Inessential views of art and photography.
A Photography flâneur
Dubliners and visitors alike enjoy the development of the city as a photographic hub. The Gallery of photography showcases Irish and international cutting-edge work all year round, while Photo-Ireland has been transforming Dublin into a photography delight every July for five years now. This festival of photography has a strong connection to other major photo-events and resembles another seasoned player, the photo España, which has been running for at least 15 years (the brains behind photo Ireland belong to Ángel González, who coincidetally comes from Spain). A spin off photo ireland has a perpetual site in the heart of Dublin City: the Library Project. Back in the summer of 2012, I remember visiting the embryo of the project, hosted by the now deceased Moxie Studios, and thinking there was too much there for a person to take in within the month. Not long afterwards the project moved to a permanent location offering photo-lovers a place to skim, read, see and buy books, magazines, prints and zines Monday to Saturday. It was there where one weekend morning I found Nalbantidou’s book. It was on the front shelf next to other bigger, glossier, more polished publications. Rougher zines and self-published books rested on the ledge too but her cover had that striking balance between the unpretentious and the surprising. The soft lila-rosa against the strong black attracted me at first. And then it was the title: “The secure, private domain of my home”. It was not only a play on words that related to my research but it also spoke to my heart. Having moved to the green island just a year before and living between two cities, I had lost any sense of home and of safeness along with it.
A Greek tale of loss and relocation
The cover subtlety anticipates the combination of colour and black and white photography of this narrative that spans over five years. Lia Nalbantidou does it successfully, which is both commendable and rare, thus brave. The photographs are often open to the reader’s own interpretations as they show and conceal, tell and hide about the little mundane moments that fill our life, about how dull the most vibrant of colours appear when they have been left behind, when they belong to spaces and not to places, when the traces of the inhabitants have been removed, erased, forgotten…
The color images transmit a strong sense of place (Agnew, 2011) that has somehow a connection with Lia’s present. The black and white ones function as memory triggers and as witnesses of a world that has already collapsed. Compassion, tenderness and familiar intimacy are sharply interrupted by fierce gazes in these grey images. The accompanying texts also reflect this double nature of the home: comfort and duty, familiarity and responsibility.
The experience of motherhood/fatherhood has inspired many photographers, mainly female, to explore the intimacy of home and the place of comfort, love and support that children often bring about. Sally Mann’s “Immediate Family”, received much media attention after its publication in 1992, most of which was negative. Children nudity was framed as pornography and there was a general reject towards these private images becoming part of the public realm.
Doubtless, “Immediate Family” opened the doors of the Home to gazes that were and are non-conforming politically correct views, assumptions and representations of family life. Aesthetically, Sally Mann presents her white, middle-class family in a way that strongly reminds me of the anthropological gaze. The photographs are so disturbing because there is a distance, the detachment needed in order to observe and reflect, as well as an underlying closeness, the one that transforms people into family. We are not used to see photographed subjects as both capable of love and objectified for our scrutinizing observation. Artists working in this field often try to go beyond logics of either or, because after all, life is an entangled mess!
“The Secure, private Domain of my Home” certainly explores family life from the crossroad. Some of the shots resemble Sally Mann’s work, some others come closer to Elinor Carucci’s. What I find very refreshing about this Greek tale is that family and home do not start and finish with the womb. Instead, this is a pledge and an important reflection about the intimacy of oneself, about the relevance of getting to know yourself through your eyes and through your beloved ones’ gazes. Nalbantidou’s story contains excitement, grief, worry and content. And above all it is a narrative that continues… And so do we: living, breathing, loving, being and becoming.
Agnew, John (2011): “Space and Place”. In, John Agnew and David Livingstone (eds.): Handbook of Geographical Knowledge. London: SAGE.