rest we have to look up for ourselves, (or follow a guided tour with updates on Greek and Turkish State-religious politics, with special reference to definitions of ‘world heritage’ and ‘running water’).

And if the lens works both ways, the deictic dog might also bedriving us towards the ‘Paradise’ baths (the 20th century brand name of the fully functioning recreational baths until 1968), thereby assuming the narrative role of staffage, filling the picture with a familiar prop, offering a stray indication of scale against the central object. In this scenario, the doves, as generic semio-vultures, are performatively wiping out the seeds that were left to mark our anti-clockwise itinerary on the geometric field back to the building complex, elevating the aesthetic self-sufficiency of the urban park, with its frail trees sweeping against the robust fortification of apartment blocks, to an open declaration of the monument’s semantic emptiness.

That would turn the whole representational gesture towards a kind of orientalist mourning portraiture of the monument, multiply evoking the dominion of inglorious death: Death by pandemic (the image is shot during the COVID-19 lockdown in the city), death by substance abuse (the site is a well-known, police-supervised, user and dealer hangout).

However, technically speaking, in this picture, the dog is none of the above. The almost vertical sunrays of sharp daylight, the sobriety of their exposure, the balance of unsaturated colors make a clear point: The dog is there, simply and firmly, to tame the gaze. And in the end, it does manage a, slightly comic but effective, cancellation of the monument’s threatening darkness. Treading on the very spot of our focal point of entry into the image, the onlooking dog prevents the half-hidden building from forcefully looking back at us, from claiming a potentially leading role as the oldest, most sign-infested object in the arrangement. The dog sees straight through the rubble stone and brick, its mental access unburdened by mythical and historical connotations, with a sense of form and an episodic memory that we, as humans, could never truly grasp.

By pure accident, the dog honors the Grand Tour tradition of travelers to the ‘East’, often far more interested in the land than in its human inhabitants. Yet it didn’t just happen to walk by this ‘landscape with no people’. It was aware of this rare occasion of solitude, grateful for the ampleness of space, and perhaps a little confused.


[1] The photograph is part of the series 6 ft apart by Paris Petridisshot during the COVID-19 lockdown in Thessaloniki, Greece in between March and May 2020. A selectoin is published in this issue.

[2] Contrary to information on the current wikipedia entry on Bey Hammam in Greek, that reproduces other inaccurate sources, there is no evidence that there were Byzantine relics upon which the baths were built, while there are indications of an earlier Roman substratum. I thank my colleagues, conservation architects and historians Styliani Lefaki and Maria Arakadaki, and their circle of Ottoman archaeology experts, for this confirmation.

[3] Α bibliographical note on the terms Rückenfigur, staffage and gaze: The notion of Rückenfigur is used here as an interpretative art historical concept developed in Joseph Leo Koerner. Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990. Staffage has consistently described (painted and photographed) landscape elements that are thematically relevant but ‘secondary’ and ‘superfluous’, see e.g. Posse Bode, Neue Erwerbungen in der Gemäldegalerie, Amtliche Berichte aus den Königlichen  Kunstsammlungen, ann. 29, Nr. 12, Sep.1908, pp. 1-4. The gaze, in the sense used here, is a concept developed by Jacque Lacan, especially in his 1964 lectures (published as Les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse, Paris: Seuil, 1973), where he analyses the Ambassadors (1533) by Hans Holbein the Younger.



C. Paris Petridis: An interview | LIA YOKA

Why go out and photograph during the Spring 2020 lockdown in Thessaloniki? What did you expect?

I have worked on several reflective, conceptual projects, such as Here: Sites of Violence in Thessaloniki[1] but also on more empirical ones, such as Personal Anamnesis[2], the (visual) record I kept during my two-week hospitalization in 2015. 6ft apart is more like the latter. I mean, it just happened upon me, I had no choice, there is no why. This series includes pictures I took both on the street and at home.

Working on such projects I don’t expect anything in advance, they work themselves out. In retrospect, I see that the extreme conditions imposed by the COVID-19 (a continuous memento mori, physical distancing, limited mobility), affected both my outward behavior and my inner attitude. Maybe this is why I made portraits of people in public space, people I didn’t know. That was unusual for my standards: I am not the sociable type and, what’s more, I am not much into portraiture as a genre, I try to steer clear of it, I have my reservations. As for private spaces, it is interesting that any lockdown and stay-at-home measure transforms the way we understand the intimate and the quotidian: I had never looked at my bathroom, at the space between apartment blocks, or at surrounding balconies the way I did now.

