Interviews / LANDSCAPES

A MAGNIFICATION OF THE UNKNOWN: ‘SECRETS AND CRISES’ by ZOE HATZIYANNAKI

Secrets and Crises by Zoe Hatziyannaki is a portrait on the palaces of powers, these institutional buildings in Athens what the power is hold. Her work aims to explore the hidden movements behind the institutional facade opposing two representation methods. The geometry of the orthographic composition of the elevation of the building shows an apparent clearness and stability, something that can be measured and grasped. Its distinctness is coupled by the high resolution of the picture, that apparently reveals every details. At its side, a details of the main picture is magnified in a pixelated and blurred circular image that evokes what can’t be grasped, the unknown of political machinations. Beyond that, this work inquires the reliability of technology and its supposed rightness against the suspicious and doubtful queries of the glitch.


YOU HAVEN’T BEEN TOLD THE TRUTH

INTERVIEWER

Can you introduce yourself with an overview of you work as a photographer?

ZOE HATZIYANNAKI

I was lucky enough to study photography at a BA Visual Communication course in UK at the Kent Institute of Art & Design. After graduating I returned to Athens and worked as a freelance photographer basically for magazines and travel guides. During that time I kept up with my own artistic practice considering it more and more within a social and urban research framework. My growing interest in such areas urged me to follow the MA and  PhD studies at the Goldsmiths College, University of London, which was possible through funding from the Greek State Scholarships Foundation. My doctoral research was practice-based, using photography and video as interdisciplinary approaches involving sociology, philosophy and urban theory. The learning process of the PhD made a significant difference and development in my art practice.

My work has been focused on space and its relation with time seeking to suggest that space is not static but a shifting reality transformed along with society and our ever changing perceptions. Based mainly on Deleuze’s theories, I am investigating the multiple dynamic connections between diverse notions which construct and deconstruct space such as the near and the far, nature and culture, private and public, the outside and the inside. My effort is to realize space as an incessant flow of production of relations and thus abandon restraints of fixed categorisations and exclusions.

Since 2009 I am based permanently in Athens where I have joined Depression Era, a group of visual artists, working collectively, organizing and participating in exhibitions, publications, talks and educational workshops. Most recently I am also part of A-DASH team, an artists’ initiative which runs a recently renovated project space and art studios in Athens.

INTERVIEWER

How did you decide to begin the Secrets and Crises research and what does the title mean?

ZOE HATZIYANNAKI

In 2010, the crisis in Athens started to become apparent and even if not as much as today, certainly in a more abstract, psychological level. What I mean is that at least when I found myself in the center of Athens, I felt that something was changing, things were certainly taking another direction. The crisis was related a lot with the problematic public sector, and that had direct consequences into society, and how people felt towards the State and whatever this stands for. They felt as they had been deceived, frustrated and helpless towards the current situation and an unknown frightening future. As a result, the role of the State and its authorities were being seriously disputed.

The title has exactly to do with this public feeling that the crisis brought about, the feeling that you haven’t been told the truth, that things were happening behind your back. Crisis is in plural as it suggests all the ‘crises’ that the supposedly financial one has brought: social, personal etc.

INTERVIEWER

How did you select these buildings?

ZOE HATZIYANNAKI

It felt as if some of the public buildings were the protagonists of this crisis: they attracted the rage of the protesters, they were everywhere in the news, photos, videos etc. I decided also to focus on those buildings located in Athens’ center, as their location played a key part in the social and spatial transformation that was taking place –and still is.

I therefore chose to concentrate in buildings that were directly connected with the public sector and thus everyday life like ministries, public services offices, educational institutions, public hospitals etc.

Those buildings’ role within the city and society was under transformation. They were changing along with time and people’s feelings, for example, in the past, some of those buildings used to stand for solidarity or prosperity. In a way, I became intrinsically interested in those buildings in order to suggest a psychogeography of the city.


A MAGNIFICATION TO GRASP THE UNKNOWN

magnification

INTERVIEWER

Why did you decide to work with the magnification of building details and what were you intended to reveal? The magnification was intended to be used since the conception of the project, or have you discovered the importance of these details through the digital process in the screen, similar to Michelangelo Antognoni‘s investigation through the magnification of a photo in his movie Blow Up?

