Athens, Still Remains
The Photographs of Jean-Franois Bonhomme
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: Fordham University Press
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Athens, Still Remains (Demeure, Athènes) was first published in 1996 by Editions olkos (Athens) in a bilingual French–Modern Greek edition. It appeared there as the preface to a collection of photographs by Jean- François Bonhomme published under the title Athens—in the Shadow of...
Nous nous devons à la mort.
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Nous nous devons à la mort.1
We owe ourselves to death.
It was this past July 3, right around noon, close to Athens. It was then that this sentence took me by surprise, in the light—“we owe ourselves to death”—and the desire immediately overcame me to engrave it in stone, without delay: a snapshot [un instantané], I said to...
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We owe ourselves to death.
What a sentence. Will it be more or less sententious for being fixed or focused on in this way by a lens or objective, as if one were to let it sink back just as soon, without any celebration, into the nocturnal anonymity of its origin? We owe ourselves to death. Once and for all, one...
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But just who is death? The question can be posed at each and every step in this photographic journey through Athens, and not only in the cemeteries, in front of the amassed tombstones, the funeral steles, the columns and the crosses, the archaeological sites, the decapitated statues, the temples in ruins, the chapels, the antique dealers in a flea market...
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We owe ourselves to death. I had in any case to pay my debt toward this sentence. No matter the cost. It had taken me, taken me by surprise (as if it had photographed me without my knowledge, unexpectedly, exaiphnēs); it had overtaken me, outstripped me, perhaps like death...
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I was taking a plane a few hours later, and I was having a hard time separating myself from everything, and especially from it, and so I began to dream of a camera equipped with a “delay mechanism”: after setting up the camera, after adjusting the time of the pose and activating...
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À demeure, he says. There is nothing here that is not already lodged, that is, à demeure, in the French demeure, from the house to the temple, along with everything that happens to be [se trouve] photographed here, right up to la dernière demeure, the final resting place: everything...
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For I had already sensed, through these photographs, a patient meditation, one that would take its time along the way, giving itself the time for a slow and leisurely stroll through Athens (fifteen years!), the pace of a meditation on being and time, being-and-time in its Greek tradition...
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We owe ourselves to death. This sentence was right away, as we have come to understand, greater than the instant, whence the desire to photograph it without delay in the noonday sun. Without letting any more time pass, but for a later time. Why this time delay? An untranslatable...
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Prendre une photographie, to take a photograph, prendre en photographie, to take a photograph but also to take in photography: is this translatable? At what moment does a photograph come to be taken? And taken by whom? I am perhaps in the process, with my words, of making off...
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I was coming back that day with friends from Brauron to Athens. It was around noon, and we were on our way to go swimming, after having paid our respects to the young girls walking in a procession toward the altar of Artemis. The day before I had already returned, yet again to...
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I have always associated such delayed action [retardement] with the experience of the photographer. Not with photography but with the photographic experience of an “image hunter.” Before the snapshot or instamatic [instantané] that, from the lens or objective, freezes for near eternity what is naively called an image, there would thus be this...
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Let’s go back to the Photographer on the Acropolis, whom you can see meditating or sleeping, his head slouched down, in the middle of this book. Has he not set up in front of him, in front of you, an archaic figure of this delay mechanism? Did he not decide, after some reflection...
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When, exactly, does a shot [prise de vue] take place? When, exactly, is it taken? And thus where? Given the workings of a delay mechanism, given the “time lag” or “time difference,” if I can put it this way, is the photograph taken when the photographer takes the thing in view...
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Imagine him, yes him, through the images he has “taken.” Walking along the edge, as I said just a moment ago, of the abyss of his images, I am retracing the footsteps of the photographer. He bears in advance the mourning for Athens, for a city owed to death, a city due for death...
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We know what Cape Sounion meant for the death of Socrates. It is from there, in short, that Athens saw it coming—his death, that is. By ship. From the temple of Poseidon, at the tip of the cape, during my first visit (it was the day before the sentence “we owe ourselves to death”), I imagined a photograph, and I saw it before me. It eternalized, in a snapshot...
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Meeting with a Photographer on the Acropolis. He seems to be sleeping, dreaming perhaps, unless he has died, struck down right there by a sun stroke, his head slouched down on his chest. He is perhaps the author of this book. He would have photographed himself, in full sunlight. Here, then, is the heliograph: he wears a hat on his head, but he...
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To photograph Socrates as a musical instrument. And musical instruments as so many Socrateses. For what does Socrates do? He waits, but without waiting; he awaits death and dreams of annulling its delay by composing a sacrificial hymn. Death is indeed slow in coming, but he...
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We owe ourselves to death. To commemorate the arrival of this sentence into my language, I would have to dedicate centuries of books to this memory. I immediately declared it to be untranslatable, turning to Myrto (who was behind me, to my left, beautiful like her name...
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Is not this impassioned denunciation the last sign of mourning, the sunniest of all steles, the weightiest denial, the honor of life in its wounded photograph?
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So many hypotheses! What could have been going through the head of this photographer on the Acropolis? Was he sleeping? Dreaming? Was he simply pretending, feigning the whole thing? Was he playing dead? Or playing a living being who knows he has to die? Was he thinking of...
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Return to Athens. Let one not hasten to conclude that photography does away with words and can do without translation, as if an art of silence would no longer be indebted to a language. “After all,” the tourist of photographs will say, “these images of Athens are all the more...
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Page Count: 88
Publication Year: 2010