Glimpses of the Mediterranean: ‘Underpass’ by Spiro Miralis

Spiro Miralis' series Underpass happened somewhat by mistake and in a moment of personal sadness. The Sydney-based photographer was heading to Greece to see his dying grandmother, when the urge to see a friend in nearby Italy took hold. So began a trip from which his series developed.

"Spiro's process of editing is where he sees the real 'art', if there is any involved, in the sequencing and arrangement of images. To him, the initial 'taking' of the picture is probably the most irrelevant part of his practice. It's the curatorship of the photographs that is really important," photographer and curator Sean Davey told Fairfax Media.

Trieste, Italy. <cite>Photo: Spiro Miralis</cite>
Trieste, Italy. Photo: Spiro Miralis

"Spiro's work is made from life, but not in a way that aims to document or record. He is making photographs to exist as images, as prints, that stand alone", Davey added, "there is a thread of feeling from one picture to the next, which culminates into work that, if anything, investigates the language of photography itself."

Miralis spoke to Clique about Underpass, which is on show at The Photography Room in Canberra:

Photo taken in Greece from Miralis' series 'Underpass'. <cite>Photo: Spiro Miralis</cite>
Photo taken in Greece from Miralis' series 'Underpass'. Photo: Spiro Miralis

Tell me about Underpass, what is it about, where have these images been taken? What's the context?

Underpass was shot in 2009/2010. I was heading to Greece to see my dying grandmother but thought to sneak a visit to Italy and see a friend first – she'd been fairly resilient up to now so I thought why not. From Italy I went through Slovenia to get away from friends then made my way to Athens and onto the village my grandmother is from.

Spiro, what's your creative process? You mentioned that you are more an editor than a photographer over the phone to me, what does that mean?

I shoot a lot but don't feel close to it. It's nice to shoot but these days a camera gets more attention then before. People want to see stuff right away – with film that's kind of hard. I honestly don't remember the bulk of my stuff and am happy about that. It helps later when I'm editing. I put all the film in for developing and get prints made of everything. Even the fuck-ups are considered. To be honest, quiet a few of them made the final edit of underpass

'Underpass' is on at The Photography Room, 3 February - 12 March 2017. <cite>Photo: Spiro Miralis</cite>
'Underpass' is on at The Photography Room, 3 February - 12 March 2017. Photo: Spiro Miralis

The edit is the best bit actually, even if they weren't my photos I'd enjoy it the same. Sean and I once edited and laid out a body of work from a garbage bag of family photos he bought from India, you buy them by the weight for lost photos over there, and that was as exciting and real as any body of work I've put together. Just that honest search for the stuff you could never have gotten trying. That's all I want from photography

You have spoken about "honest" images i.e. the images that survive your editing process. What do you mean by that?

Honesty is a funny word in photography. I mean I shoot my friends, my partner, my cat my house my family and everything else but that doesn't mean honesty to me. Sometimes I'm honest shooting, something I'm affected and sometimes I'm totally unaware but not even that means honesty. Honesty starts and stops with the photos: That single image in front of you free from everything that brought it there – just something in a frame. That frame needs to be free from the long history of image making that seeks to categorise an image through genre, subject, and theme.

Do you have a message in your series, Underpass

Message is a funny thing. People describe Underpass as sad, honest, documentary etc. I think of it as a redundant body of work in many ways, photos people don't really need to see until something in them brings the sort of subtext I see in the photos. A mate once said to me 'f---, Spiro another photo of an unmade bed'. I never thought about it before. After the death of his father he said he can't look at that photo of mine ever again – it was all his father and death and losing something and that shit empty space where you feel like a child in trouble for leaving a turd in your pants. I thought that was all my photographs really.

I believe in the power of photographs. I just believe people think they can bring you in through narrative and structure and an essay they've thought about before they've even started and for me you just can't. You can only feel your way with photography. Most of what I see, especially in Australia is just didactic crap. Our most celebrated photographers and the magnum gang I wouldn't spend a second with. Just more predetermined essays about stuff no one believes in bought by art bank and sold to match designer furniture. I've met good people before and believe me they're nothing like those photographers – too much ego in there. Saying that, there's good photography out there, and when you find it in sustains you. With every visit the images grow, change, give you something different. Much like life really.

Underpass is now on show at The Photography Room, Canberra, until 12 March.