Nadia Athanasiou is an artist who graduated from the photography class at the Zurich School of Design. Since then, she has been working as a freelance photographer. Athanasiou was a member of the Documenta Natura Foundation, which created extensive photo documentation of various construction, transport, tourism and research projects in Switzerland; however, it ceased to exist in 2010. The financing was partly provided by the client, namely, the companies, offices, and institutions, and partly by the Federal Office for the Environment. The Documenta Natura picture archive contains around 50,000 photographs that were handed over to the image archive of the ETH Library in Zurich. Along with other professional photographers, Athanasiou documented the landscapes in which building, renovation, tourism and transport projects have been implemented, from the same perspective before and after the construction. This paper aims to discuss the photography works of Nadja Athanasiou created during the renovation of the Dolder Grand Hotel in Zurich.
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The historical building of the Dolder Grand was renovated and enlarged during the reconstruction project finalized in 2008. The new design allowed for improving the building’s efficiency while still maintaining its original appearance. The series of pictures features the hotel personnel, construction workers, and guests. The makeover is depicted in its entirety, showcasing the vastness of the operations. Athanasiou’s photography works presented in The Dolder Grand reflect the different stages of the construction, revealing the details of the process to the viewer and offering an insider’s look at the building.
The photographer uses various approaches to present a behind-the-scenes project of the Dolder Grand renovation. Some photographs portray the construction workers and the hotel staff looking into the camera while others depict the hotel’s interior and exterior design. For instance, one picture represents a man in clothes stained during the building process that is carrying water and Coca-Cola bottles (Athanasiou, Bühler, & Lüem, 2009, p. 76). Next to it, a photograph of a shirtless man is shown; his face is covered with sweat from hard work, and his right hand is bandaged, supposedly due to an occupational injury (Athanasiou, Bühler, & Lüem, 2009, p. 76). A series of similar pictures of different reconstruction participants caught in the middle of the work process and photographed against a white background is presented throughout the book.
The composition varies from one artwork to another, implicating both open and closed perspectives. For instance, one of the photographs focuses on a chef in the midst of cooking and serving a dish on a plate (Athanasiou, Bühler, & Lüem, 2009, p. 423). Similarly, a portrayal of three smiling women in fancy garments is another example of the closed perspective (Athanasiou, Bühler, & Lüem, 2009, p. 43). However, many artworks use an open composition to capture the motion, textures, shapes, and colors of objects. Among them, there is a landscape photograph of the trees and sky with clouds stretched over the horizon, which creates a feeling of openness extending beyond the frame (Athanasiou, Bühler, & Lüem, 2009, p. 133). The contrast between the two types of photographs and the application of a combined approach makes the series look lively and engaging to the viewer.
Furthermore, the artist presents both static and dynamic pictures, as well as shots that are a combination of both. For instance, a night view of the city lights scattered around behind the dark strip of trees barely indicates any movements (Athanasiou, Bühler, & Lüem, 2009, p. 278). It encourages a feeling of stillness and peace and gives the viewer an idea of what kind of landscapes the hotel guests can observe. In contrast, a picture of a waiter rushing through the crowd of other hotel staff to serve the dishes is highly dynamic (Athanasiou, Bühler, & Lüem, 2009, p. 20). The waiter’s figure draws the viewer’s attention since it stands out against the smudged background. Athanasiou often captures movements that make the works lively and create visual effects such as blurred objects and people.
Another example of a dynamic image is a photograph of the kitchen staff that pictures a somewhat chaotic scene. One person talks to the other on the run, while someone goes in front of the camera, partly hindering the view (Athanasiou, Bühler, & Lüem, 2009, p. 21). Another person’s arm breaks into the frame completing the chaotic and frantic atmosphere. Such pictures dilute the presence of the camera as if it were the viewer’s own look that captured a scene or a landscape.
To summarize, Nadia Athanasiou’s photography project dedicated to the renovation of the Dolder Grand offers a captivating experience for the viewers. It serves as a nonchronological narrative of the building’s transformation and enhancement, presenting both the inside and outside look of the hotel, as well as the guests, and the staff’s perspectives. Athanasiou’s genuine and nearly intimate outlook on the process and its details create an illusion of the viewer’s involvement. The photographs depict people, objects, and landscapes from various perspectives, representing a fragmented yet comprehensive experience of the Dolder Grand renovation.
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Athanasiou, N., Bühler, M., & Lüem, P. (2009). The Dolder Grand. Lars Müller Publishers.