Peripatetic photography of Georges Salameh

Georges Salameh is a Sicily based Greek-Lebanese photographer and filmmaker. Born in Beirut in 1973, he studied film in Paris and lives between Palermo & Athens. As per his artist statement his work is “an idiosyncratic exploration on the notion of sedimentation, both in the physical and metaphysical sense. Documents, reconstructions, wanderings & a sense of listening, take the viewer on a poetic meander through a creative comparison of reality, of languages and narrations.”

Georges actively supports and contributes to many online platforms related to photography and other fiels of creativity. He’s co-founder of production company MeMSéA, editor at Open Arms, contributor at Phases Magazine, and Depression Era collective, and curator at Urbanautica. He’s going to organize a photography workshop ‘Peripatetics’ on 20th of February in Athens, Greece with his friend photographer Alexis Vasilikos. He shares about his vision and approaches in good detail in this interview below. Photos included here are mainly from his series ‘Sedimentations’ and ‘Spleen’.

Georges Salameh photography (2)Please tell me about yourself. How much of you is Lebanese, Italian and Greek?

Because of numerous migrations, I’ve always avoided putting a national label on myself, or on my work, even if I’ve represented all three countries on different occasions!

How about attributing parts of the body to each different country? I’d give legs and brain, curiosity and reasoning to Athens. That’s my apprenticeship. Heart and kidney, love & refuge go to Sicily. That’s where my son is growing up. Hands and ears, artisanship & sense of listening go to Lebanon. That’s where my origins are. Tongue and eyes, language & gaze go to France. That’s where I got my education… If there’s a common denominator, it’s probably the Mediterranean, the dark blue sea! And if as a visual artisan there is some kind of a citizenship for me, it is always being a foreigner. I borrow the phrase “self-exiled” to define myself. That’s not necessarily a negative, it allows me to step outside society and look at myself as if I am also the other. We all have a foreigner within. Mine’s a convoluted notion of nationality. But there’s an undocumented immigrant in each of us.

Georges Salameh photography (3)You studied film in Paris, then how did photography came along and how do you view your evolution as a photographer?

Photography came through my apprentice in the film industry. After several experiences as assistant camera & as assistant director, I got offered once the job of “set photographer”, which I ended up doing for a few times. But it wasn’t until I realized that photography could express something more than frame and documentation that it became more relevant. This happened while I was working on “Polaroid”, a Greek feature film, and it happened in a very unusual way!

Georges Salameh photography (1)On an August night in 1997, the day my grandfather passed away, I snapped this photograph (see above)!

Days later my bag with the slides inside was stolen. So I was left with only a reproduction of that lost image & a missed farewell. That was a turning point in my relationship to photography.

Since then I continue to produce images without any particular purpose, and edit them following a long process…

Your statement as a photographer revolves around the idea and process of sedimentation. How concrete is this sedimentation in relation to the urban environment you explore and how does it penetrate and affect your psyche?

Most of the time, I photograph to forget; I want to forget what and why I have photographed. Photographs remain, sometimes for years, in drawers and folders, before they resurface in the editing phase. It’s a pleasant experience when you go back to something you’ve photographed or filmed and it’s as if someone else did it, and you are happy at times – or maybe not.

Georges Salameh photography (4)And sometimes I don’t even “recognize” who took the photograph. A memory may erupt from the past while editing, represented by a photo in a fictional way. What I’m trying to say is that you are given the opportunity of rewriting. And, as part of this, things are sometimes written without your knowing it. Such and such a photograph has been “written” on to you, on to your body, on to your retina, and often, if you can “read” it, you can try and rewrite it.

I edited my first short films and photography series in what I call “les cahiers de la paix” (notebooks during peace time) years after producing those original raw materials: photographs and film footage – The processes through which I work has remained mostly invariable since then, whatever the medium or subject. It’s intimately related to a process of rewriting, in some cases over and over again, each time on a different level, as if waiting for things to sediment in time, and this is the only way I can relate to the raw materials that make up my pasts. The layers, notes, documents, reconstructions, wanderings, errors, are not always “visible” in the final result, but they are an integral part of every body of work or film.

Georges Salameh photography (5)Photographically speaking, how do you view your region that has been constantly changing over the centuries? What is there in your space that you try to capture prominently in your work?

The cradle of civilizations? The basin of the Mediterranean has been a place where diversity & cosmopolitism alternatively flourished & decayed. People are seeking refuge & migrating from a place to another always for the same reasons, only the direction changes depending on each new conflict. My work attempts an exploration of those “waves” as they hit the shores, albeit outside the framework of History.

I have featured many Greek photographer in PhotoArtMag who shoot lively streets and an interesting everyday world out there but your images emphatically take me to another world – that of disintegration, oblivion, conflict, and loss. Why are you content being an “urban geologist”?

Geology is a Greek word, composed of γῆ-“earth” and λoγία, “study of, discourse”.

Georges Salameh photography (6)While searching for the right distance, I try to metaphorically use tools and methods, as observation and comparison employed by geologists, to visualize experiences of urban environment and landscape.

My camera becomes a natural extension of my curiosity. An impulse to explore. And a way to confront reality, not only creatively or intuitively, but in conscious detachment from timelines.

