GREECE. Athens. 1994. Temple of Olympian Zeus. ©Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos
Italy, Sicily, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Algeria, Greece, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, Israel, France, Albania, Palestine: Josef Koudelka has traveled to almost every Mediterranean country. With Marseille the 2013 European Capital of Culture, the region has the place of honor on its program, where Mediterranean countries are represented as the cradle of civilization.
One feels small and disoriented faced with the centuries contained in these ancient stone ruins, worn down smooth by time. At certain sites, like the Aizanoi in Turkey, it’s difficult to distinguish between the artifacts from the majestic natural strata of the earth. This grandeur endows the images with a mystical, almost religious character. The series is a delicate ode to the world the aging Koudelka has watched crumble. The intimidating columns that once reached towards the heavens now look like fallen giants.
Koudelka offers a kind of updated tour of the Seven Wonders of the World, from the Colossus of Rhodes to the Temple of Hercules in Jordan. The mythological hero’s gigantic hand, all that’s left of him, seems to grab the ground in a defeated effort to remain here on Earth. In Italica, in Spain, we see Theseus’ labyrinth. Through the series of photographs, all the stories from Greco-Roman mythology come to life. We think of how the ancient gods were the privileged subjects of painting and sculpture.
Certain photographs evoke still lifes, balanced and symmetrical compositions with the occasional appearance of plant life. Engraved letters here and there seem like encrypted messages. Time can be felt in every image. One loses a sense of scale. Is it due to the panoramic format of the photographs, or to the immoderate proportions of this architecture from another era? Sagalassos, in Turkey, could be a trail of collapsed dominoes. The ruins of Timgad, in Algeria, looks like a chessboard, with the arch of Trajan the lone king’s last refuge. Checkmate. The section of an ancient column in Sardis, Turkey, ironically evokes the famous gear scene in Chaplin’s Modern Times. The reference reminds us that political conflicts have done more damage to the world than the sands of time. This immense architectural heritage is doomed to destruction by the hand of man. Just look at how the current war in Syria has left Aleppo in pieces. One image seems to evoke this mourning, this prayer for the world: the ruins of Sabratha, in Lybia, where the trenches form a cross on the ground like at tomb, where one day all that mankind builds will be laid to rest.
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January 12 - April 15, 2013
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