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  • Commenting on the Discursive Meanings of Photography by Dimitris Kechris

    Dimitris Kechris is a photographer, curator and author based in Athens. He graduated from the Physics Department of the Athens University and he attended photography courses at the Athens School of Fine Arts. His work brings together two things that he is really interested in: politics and enigmatic pictures.

    What was the starting point of your ongoing work La Insurrección Es Un… ? I am not sure if it has one because it gives more the impression of a project that stands as a life statement.
    The starting point was my concern about the current political conditions in Europe. I feel that the whole continent is on the verge of a potential turmoil. The last decade we have been witnessing various medium-scale or large-scale events of social unrest in European countries. December 2008 uprising in Athens could be considered the first one taking place since the beginning of the global crisis. Then we saw massive university students’ demonstrations in London in 2011 that triggered broader riots. A kind of a civil war in Ukraine followed, in 2014; recent clashes in Catalonia over the issue of independence; Brexit and its complicated consequences; the Yellow Vests movement in France. And many other examples….. I just mention some major ones.

    I consider all these to be preludes of broader societal transformations, which cannot be described or predicted by any existing symbols or means of representation. So, I came up with the idea to interact with all the above in an abstract visual manner. As a result, the present series of images traces underlying signs of dislocation; signs beyond common view that may incubate past, present and future, producing new layers of meaning regarding the unforeseen character of the upcoming. I could not do such a thing otherwise but using metonymies and floating signifiers which seek new articulations; away from trying to reasonably analyze causes and goals. Let’s leave that task to the philosophers.

    I would say that this is not a life statement project but a kind of an attempt to bring together two things that I am really interested in: politics and enigmatic pictures.

    Aside from photographing, you also write about photography. Moreover, you often choose to combine lens-based materials and text, for instance the project Performing Life. What are the possible dynamics between photography and text – how and when do they enhance each other?
    The relationship between photography and text becomes interesting when both are integral parts of a narrative; when they essentially and undividedly serve a cohesive vision. Not when images illustrate ideas; not when words try to explain visual signs.

    Allan Sekula, Taryn Simon, Jim Goldberg are some significant artists who have managed to handle these fields in a really avant-garde way using book as a medium. Guy Debord and Chris Marker combined still images with words introducing a new film-essay genre. There are multiple creative possibilities depending only on the limits of our imagination. I think that the key is to respect –and at the same time to question- the nature and the limits of each tool.

    As for my personal involvement with this, I would say that my admiration to the work of Debord and Marker has been decisive. “Performing Life” is a hybrid digital work bringing together photo-roman style, found material, pictures of mine and essay language in order to build a story; a story about two people in love in the context of their attempt to understand how images mediate their relationship. “Performing Life” questions the way we reconstruct and interpret the past in the service of a promise for the future.

    Do you feel that there are relationships between photography and other fields such as painting, literature, science and so on? Or are there absolute distinctions?
    I feel that photography is deeply connected with these disciplines in two ways.

    The one way is, let’s say, “objective”. We can trace many kinds of such “objective” relations during history. For example, the invention of photography was made possible through the progress of Physics and Chemistry. As for painting, the discourse is a bit more complicated. Apart from the obvious characteristic that they both share, namely the fact that they “talk” by using visual signs, we could say that both photography and pre-modern painting tried to represent reality.

    But, painting is also the “older sibling” of photography; and the status of the “older sibling” was questioned at the late 19th and the early 20th century, when “aura” was (in a way) gone, due to the mechanical reproduction, as Benjamin insightfully analyzed. At the same time, we could say that painting was haunting and influencing photography regarding either the style or the institutional recognition or even the circulation in the art market. So, we are also talking about a contentious relationship here…

    Literature, and especially poetry, is also a close relative of photography, due to the common practice of both photographers and poets using signs -visual and verbal respectively-, in order to speak metaphorically, to create their own world, to convey an inner vision.

    “I believe that the face of the artistic and political agency of nowadays tends essentially to be collective.”

    And as you may have noticed, I am trying to refer to the other way of connections. Let’s say, the “subjective” way, or, to be more accurate, the discursive way.

    But please allow me to make something clear before we move on. I do not believe that photography -in any of its various uses- presents reality exactly as reality is. I consider it to be a code including signifiers which are not definitely linked to specific signifieds. Therefore, even when photography is used for documentary reasons, as “evidence”, its meanings derive mostly from its context. In other words, photography is always a kind of fiction. Of course, this is more apparent when images are put in an art context of a gallery or a museum. Regarding the relation between photography and literature or modern and contemporary painting I believe in their resemblance as all these forms of art potentially construct a Cosmos, the content of which depends mainly on the various contexts of reading and interpreting. And if we want to go further, we can see that this last parameter has led artists in the post-modern era to develop multidisciplinary practices using images, written language, painting, video, sculptures etc. Art is probably heading towards becoming One and it is going beyond separated media… as Nietzsche once described Art.

    Returning to science, I will dare become a bit more relativist mentioning that even the cognitive superiority and the autonomy of science have also been questioned by philosophers -like Paul Feyerabend- from the perspective of facing all human activities as equally respectable forms of interpretation. So, again it is the context that plays the major role… All the above disciplines are systems produced by institutions and communities that multiply and simultaneously influence the authors no matter which way they choose to express their views…

    Do you like to collaborate? In Greece, I am deeply convinced that the most fascinating things of the last decade in the field of photography have emerged by small groups of hardworking people, friends sometimes working together and self-financing their ideas.
    It is definitely true that photography in Greece has grown rapidly (both creatively and theoretically) during the last decade. And collectives -many of which also try to combine art with progressive political ideas- have offered invaluable service to this. Since the State and the institutions do not support contemporary Greek photographers as much as needed, these small groups of friends -as you say- work really hard. And they produce works that are presented worldwide or organize world-class events here in Greece out of nothing. Self-published photobooks, experimental workshops, DIY exhibitions, magazines, educational seminars, academic papers on photography etc… a real explosion of creativity motivated by pure passion.

    As for me, collaboration and team work is something that I have been doing for years. I am engaged in the concept of cooperative actions. This is why in 2016 we decided with some friends to create a contemporary photography hub called ALDEBARAN. This project on the one hand operates as an online platform which focuses on photography theory and publishes works by emerging photographers. On the other hand, it aims to contribute in diverse ways to something that unfortunately is still missing: the cultivation of a cultural community with the self-consciousness of a community and a concern on the current social-political landscape. Apart from ALDEBARAN, I am also a member of the organisational team of MedPhoto Festival. It is an independent international festival about photography and visual arts, which derived from a meeting of people from diverse disciplines, i.e. photographers, designers, curators, scholars, writers and researchers and its activities and curatorial proposals try to bring forth aesthetic and political views beyond the prevailing ones.

    I would say that I get involved in all these because I believe that the face of the artistic and political agency of nowadays tends essentially to be collective.

    Could you suggest us a non-photographic book that you find inspiring regarding how your have come up to perceive photography?
    “The Trial” and “The Castle”. By one of the most significant modern authors, Franz Kafka.

    More on his website.