A refreshing gaze at the places of femininity

Syrago Tsiara 

Prostitution has been a recurring theme in Photini Papahatzi’s work. She has been capturing with her camera the living conditions, work environment and everyday lives of prostitutes in many different places. Her tools of choice are video and photography, two media which offer the potential of unmediated and realistic depiction. Her work, however, goes beyond the kind of documentary function that could serve as the foundation of a sociological survey. Her pictures are not just a series of documents; rather, they represent a clear stance and a conscious choice: they define the alteration of the dynamic of the gaze, which has been traditionally based on the view point of the male spectator, who treated the female boby as an object of visual or sexual pleasure. They also raise the question of the relationship between the photographer, her field of action and the content of her work. Foteini’s refreshing gaze examines the “places of femininity” in relation both to the agent and the theme being depicted. 

In her new project, Elevador, she sets off on a journey to the class and gender stratification of prostitution in Salvador, a city in northeastern Brazil. Her project is named after the emblematic, monumental construction, dating from the 19th century, which bridges the upper and lower parts of the city, thereby separating expensive from low-priced prostitutes. The former retain the privilege of working in the touristically developed northern part, while their waning counterparts in the south are casted out to the degraded part of the city, near the sea. This elevator, once a historically framed, resounding testament of modernisation, is transformed into a symbol of the unhindered gaze of the artist - traveler at the public sphere, from which she had been excluded in the past. 

The “working girls” of Salvador are captured during their casual contact with co-workers and customers, in a series of group and individual portraits. They take a natural pose before Papahatzi’s camera, who makes no attempt to embellish, glorify or victimize her subjects. Some details or wider views of some internals perhaps allow a minimal dose of tenderness to infiltriate the otherwise “neutral” depiction, which captures realistic scenes without any element of staging or direction. 

Photini Papahatzi’s ‘Elevador Lacerda’ was initially presented in February, 2011 in the framework of the seminar organized by the Center of Contemporary Art “Places of femininity. Towards a new mapping”. The seminar was dedicated to the memory of Nike Kanagini as a parallel event of the retrospective on her work. Despite the fact that, back then, the project was a work in progress, the solid theoretical base underpinning the artistic discourse of the artist was already evident. The text accompanying her work required an extensive bibliographical review and documentary research, demonstrating the multi-dimensional approach of the subject.
In its current, developed form, Elevador is a more comprehensive work of installation and development in space, portending the coherent, cohesive and penetrating development of her art.

Syrago Tsiara 

curator, art historian and Director of the Thessaloniki Center of Contemporary Art

Using Format