16-28 /2 1998
YMCA SQUARE / 251-007
MO-FR 10.00-14.00 17.00-21.00 SÁ 10.00-14.00

Time passes

We know that time passes, with all its incidents. A few intensely felt or shocking moments may live on in memory, but all the rest disperse into the great continuum of time past. We respond to this problem by remarking on the kind of instants which pass almost before they can be recognized. In the Seventeenth Century, for example, a draughtsman such as Guercino chose to remark on glances and responses in conversation - and most of his contemporaries (Rembrandt, Rubens, etc.) specialised in gestures of the moment. Photography, certainly from the 1930’s onwards, found it easy to register events in passing, to the degree that photographers tried to compensate for this ease of access; “the decisive moment”, for instance, was meant to give shape to such incidents and even to claim that they could be prefigured.

The “decisive moment” was of consequence, and it suggested that the prosaic surface of life could be scanned for its historical or social significance. It was a construct of the 1920s and 1930s when there was a general belief in history unfolding. At the time everyone participated in history, and its representatives could be found in the street as well as in Hague, Geneva, Paris or Berlin.

Contemporaries thought of a unitary public served by newspapers and broadcasting systems. That idea lasted until the 1950s and it validated a photography of instants drawn from real life. With the arrival of the post-modern epoch with its variety of public incidents from street life lost much of their validity.

These photographs by Alexandra Moschovi take up the story. They, too, register the instant, but it is a special kind of instant so transient that it almost escapes attention altogether. Pedestrians pass under the trees, and a cyclist rounds a corner on a pathway in a park. You have seen more peopled versions of the same painted by Seurat. In his pictures of Parisian leisure there is always an invitation to complete the scene, and to imagine - on the strength of clues scattered through the picture - how the whole sounded and even smelled. Seurat’s is what was once called a hot art, in the sense that its audience were asked to stir themselves and to imagine the original. These photographs belong to the same category - only more so, for the evidence is more sparingly given. They are more “degraded” than Seurat’s pictures, or further from the original; and this means that the work of reconstitution is the more demanding. They ask you to reflect, for instance, on just what it might be like to move across parkland under a canopy of trees, or to judge distance from a series of benches in echelon. They have an atmosphere too, but transmuted by process to the point where the original becomes a matter of conjecture. They also invite you to reflect on the moment and its relative importance. Does the figure of a magpie striding across a lawn constitute an incident worth recounting? To decide you would have to think through that class of incidents, and to consider just how things catch your eye. What exactly is important, or important enough to register on film? Landscape usually assumes a grandeur in nature and some fellow feeling towards hills and forests; and documentary insists that the human enterprise is fascinating in itself, with all customs, encounters and apparel. These photographs will have none of that. They feature landscape, but not the kind which ever stirred emotion; and they stage humanity, but as constituted of passers-by detached from the great social enterprise. It is in effect a post-historical art, and one which admits that history has once existed, for its spaces look theatrical - but deserted, and prepared for a play which involved mainly sitting, waiting and strolling. Now, though, history has withdrawn from the scene leaving only certain features and motifs unread and disregarded in the park.

There is no photography like this, none which cares to show a magpie striding purposefully across the grass. You have been there, but probably didn’t pause for long enough to remark on the light under the trees. These are the residues in the texture of life, what is left when we have identified the major motifs and checked them against the official inventory.

A note

These are pictures without any subject…as a subject would usually be identified. One is free to dream about them, and to imagine the smallest of sensations. Perhaps their subject is “not having a recognisable subject”, or a topic to which one can put a phrase. They are subversive in that they undermine some idea of the heroic or even just the serious. They point to doing nothing or next to nothing. They are of course part of parks, areas which have been planned and which form part of the culture, but they show such places inhabited by the most fragile kind of existences - fragile and unassertive presences, who happen to be there but who could be elsewhere, and shortly will be elsewhere. Life goes on, they propose, but unobtrusively, and sometimes beautifully - at one point a white bird passes hastily, like a soul on the wbeautiful among the trees, but it doesn’t mean to be particularly. These pictures are reminders of another way of being, one from which the rigmarole of appointments and arrangements has been extracted. They are sane and orderly, and they ask what it is exactly to which you give your attention and in which you take pleasure. Erotic, that is to say, but discreetly so, with respect to a world just brushed by sight.

Ian Jeffrey

Born in Athens in 1971, Alexandra Moschovi graduated from the T.E.I. of Athens with a degree in photography and has completed the MA in Image and Communication at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She is particularly interested in creative photography and visual theory in general.