Tod Papageorge, On The Acropolis @Danziger

JTF (just the facts): A total of 18 black and white photographs, framed in white and matted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space. All of the works are gelatin silver prints, made in 1983-1984. The prints (as shown) are each sized 20×24 inches (or the reverse), and are available in editions of 9. (Installation shots below.)

A monograph of this body of work has recently been published by Stanley/Barker (here). Softcover, 128 pages, with 81 tritone reproductions. (Cover shot below.)

Comments/Context: For a photographer, a tourist attraction offers a unique combination of visual opportunities. Of course, it is possible to make pictures of the place itself, whether it be a historical point of interest, a museum, a natural wonder, or some other location people flock to visit. But given that crowds are drawn to tourist attractions, these places also inadvertently host layered human stories. People see the attraction, but they also see themselves and others, and many pose for photographs that may or may not include the famous backdrop and random bystanders. Often the result is a house of mirrors effect, where the observant photographer can catch glimpses of all these watching interactions gloriously mixed together.

In the summers of 1983 and 1984, Tod Papageorge took a series of photographs at the Acropolis in Athens. Among the most popular tourist attractions in Greece, it features not only the Parthenon, but a selection of other temples, ruins, and archaeological sites, set atop a rocky hill in the city. In the summertime, when the heat in Athens rises to extreme temperatures, the largely unprotected top of the Acropolis bakes in the blistering sun, the blinding whiteness of the light beating down on its visitors. Likely sweating it out himself, Papageorge turned his camera toward the tourist masses as they wandered among the ancient stones.

Particular vantage points and vista spots naturally drew the biggest crowds, and Papageorge’s photographs of these places are jumbled masses of overlapped bodies and limbs, often dressed in white to combat the heat. People stand and sit in layered clusters, craning to see or take a photograph, seemingly piled into a heap.

Many of the temple sites are surrounded by low stone walls that mark former edge areas, create barriers between buildings, and provide a perimeter, and these walls offered Papageorge a handy organizing structure for some of his strongest compositions. Like park benches, the walls encourage visitors to sit in lines, perch to see vistas, and cluster next to each other, effectively creating a frieze-like arrangement. In one image, two young women with spiked 80’s hair sit back to back, creating a pairing of opposites (blonde versus brunette, light versus dark clothing). In another, a young man tenderly cradles his girlfriend, tightly flanked by various unrelated bodies.

Twos and threes repeat through these images, with couples matched with nearby strangers, or friends in bikinis gathered into a tight bunch. A pair sunbathes, their bodies splayed out across the blocks. Several young men sit near a standing blonde woman in white shorts. And two separate couples wander near an array of round fixtures used to light the buildings at night. Given the heat, there are plenty of sun-burnished bodies and exposed skin, adding a dose of sensuality to the whitewashed lightness.

Small doses of visual humor enliven a few other pictures. A woman sits on a man’s shoulders, the silhouetted combo looking like a tall statue on a pedestal. A shirtless man intently writes using a fallen stone capital as a desk, almost like a heroic poet or a Greek god. And a dance team gathers for a legs raised group shot, actually facing away from the Parthenon.

Seen together, these photographs feel first and foremost defined by the light, each one infused with enveloping whiteness in a manner similar to Henry Wessel’s images of California. From there, Papageorge has successfully used the Acropolis as the site of an experiment in confinement, his subjects forced into unlikely arrangements by the physical structure of the space. The combination of light and space provides the stage for the human moments that Papageorge discovers and frames. His pictures resonate with the shimmering, wearying heat, and the eccentricities of hundreds of strangers thrown together for an afternoon.

Collector’s POV: Tod Papageorge has recently established a representation relationship with Danizger Gallery. The prints in this show are priced starting at $8000, in rising editions. Papageorge’s work has only been intermittently available in the secondary markets in the past decade. , with recent prices ranging between $1000 and $6000.

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