Socratis Mavromatis’s photos of the Parthenon & its sculptures are on display at Fairfield University.
‘Archaeology’ exhibit: Where the lens meets the marble
By: Marie Montgomery
Issue date: 9/27/07
“There is this irony right away, that a photograph is flat [but] you are looking at stunning sculpture, archeological sites, ancient temples, all of these things which occupy space and are three dimensional,” said Katherine Schwab, art history professor and organizer of the “Creative Photograph in Archaeology” exhibit.
The exhibit opens today at the Walsh Gallery in the Quick Center and features 76 black and white photographs depicting Greek antiquities that have been produced from high resolution scans of the original negatives.
The exhibit features the work of William James Stillman, Frederic Boissonnas, Herbert List, Goesta Hellner and Socratis Mavrommatis.
A collaboration with Socratis Mavrommatis and the Benaki Museum in Athens, the exhibit will run until Dec. 9. It will then tour the U.S. Another set of the photographs will premiere a year from now at the Benaki Museum in Athens before heading on a tour of Europe.
Covering a range of 150 years the photographs display a change in time of the artificts as well as change in style by the photographers.
“It was fascinating to see the different ways in which these Greek monuments and their architectural details could be captured through the lens of the same device: a camera,” said Angela Howard ’08, an art history major who did research for the exhibit.
Schwab points out the change that clearly took place after World War I in the way photographs were taken.
“You start to see this close cropping and an emphasis on light and shadow, that is extreme to highten emotional content,” she said. “Those photographers were not trying to produce photographs to tell information. They were trying to elicit an emotional response from the viewer. They were very aware of you, the viewer, looking at their photograph.”
It is easy to see the transition of time and style in the exhibit because the walls of gallery have been removed, giving viewers a chance to absorb the full chronology.
Much of what is captured in the photographs hold an archaeological significance as the only clear record of what the antiquity originally looked like. One such example in the exhibit is of the caryatids: “Statues of women acting like columns, they support a porch on a beautiful building called the acrseum,” said Schwab.
“The air pollution in Athens from the 1960s to ’80s produced devasting effects up on the acropolis,” she said. “And these women’s faces melted away every time it rained.”
Through the photographers of the caryatids, the detail that has long gone will be preserved forever.
The most difficult part for the viewer will be to look beyond the object in the photograph to the photograph itself. Even Schwab suggests this difficulty.
“It is very hard to not look at the subject in the photograph but instead to look at the actual photograph,” she said. “The photographs, because they are beautiful, really pull you in so that you are looking at what is portrayed.”
Socratis Mavrommatis asks that viewers step back and look at the photograph through the photographer’s eye. “The angle, the framing, and the choice of lighting, all of these work as tools in a photographers hand,” said Mavrommatis. “The main thing was what he or she had in his mind before they doing the photographs.”
The minds of photographers provide the viewer with a portal into a different world, ranging from a simpler world picturing an Athens surrounded by farmers and other times into bleaker existence displaying the broken unrecognizable statues of the past. Regardless of the meaning, the photographs show the impact of one of the most influential places in the world: Greece.
Perhaps the most important component of the exhibit is finding hidden meaning in the photographs. In our society, we often become passive viewers and let media flow over us without even blinking.
For a true understanding of the photographs one must challenge themselves. It is the ultimate challenge, Mavrommatis said, “to try to find out where the creativity exists.”
“Creative Photograph in Archaeology” will open today with a symposium starting at 1 p.m. Thurs, Sept. 27.