Marinos Tsagkarakis, Paradise Inn

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2017 by Void Publishing (here). Handbound in tri-folded cardstock, 84 pages (divided into 3 booklets of 28 pages each), with 40 color photographs. 7 of the pages are printed in black and white on transparent vellum. Includes 12 short text snippets. In an edition of 90+10AP.

Comments/Context: In the second half of the 20th century, global tourism gradually became the commercial behemoth it is today. While traveling to the world’s landmark destinations and most famous cities had of course been taking place on a smaller scale for more than a century, the broader availability of energy reserves, the widespread development of local transportation infrastructure, and in particular, the creation of low cost air travel options suddenly came together to make it possible (and affordable) for ordinary people from around the world to make substantial globe-trotting journeys.

For countries blessed with natural beauty, historical landmarks, or enticing urban locales, tourism quickly vaulted to the top of the list of major industries, often surpassing agriculture, mining, or the manufacture of goods as a nation’s primary source of income and investment. Whole integrated layers of services, and indeed whole cities, have sprung up around the world to cater to and satisfy the needs of the tourists, from hotels to offer them shelter and restaurants to feed them, to shops, clubs, and other activities to entertain them during their stay. And while the benefits of tourism revenues in terms of job creation, local tax proceeds, or infrastructure development are hard to argue with, the social, cultural, and environmental impacts on previously undeveloped or protected areas is often less positive. Marinos Tsagkarakis’ incisive photobook Paradise Inn takes an unvarnished look at this dark underbelly of tourism, especially as it is seen in Greece, finding a stubborn strain of depressing offseason ugliness that threatens to swamp the unique beauty the visitors have come to enjoy.

Paradise Inn has a clever folded construction, dividing the images into three separate sections (each bound by red string), and using a generic tourist map (with helpful icons) as a unifying design element. “Wildlife & Nature”, “Luxury Resorts”, and “Landmarks” are simple themes that allow Tsagkarakis to organize his imagery. Interspersed between his color photographs are redacted ads for Greek tourism (printed on transparent paper), with catchy marketing taglines like “Live Your Myth In Greece”, “Where Fresh Seafood Comes with Ancient Stories”,  and “Greek Sun Not in Crisis”, and these posters ring a bit hollow when paired with the nearby pictures. A similar dampening effect occurs with text snippets drawn from user reviews, where a litany of complaints about scratchy towels, grubby walls, broken gym equipment, the cost of coffee, and the lack of toilet paper (among many others) pile up to undermine the usually relentlessly upbeat tourist atmosphere.

Tsagkarakis’ photographs lean towards grim irony, or perhaps black comedy, but without becoming morbid. The nature in the “Wildlife & Nature” section is invariably fake, from plastic palm trees and to vinyl murals of picturesque views placed near the toilets and the diner tables. The so-called local wildlife doesn’t fare much better, represented entirely by taxidermied stand-ins, plastic replicas, and oddball inclusions like Western horses and dinosaurs. The incongruous combination of sheep grazing near an unfinished supermarket (with a huge sign) seems to capture the spirit of paving over nature to make room for the incoming hordes.

The “Luxury Resorts” seem to be the kind of places that host horror-story vacations, where ramshackle unfinished construction and empty swimming pools are the harsh reality found behind the picture-perfect brochures. Tsagkarakis is particularly fond of the juxtaposition of a well-placed sign, with Heaven atop a wet empty street with a huge satellite dish overhead and A Paradise Beach Club placed on a dock leading down into a less than inviting stretch of murky water. These wordplay jokes have seemingly endless permutations: Ice above the crashing waves of the ocean, Bikini Beach boarded up, a beachfront Snack Bar surrounded by towering corrugated tin, and a Super Market in a vacant lot, but the aggregation of these images leads to a deeper sense of fundamental folly.

The “Landmarks” section of Paradise Inn hits more heavily on the faux Greek culture bolted on to these resorts. A taxi station is constructed with fluted columns, the payphones are flanked by murals of Greek statues, and the ancient grace of a pair of carved heads is broken by the mop left on the nearby steps. Tsagkarakis has documented the point where cultural heritage becomes kitsch, where replica statues decorate water slides, dance floors, and sunset terraces, a jaunty plastic flower lei thrown over the head of carved figure the final insult in this downward cultural spiral. When you’ve fallen this far, the back alley strip club and rusted bar nearby hardly even register.

While Tsagkarakis isn’t the first photographer to point his camera at the unintended consequences of tourism, the thoughtful design of Paradise Inn gives the project a flash of originality. Between the map motif, the complaint comments and star ratings, and the caustic but understated photographs, we get an integrated picture of life in seasonal Southern European tourist towns. With the sunny skies turned to grey and the bustling bars left empty, the sacrifices made in the pursuit of the mighty dollar start to look awfully discouraging.

Collector’s POV: Marinos Tsagkarakis does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. As such, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via his website (linked in the sidebar).

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