Ten lost cities given new life

With the photography album that bears the English title «The Book of Lost Cities,» photographer Yiannis Stathatos takes us into a world of imagination, nostalgia and a search of the past. Stathatos presents 10 lost Mideast cities which had been forgotten but which have now emerged and been given new life thanks to photography. «The photographs are a selection of what I shot about 35 years ago in the Middle East and in no way do they correspond to the places they supposedly illustrate,» said Stathatos. «Out of the 10 lost cities, five really did exist in the past, but their traces have not been found, while the other five are entirely fictional. The truth of the texts ranges from zero to 100 percent – but the bibliographical and other references are almost all authentic.» The collection was first presented in Arles, France, in 1996 and as of tomorrow will be on display at the American College Art Center in Aghia Paraskevi. Kathimerini spoke to the photographer about his work. How did you think of creating a universe of memory? In 1996, the artistic director of the Arles International Photography Meetings, Catalan artist Joan Fontcuberta, chose «Real, Imaginary and Fictional» as the general theme. My suggestion to him eventually developed into «The Book of Lost Cities.» The work is related to two of my main interests in photography: the depiction, and especially the reading, of a landscape on the one hand and the questions created by the truthfulness of the means of interpreting it and its relation to reality on the other. I have combined those elements in previous work I have done – purely on an amateur level – regarding the history and archaeology of the Middle East and particularly the Hellenistic period, as well as the charm that texts by Borges and Calvin hold over me. How did you collect the information? For the texts, I drew information from historical and archaeological works that were accessible – classics like [W.W.] Tarn’s «Greeks in Bactria and in India,» but also more recent publications, like the report of the French Archaeology Mission in Afghanistan. Many of the references to landscapes, places or events are based on personal experience. Why is there only one photo from every city? There were two ways to go for this fictional undertaking: either enormously multiply the material, which would make the reader bend under the weight of all the, supposed, evidence, or you can use the prestige that surrounds simplicity. I chose the second route, which is also imposing in its self-confidence, more artistic and more satisfactory. When did you take these photographs? The photographs were taken for entirely different purposes, of course, during a journey to Iran and Afghanistan in 1971. Which of the cities moved you most? Regarding the combination of image and text and the structuring of the fictional story, maybe inventing Daidala satisfied me most. What is your goal with the book? To entertain, but also to raise some questions; maybe to even get the reader thinking about history and landscape and how, in effect, the marks that man leaves on both are only temporary. The American College of Greece, 6 Gravias St, Aghia Paraskevi, tel 210.600.9800.

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