Antigone Kourakou’s recent work reminds us of the inexhaustible capacity photography has to transmute reality. References to the history of photography abound and, working surreptitiously, they lead us to the threshold of a silent introspection, quite unexpected nowadays, when photographs targeting events and social issues urge us to judge, to think, to draw conclusions. In direct contrast to this condition, Kourakou’s photography prompts to imagine by stirring up deep-seated images and moments of our own lives.
The elliptical description of situations and persons in her photographs define moments whose completion requires our contribution. We need to restore perspective, to compose faces from lines and shapes, so as to, ultimately, discover the associative relationships that articulate the photographer’s personal style.
Kourakou directs by minimally drawing on reality – faces, gestures, branches, leaves, thick shadows – and recomposes an enigmatic world. Looking at her photographs, we come to realize that what lies at the core of her work is not so much what is happening when shooting as the shaping of a balance between reality and fantasy, a balance which is always in keeping with the dynamic composition of her frames.
Emeritus Professor of Photography, UniWA
The shadow of things
Looking at Antigone Kourakou’s photographs, one fully perceives the suggestive range of photographic abstraction. Although there is scarce visual information that connects the pictures with the real scenes, the situations, and the events they were born out of, the photographs imperatively call for our interpretation. They expect us to bring the ghosts back to reality, to rationalize the impossibilities they depict. The challenge is unrelenting, recurring and invariably leading to a dead end. And it is exactly this inability to explain them which lends them the poetic dimension that marks Kourakou’s work. In her photographs, even when depiction is complete, the intention to photograph this or the other subject remains unfathomable. Nevertheless, details of faces, remote figures, landscapes or indoor spaces shot from different angles are assimilated into a concrete form of photographic approach. Kourakou entered the field of photography totally unprepared, without having studied it, her only weapon being her unquenchable curiosity about the shadow of things, about ‘something other than reality’ that lurks in her subjects, and seems to be hiding behind the surface of their photographic representation. Without predefined rules or specific pursuits, the process of photographing things yields unanticipated aspects, which guide the photographer to an incessant quest of the unseen.
Emeritus Professor of Photography, UniWA
Interview of the exhibition “The shadow of things”
There are many ways to describe what one observes happening around them – especially those things to which they are emotionally vulnerable. When it comes to photography, I think this is exactly the point where the use of the means changes, where the purpose of taking pictures changes. This is when one goes past the stage of observing an image and uses it to define where they stand in relation to it, thus offering a new reading of reality by testifying their personal version.
I use photography to picture all the things that I have difficulty putting into words. For me, it is an inner process, though often not an absolutely lucid one. I isolate elements of everyday life and I create metaphors – pictures that hover between reality and fantasy. For me, these pictures principally function as symbols, but they can eventually mean something different to each viewer. If there is something that connects them, this is the common approach to depicting people or spaces that imply human presence.
I try to devote time to observation, whether this is of a person, landscapes or routes across the city.
I often direct my photographs. I start with a specific theme in mind or a general idea about what I want to photograph. In a way, I imagine the pictures but this is not necessarily unconditional. I succumb to unforeseen circumstances, leaving my initial idea behind, drifting elsewhere. For example, I get carried away by spatial details, by the light, by a person’s expressions and movements, as well as by their wish to participate. When such cooperation emerges, I am the one to follow my theme, no longer trying to define or restrict it.
Sometimes, I choose my frame out of sheer instinct, without being able to explain why. Why this theme, why this form, why something seemingly insignificant out of so many possible compositions? I don’t know; I feel that the truth lies hidden somewhere out there. It’s like a second reading of my theme, during which something new is revealed to me – something deeper.
I focus on details, I isolate them and I try to transform them into a prevalent theme, into an element that serves as a point of departure. I don’t feel the need to present a complete narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s perhaps because my personal narrative isn’t over yet, or because it doesn’t concern anyone.
My stories are made up of the faces I photograph. People that I’m trying to discover. To find something of myself in them, in one of their gestures, in a casual glance. My stories are made up of buildings. They’re not beautiful buildings – they’re old and dark. Or they’re buildings that were abandoned and ravaged by time.
My stories are made up of nature… that is, where man begins and ends.
Everything springs from a personal need – the need to put together my own story. It serves as a kind of diary and filling its pages is my sole purpose. My narrations may lack cohesion but they’re a way to preserve the memory of my own experiences, thoughts and feelings, a form of personal development over time. Better still, it’s about the desire to map one’s course, in the hope that, perhaps in this way, it will never disappear.
Site Review: Antigone Kourakou
By Richard Malinsky, Arts Editor
“Her style is diametrically opposed to
the more literal interpretation of point-and-shoot photography”
The homepage of Antigone Kourakou’s website is striking in its simplicity—a single black-and-white photograph of a woman in a full-frontal reclining position. However, there is finally nothing simple about it. Who is this woman, why is she in this pose, and what is she thinking? The heart of Kourakou’s artistic quest is to probe the unknown and present photographic images that engage on a deeply emotional level.
Antigone Kourakou, whose work appears in WTP Vol. V #4, lives and works in Athens, Greece, and is an art conservator-restorer. She developed an interest in photography in 1998 while studying conservation. After significant research and experimentation in both esthetic and technical aspects of photography, she began a serious body of photographic work in 2010.
Her work on her website in organized into six photographic series, each expressive of thematic photographic iconography. There is a poignant poetic dimension to her work heightened by a certain reticence; she refrains from framing her subjects within a particular context, leaving their circumstances to be interpreted by the viewer.
Her style is diametrically opposed to the more literal interpretation of point-and-shoot photography, where the photographer is apt to happen upon a subject or scene and employ more of technical manipulation of the image. Kourakou’s images seem to be more about theme than the original subjects themselves—she becomes the author of her content.
For example, “Athens, November 2010” (Short Stories About Loss Series), seems to be about loss or maybe loneliness. Perhaps the loss of human connection, symbolized by a hand touching its own shadow. Or is it more about emotional pain, some deep hurt, the way the arm is angled and against such stark lighting?
In another example, “Syros, December, 2013,” (Short Stories About Desire Series) the haunting, seemingly unfocused gaze of a Bergmanesque figure could be interpreted as a longing to overcome some insurmountable personal dilemma, or perhaps simply a yearning for something more? This ambiguity, whether intentional or not, charges her images with great intimacy.
There are many ways to describe what one actually sees in a work of art, but this finally is what Kourakou’s work seems to be all about: the shadow of things, the unseen that lurks beneath not only the facade of her subjects, but all of our collective selves.
By Richard Malinsky, Arts Editor
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