Is this some kind of hypothesis? Or something more obsessive, recurrent feelings that will not be put out of mind? Or perhaps an ephemeral or even political gesture trying to shape the Now?

Georges Salameh photography (7)What are your methods or critical approaches of taking pictures?

Walk & walk & walk aimlessly.

I call it “Peripatetic photography”. It revolves around the experiential, the direct, the non-conceptual. It is the quiet side of street photography, during which attention is paid primarily to the state of mind of the photographer, not to the hunting of exceptional phenomena. This internalization creates a more sober reading of reality, especially in this era of recession.

Georges Salameh photography (8)I noticed through the years that the longer my strolls the more I was capable of emptying myself of thought, of entering in a state of meditation. I compare this to fishing with a rod; the more you concentrate on the floater, the less the visible world around you matters and the more the unseen underwater world expands in your imagination. Until you catch a fish of course!

Tell us about your various projects that you’ve undertaken so far.

I will mention only my two latest ongoing projects here: “Sedimentations” is a project that matured through the years as a direct consequence of a documentary that I shot in 2002 around the culture of the olive tree: “on the olive route”.

Georges Salameh photography (9)That intense experience in 10 countries around the Mediterranean has nurtured the core of my photographic endeavor & research since.

Spleen” is an evolution in my relation to the city of Athens and to photography in particular… Athens, a city that arose as a Metropolis, on the ashes of a bloody civil war and an extensive internal migration, erasing almost any landmark dating before the 50’s, except the Acropolis and few other monuments, is not an obvious place to speak of sedimentation. But even before the burden of the economic crisis, aspects of its cultural & urban environment were emerging as shipwrecks on its shores or wounds on its body.

Georges Salameh photography (10)After years of photographing this city, “reading” my photographs has become a kind of primordial need. Writing observations to these photographs has become as important as the act of taking the pictures themselves. I treat those images/scenes with a sense of alienation and also humor; re-considering them through the prism of the latest social and political changes, through the successive layers of history, and through the poetics of realism and of light. The evolution of Athens is projected from these “sedimentations” & new “geological formations”, through research expanding in time, but also as intuitions or symptoms of radical changes to come. I still do not have any precise idea of how this work will finally be presented, though I have already experimented with different forms in two separate exhibitions.

Georges Salameh photography (11)Which cameras and lenses do you mostly use. What is your workflow like and what are your views on editing and digital manipulation?

Since 2005 I’ve been using a medium format analog camera with 80mm lens. Mainly for three reasons: to shoot very few photographs, in order not to be able see the result instantly (sometimes it takes months to develop a handful of negatives), and, finally, to still keep the feeling of chemistry’s imperfections and of the light impression in the final result. I haven’t used editing and digital manipulation, but have nothing against it. Basically all means are legitimate…

Georges Salameh photography (12)What do you think about contemporary photography (w.r.t. current trends, use of mobile cameras, excessive social sharing, role of art/photo galleries and online platforms, etc.)?

The main point about online platforms, for me and for people I collaborate with, is the magic in sharing. We share things that we love, a discovery, a crush, an intriguing experiment, an aspiration. Whether contemporary or not, what matters is the quality of the gaze. Technology helps to widen the audience.

Since I collaborate with two different online magazines on contemporary photography, I invite you to have a look for yourself here: Phases & Urbanautica.

Georges Salameh photography (13)Tell me about your achievements, awards, clients, publications, etc.

Nothing really much notable to call an “achievement”… maybe my two shorts Maesmak & Ti Vitti! I’m happy for the travels and encounters they granted me, and for the joy of finding an adequate cinematic language for each story.

With MeMSéA an Audio-Visual Production Company, I have built over time a strong specialization in the production of documentaries, interdisciplinary audiovisual advertising campaigns enhancing the values of one territory and its culture. My main clients are foundations, public and private institutions.

Georges Salameh photography (14)Since 2012 I’m co-directing with Marina Gioti a long feature documentary called “The Invisible Hands” currently in postproduction.

I only started sharing my photography work recently. There are a few online publications and editions on art & photography magazines and museum exhibition catalogues.

What are your future plans/projects, aspirations etc.?

My first book edition is in the making and a couple of new bodies of photographic works.

Another short documentary is also in postproduction.

Always aspiring to talk less and walk more…

Georges Salameh photography (15)Please share your favorite stuff: photographers, quotes, films, books, music etc.

One of my favorite photography books at the moment is “Passing Through Eden” by Tod Papageorge… I’m rereading “the walk” by Robert Walser and listening to “The Dwarfs of East Agouza” a Cairo trio band.

Something to say to our readers or aspiring photographers:

Stare, it is the way to educate your eye – Walker Evans

Georges Salameh photography (16) Georges Salameh photography (17) Georges Salameh photography (18) Georges Salameh photography (19) Georges Salameh photography (20)All photos © Georges Salameh – Website | Facebook | Tumblr | Instagram

About Nishant Mishra

Nishant studied art history and literature at the university during 1990s. He works as a translator in New Delhi, India and likes to read about arts, photography, films, life-lessons and Zen.

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