ZOE HATZIYANNAKI

Initially I was thinking to create a series using simply the straightforward images of public buildings. After having taken the photographs and looking at them in my computer screen often in detail and at the same time thinking all about their role today and their psychological impact, the magnification occurred kind of naturally. It should be noted however that this was a technique that I had also used in the past in my series titled Regeneration Stories in 2006. The approach was very similar technically but dealt with totally different issues related to gentrification in London. The magnification was concentrated on the faces of passers-by making reference to the numerous existence of CCTV cameras. This technique had proved quite successful as this work received then a Jerwood Photography Award. This was a reason that I felt on one hand hesitant to try it again but on the other very tempted as I felt it could work really well in a totally different level.

At first, the blown-up images coming from Secrets and Crises had a haunting feeling, they gave me very much this impression, usually met in movies, mostly in film noir, when you look at an image in detail and suddenly you find the frightening evidence to a crime. I was stuck with the last scene of Polanski’s film Repulsion (1965) where the zooming into a photograph gives possible clues, but then I remembered the park photograph in M. Antonioni’s movie Blow Up (1966) which was very enlightening and gave me also the idea of using the round shape.

INTERVIEWER

What does a pixelated image offer more that a high definition one?

ZOE HATZIYANNAKI

The blurry, pixelated images offer a secretive and troubling impression in contrast with the straightforward, clear images of the buildings’ facades. It is as if they are scrutinizing the rather ‘innocent’ image of the building on the left in order to find evidence of what or who is to blame, unfortunately without succeeding in giving any clues. This is also a common point with Blow Up where actually we are never told whether the blown-up part of the photograph revealed anything or even if there was anyway something to be revealed. It is said that Antonioni used the ambivalence of this photograph to comment on the superficiality of ‘swinging’ London in the 60’s.

For me the blurriness hints the obscurity and vagueness that prevails in those buildings and is mainly responsible for generating feelings of suspicion, frustration and fear, all of which are met at present in Greek society. It is therefore the inability to see clearly that suggests the current state of precariousness and anxiety.

At the same time I am also aiming to comment on the notorious relationship of truth and photography and the role of the image within a continuously changing sociopolitical order.


AN ORTHOGRAPHIC PORTRAIT

elevation

INTERVIEWER

Buildings are portrayed in elevation without aberration, analytically showing their true size. In a city of grids and narrow streets this is an unusual point of view. How did you decide to use this way of representation?

ZOE HATZIYANNAKI

I wanted to present the buildings as objectively as possible, as if they have nothing to hide, as if they are saying straightforwardly and clearly the whole truth. Another reason I chose that kind of representation is because of my admiration of  the  German ‘objective’ photography and particularly the  style of Berndt and Hilla Becher (obvious also in my work Local Variations, 2014).

INTERVIEWER

By which technical means did you realize this orthogonal elevation?

ZOE HATZIYANNAKI

Most of the buildings’ images went through digital manipulation using mainly Photoshop and perspective correction tools. In some of them, like those located in very narrow streets, I had actually to create a ‘collage’, taking several images from the buildings which stood on the other street side and then stick them together in Photoshop in order to create as much as possible a straightforward facade. It has been an hard work especially for the image of the former building of Ministry of Education  the only building from the series that is fundamentally altered today and turned to a hotel.

INTERVIEWER

You portrait these building only from the outside. Have you ever been inside these buildings?

ZOE HATZIYANNAKI

I have been inside some of those buildings but for different reasons. For this work particularly, I was called to go inside when I was photographing the Ministry of Culture at the famous Bouboulina str. building. I was told that it is a contemporary monument (for its architecture and not for other historical reasons) and as such I am not allowed to photograph even from the outside. When I asked what is happening with other monuments that they are constantly being photographed eg. the Parthenon, they told me that this is illegal too but it is very difficult to take measures.. Anyway after a ridiculous bureaucrtic procedure, going up and down and from office to office they gave me a permission.One other interesting story which is quite indicative of the public opinion and the complicated relations between the outside and the inside, is when I was photographing  the Public Power Cooperation Building (ΔΕΗ) and a man passing by suggested that I should go and photograph inside as they probably have a swimming pool hiding in the terrace.

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