CULTURE

Abandoned tobacco stores

Kamilo Nollas’s book «Kapnomagaza» (Tobacco Stores), published by Kastantiotis, emits a sense of warmth. At first glance, it appears to be a photographic journey through the remains of the once great tobacco industry of Greece, via the tobacco capitals of Agrinion, Volos, Kavala, Xanthi and Drama. But it is also a written text, a personal elegy to loss, memory, to the traces of tragic grandeur, to the emptiness after the fall. However you look at it, you need only leaf through the book to feel a personal connection with the gutted spaces, the vast, labyrinthine rooms with their high ceilings, amid games of light and shade. Nollas patiently focuses his lens on those stone buildings with wooden beams that were once the lifeblood of urban prosperity and a prompt to workers’ consciousness. Nollas penetrates monstrous buildings that are now completely tamed and silent, and, as if he wants to come face to face with increasingly grotesque and unexpected finds, he goes further into the belly of the beast. Ironic reminder of order You wonder what those interiors smell of – damp, mildew, human secretions, dead animals, paper, and all of it permeated with the bittersweet taste of tobacco? Blonde tobacco, its golden shades turning to yellow or black depending on the light, seems to enfold the green, faded wood, cloths like broken galleys and archives tied up carefully with cords in an ironic reminder of order in absolute disintegration. Scattered here and there is a magazine, the corpse of a cat, a sports newspaper, a chair, a jar, accounting machines in a row, covered in cobwebs as if in some fantastic archaeological museum of technology. A woman’s smile on the cover of Tobacco Reporter, left on a desk, is reminiscent of a toy in the rubble left by an earthquake. Wooden supports like Doric columns in endless rooms impose silence as if you are entering a cathedral. Stairs, closed windows, broken panes, and doors ajar: It’s like walking through Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic «The Shining.» This whole universe exists, but it is given substance by Nollas’s photographs. As if giving life to dried-up maps, his camera gives absolution to those who demolish these buildings in the future. Nobody knows what their fate will be in 10-20 years. Now they are cut off from the society around them, but we feel that we know them. We feel as we have communed with them, since they might die. Associations with death inevitably spring to mind, as they do whenever one breaks into an abandoned home. «Tobacco Stores,» can be read as an atmospheric book of alternative architectural photography, an illicit visit to the infinite and cryptic industrial graveyard, or as a definitive record of a cultural world which has shrunk and retired. Regardless of such interpretations, the book is a self-sufficient universe of the photographer’s perceptions. If a thousand photographers undertook the same mission, we would have a thousand different versions. Nollas accepted an invitation from the Municipality of Agrinion to photograph the tobacco factories in the area. He gradually broadened his view and amplified the role of photographer into that of detective. The paradox is that these buildings are unknown, despite their bulk, their often pseudo-monumental architecture, and the central part they once played in local economies. They brought in wealth and gave rise to a Balkan urban belle epoque, while at the same time were home to the first unions that cultivated the consciousness of the working class in the first decades of the 20th century. Now, lacking a human presence, the buildings seem like ghosts. Publication of the album was sponsored by Scandinavian Tobacco Hellas.