Every day, when I look out of my office window, I see traffic lights, food trucks, pedestrians in pink sneakers, bikes locked to stop signs. In fact, I see these things so often, they hardly even register anymore. It’s like a wilderness. Everything is branch and leaf, every trail an interminable loop. Bill Bryson once wrote about hiking in the same way: “Every bend in the path presents a prospect indistinguishable from every other, every glimpse into the trees the same tangled mass. For all you know, your route could describe a very large, pointless circle. In a way, it would hardly matter.”
And in another way, it’s all that matters. From a distance, that “circle” is the ensō you’ve been painting all your life. It is the intaglio of your existence. We call it the big (or bigger) picture. It’s you in the grand scheme of things. And though it might not look like anything special from the tangled mass of where you’re standing, just think of Peru’s famous geoglyphs or the Topock Maze near Needles, California. A bird’s eye view can be surprising.
Something like that happened for Stefanos Kouratzis, a photographer based in Cyprus. Sitting in his office, six floors above a recreation area under repair, Kouratzis watched as tractors pushed topsoil into piles and drove winding ruts into the playing fields. A visual dialog began between himself and what had been a very familiar landscape. “What am I looking at, why do I see it”?
In the artist’s statement below, Kouratzis explains what this visual dialog was like. He describes his office, his daily routine, and the recreation fields outside. But something changes along the way. The description becomes geometrical and abstract. Kouratzis refers to horizon lines and empty spaces and strange signs— “fragments,” he says, of something entirely other. I know exactly what he means. When I look at these photographs, I discern a secret distance between the photographer and the object of his view. Across that distance, there is no field. Just the bigger picture.
Stefanos Kouratzis on making the “Office View”
For years, the football pitch next door to my office—still used by teams and track athletes for practice—had been in overall decline. My desk being on the 6th floor gave me the advantage of having an almost bird’s eye view when the remodeling started.
For days, layers of old pitch grass, gravel and sand were loaded on trucks till an empty space was left occupying the area. Then the appearance of the pitch itself changed. A new empty canvas was revealed.
The horizon line changed too. The stadium itself was going through some sort of transfiguration. It was making its presence even more striking, as if it was struggling for a way to breathe.
The area was changing quickly. Suddenly Miró, Kandinsky, Hokusai, Max Ernst, Rodchenko, German expressionist carvings, and everything I had seen, studied, read—every poem, novel, picture, painting, and social or artist movement—was there, filling my frame. At the same time, it could easily have passed completely unnoticed, if it were viewed only as a construction site.
Seeing the pitch abstractly turned into a daily game. It helped me keep awake all my senses. I looked for signs beyond what the eye, in its lazy observations, regularly perceived. I created my own new rules for seeing. I started a dialog with myself, where my photographic intellect spoke with my emotional perception.
And from there, a new dialog started between myself and the landscape that was changing.
I experimented constantly. I played with each creation. I bent the rules when necessary, or else I eliminated them altogether. Technique became less important than expression and aesthetic depiction.
By carefully selecting fragments, the landscape was transformed into something completely new, with its own dynamics, its own ψυχή, or breath of life. From this process came new questions: What am I looking at, why do I see it?
And then there is another dialog going on between the photographs and their landscapes. I’m not sure the dialog includes me. Its language isn’t necessarily easy, but the questions are clearly the same.