Would you enjoy working for the advertising industry? Would you happily sell any of your current conceptual picture series for the campaign of a product, say, to the Office of Tourism, a wine merchant, or an Oriental carpet business?

I mostly work for myself. However, it is wonderful to work for other people, as long as you can do your own thing and get well paid for it.

What do you think of image processing software programs and the possibilities they create? Do you encourage your students to learn as many of them as they can, and use them? Do you use them a lot yourself?

Digital technology, that is a fact, has transformed the ontology of the photographic image: The ‘real’ referent before the lens is not a given anymore, neither has it necessarily been captured in real time. On a practical level, digital technology opens up new possibilities for the making of the image, during, as well as after, exposure. In this sense, it definitely helps students process pictures in order for them to give shape to their vision, and I welcome that.

Personally, I use such software very sparsely. I am moved by the photograph as an event (which does not need much digital manipulation), and not as an invention (for which construction is essential, both before and after shooting). Forty years after it was written, it still feels right to me that “[f]rom a phenomenological viewpoint, in the Photograph, the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation”.[3]

On the same note, do you have an instagram account related to your work, next to your personal website[4]?

On my website, one can browse my archived work. I have no other ‘social media’ account beyond that, it feels unnecessary and superfluous. Whenever I need some fast promotion, e.g. for an exhibition or a publication,it is taken care of by the people at the respective publishing houses, galleries, museums, journals, etc.

What camera(s) and equipment do you use? Would you use other makes and types if you could?

As with genres, also in equipment, I like the idea of variety. I have been using all kinds of cameras and formats, from hand held pocket ones to tripod based view cameras. 

All cameras are fine, it depends on what you want to expose (scenes, views) and how you want this to be presented. Regarding the reception of the photograph, the floating electronic screen, the printed book and the immovable wall all have completely different demands. The screen seduces, the book makes you reflect, the wall strips the image bare.

There is something monumental and stochastic in landscape photography, both in its tradition, as well as in its development. Your own work is a case in point. Hercules Papaioannou wrote about how, in the genealogy of landscape photography, certain contemporary artists, including you, have given it a special interpretative twist.[5] I would add that, historically, it seems that landscape photography after the 1980s is the narrative opposite of the video-clip genre. You choose your vantage point and arrest the entirety of your scene, offering it up for contemplation, while the video clip artist attacks you with a, usually fast-paced, sequence of sensory environments, in an almost sarcastic reversal (or triumphantly depoliticized realization) of the idea of psychogeography. Would you like to comment on that?

Yes, in fact I would. Photography and video are very different from one another. Even if photographic naturalism is not self-explanatory anymore, the silence and stillness of photography are. And if muteness turns photography into a sphinx, a riddle amidst all the noise (according to Lacan, capitalist discourse -the noise- is the discourse of the hysteric), its majestic stillness is calling out for a halt in the frantic consumption of events, that has been going on since the industrial revolution.

It is no accident that the invention of photography coincides with the first pangs of modernity, with a growing need for personal remembering and collective memory. And memory calls for slowness. The market might get renewed with handier and faster cameras, yet the tone is set by the slower ones, which are also more difficult to handle (see, for instance, the Düsseldorf school). In a way, that describes the radical ‘gesture’ of photography: It is a call for us to stop and meet each other.



[1] Paris Petridis (images) and SakisSerefas (text)2012. Εδώ: Τόποι Βίας στη Θεσσαλονίκη, Agra: Athens. http://parispetridis.com/text.php?m=b&id=p8&p=p8p1&t=here_sites_of_violence_in_thessaloniki

[2] 20 images. Resuscitation on the Sidelines, on Paris Petridis’ ‘Patient’s Personal History’,Interartive#98, April 2018, https://interartive.org/2018/04/paris-petrides-photography-lia-yoka. See also: Paris Petridis 2017. Ατομικό Αναμνηστικό. Agra, University Studio Press: Athens and Thessaloniki. http://parispetridis.com/text.phpm=b&id=p11&p=p11p1&t=personal_anamnesis"

[3] Roland Barthes 1981. Camera Lucida, New York: Hill and Wang, p. 89.

[5] Hercules Papaioannou 2019. ‘This is the time. And this is the record of the time’: A post-modern photographic Grand Tour. Punctum, international journal of semiotics,5(2): 182-194.