Photographing Patras in black and white

The latest of several illustrated volumes dedicated to Patras and published this year while the city was Cultural Capital of Europe, «Patras: Photographic Profile of a Vanishing City» is an intimate portrait of a place and its people. The photographer, Panayiotis Sotiropoulos, is a native of Patras, and it shows. The black-and-white photographs in this collection, taken over a period of 25 years, reveal a close personal relationship with the city. Sotiropoulos is an architect who teaches drawing and the effects of environmental factors on historic buildings at the Technical School of Patras University. He taught photography for many years, and has exhibited and published his images. «Selecting the photos for the book,» he writes in the introduction, «I realize that the quest for your own city is the most difficult, the innermost one.» The book is not a nostalgia trip, nor a linear account of the city, he explains, but rather «a sideways glance at aspects of the city’s reality.» Indeed Sotiropoulos rarely goes for the obvious shot, and even when he photographs city landmarks he always has his own slant on them. His image of the Rio-Antirio bridge under construction has nothing of the triumphal that is familiar from news photos. Instead there is an air of mystery to its pylons shown in the half-light, with a vast, dark expanse of sea to one side. In a shot of passengers on a ferry that appears on the book jacket, the sea is not visible. All we see is the backs of some passengers, and a couple with their heads lowered, caught up in their own worlds. There is an inwardness to his pictures of people, which are usually not posed, but captured in spontaneous moments, walking the dog, at work, at play. His beach shots never record the glittering sands and water of summer, but fleeting visual moments – the volleyball net seemingly stranded with its legs in the water, the contrasting texture of rocks and sea at dusk, a wooden pier making striking black shapes against the water. He photographs fishermen on the job, small specialist stores that have survived modernization, the melancholy grandeur of abandoned industrial buildings, and corners of the city where old meets new in unexpected juxtapositions, some incongruous, some graceful. Sotiropoulos’s power of observation and skill with the camera take everyday scenes and offer them anew for contemplation in an attractively presented bilingual Greek-English edition competently translated by Judy Yiannakopoulou. Accompanying the images are poems from an unpublished collection, «Long Walk in Patras» by Christos Tsiamis, translated by Jane Nisselson Assimakopoulos and Karen Emmerich. A succinct appendix offers helpful historical background and context for the photos, divided into five groups: Anonymous Paths, The Old Ayios Andreas Hospital, The City of Toil, The Harbor Front, Industrial Memories and On the Outskirts of the City.