Ilja Niederkirchner – Greek Dog Days

If it were not for the title, one might think that Greek Dog Days reveals either the aftermath of a war or the film-stills of a dystopian movie. The photographs seem to be shot mostly at dusk, on 35mm, high-sensitivity, black and white film. With a blue cardboard cover, the A5 publication is printed on porous paper, which offers a super-mat finish with very low contrast, while it allows for a dramatic reproduction of the film’s grain. The book also features a small leaflet glued to the back of its front cover, where the artist shares an introduction to his project. Most images depict abandoned houses with broken windows, unfinished building constructions, shut-down businesses, empty billboards or out-of-order petrol stations. In this post-apocalyptic world, humans are absent and only stray dogs wander the streets, looking at times back at the camera, surprised to find another species in such a wasteland. 

Tragically, these dystopian-like scenes are by no means fictional. Through its dozens of pages, Ilja Niederkirchner presents the urban relics of post-crisis Greece, with the yet unhealed wounds of its bleeding economy. According to a sign on one of the photographed roads, the project appears to be shot in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in the country. As it occurred with other South-European nations, the Greek economy and its large public debt never managed to recover after the housing bubble exploded in 2007. With high levels of unemployment, hundreds of daily evictions, business owners shutting their premises and public funds that can no longer maintain the basic needs of poorest citizens, the ongoing situation fourteen years after the crash certainly mimics a post-war scenario. Greek Dog Days, however, goes beyond a mere documentation of the catastrophe. The publication points at its causes, aiming for action, clamouring for a revolution. 

While the project appears to be shot without much preoccupation for technical detail – with images that are often underexposed or messily framed – its editing process has been carefully considered. As one flicks through its pages, a couple of mysterious anomalies cause unease. Half way through the book, three pages repeat, as if they had been printed twice by error. This would inevitably be the reader’s first thought, as the apparent mistake does not easily respond to any sequencing logic that could justify such duplication. Mysteries, however, are never so simple. The repetition might well serve as a loop for the narrative, a déjà vu:the catastrophe has already happened, and will indeed happen again.

Greek Dog Days goes beyond a mere documentation of the catastrophe. The publication points at its causes, aiming for action, clamouring for a revolution.

The second anomaly takes longer to devise, as it is increasingly built throughout the narrative. As we look through the book, and on four different occasions, we see a portrait of the victims of a traffic accident placed by the side of the roadway. Towards the end, the portraits are also present at a scrapping site. This would not be surprising if it were not for the fact that, in all five cases, the victims are always the same individuals: an old lady and a young male. Again, on a first thought, the scene presents itself as erratic; the same people could not have died at five different locations. Indeed. This is certainly not possible. We may then conclude that the photographer artificially placed those portraits in various sites. If that were the case, the metaphor is both powerful and highly dramatic. The car accident may represent the economy’s crash, which like the former, should always be treated as a crime scene. But in this diluted crime, there are also living victims, with names and faces, and dreams that were all prematurely terminated. Like the pictures displayed on the road demanding an act of memory, Niederkirchner’s portraits in his staged crime scenes appear to demand active justice. 

But let us look at the stray dogs. Right in the eye. Once beloved pets now dumped by a broken system. A system that failed so deeply that it cannot even take care of its own victims, fighting for survival in squares and streets. And there they roam. Outsiders. Anarchists. Friends. 

Ilja Niederkirchner
Replika Publishing, 2020

All Rights Reserved: Text © Paula Gortázar; Images © Ilja Niederkirchner/Replika Publishing