writings blog

Same old Barbeque...

On a universal level, the celebratory act of getting together and having a barbeque is one that brings everyone together for a few hours, eating heavily, drinking in abundance and for the most part putting everything that is bad for your system onto the grill; and for all mankind let it be a charcoal grill. Whether the event takes place on the rural landscape or on a balcony the size of a cubicle, the result and the goal is pretty much the same; to go home with a full stomach, plenty of heartburn and a buzz. Of course there will be those “meaningful” conversations while you are on the fifth burger; conversations that you would not care to remember and if you do they will go away after a couple of days. Kind of like the current state of photography; the same old barbeque but with an electric grill; not the dirty ballsy one... the one that you can turn off in a second and possibly from an app on your smartphone. 

John Szarkowski, the former curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art was once exposed to the photographs of Roger Fenton from the Crimean War, and more specifically the photograph “Valley of the Shadow of Death” which included cannon balls. There was a concern that the images were staged because the positioning and amount of the cannon balls are different in two photos, but of the same location. After he was presented with the works, he looked at them for a great amount of time and then he replied; “You are correct, this photograph has more balls”

“Medium Well”, Motherland, Neo Perama, Greece, July 2019. ©Niko J. Kallianiotis

“Medium Well”, Motherland, Neo Perama, Greece, July 2019. ©Niko J. Kallianiotis

What does Szarkowski and a barbeque have in common? Probably nothing but one thing is for certain. Some barbeques have more “balls” than others as do, of course, images but unfortunately we are on a slippery slope of the same old barbeque; we get together, we consume heavily and forcefully to eat and drink what will affect our system...but hey, we are the guilty ones because we willingly attended the feast with the beast. Right about now you will be thinking; this Greek is bitter, upset, disappointed. If anything I am guilty, actually, as I have attended the same old barbeque, the same old fatty on the outside and bony on the inside vacuous spectacle of the visual within the contemporary society. Most importantly, I am writing this solely and egotistically for me as a form of catharsis, a confession, which is the foundation of what I do. In the plastic work of likes and political correctness someone has to do it. Hmm… “ Someone has to do it”. 

Since this post is totally abstract and if you get it, good, I would like to share a real life event. A few years back two NYPD police officers were executed point blank while sitting in their cruiser. I am using this just as an example and if you even think about making this a conversation about police actions be aware; I will block you from “social media”. After the tragic event, there were some stories in the media about the life of the two officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. One of the late officer’s friends, asked him why in the world he decided to join the police force. His response was one that I will never forget. He said, “If I don’t do it, and you don’t do it, who’s going to do it?”

Everything has a place, everyone should do whatever they want in any way they want to create work; there is room for everything, but I feel that we are living in highly fascist visual times that 90% percent of the work is either collages, caricatures or the result of kindergarten equivalent class, with a lot of freaking theory behind it. Recently, I visited a photo festival, unfortunately for the second year in a row and the road to retirement is not that far away. The photographic works, the true photographic works work there, standing strong among the assassins of the medium and little do those villains know, well, about the medium. Yes, we get it, it’s a market, it’s about satisfying the guest of the barbeque but when I am a guest, I don’t want to take an Advil to recover after the event. 

I enjoyed the projects, some were solid, but the amount in relation to the rest was minuscule, and this is disheartening. There were projects that cried “look at me, look at me”, trying to shock the viewer by excessive decor and use of Photoshop and of course while referencing the same old social and political agendas that sell and satisfy the gaze, but not the soul; that satisfy the ego of the creator, but not the heart of the viewer; that pocket the gallery director, but not yours. They make caricatures to satisfy the media hype, or make art of gore projects and telling me it reminds you of your mother and life experiences, it doesn't.

If this is the future of the history of the medium and what we’ll be studying fifty years from now,  I rather be investing on all volumes of Asterix and Obelix...

by Niko J Kallianiotis