In The Ruins Of Athens 2004, A Glimpse Of London’s Future?

A new photography exhibit at the Print House Gallery in London zeroes in on the apocalyptic landscapes of the 2004 Olympic Games. How do you say “cautionary tale” in Greek?

With the close of the Summer Games Sunday comes the toughest contest of all: the one in which London vies to overcome the curse of the Games themselves. Some experts say that few, if any, Olympic host cities of recent memory reaped long-term economic rewards. Nowhere is that more evident than in Athens, where eight years after the estimated $15 billion Summer Games, abandoned venues and empty parking lots stretch across the city–hunkering monuments to the dark consequences of welcoming the world into your living room.

British photographer Jamie McGregor Smith spent 10 days recording this fraught physical legacy. “A lot of the inspiration came from my own background photographing sites of significant industrial or social change,” Smith tells Co.Design. “For me, Olympic construction like any large-scale developments should be future-proof and allow for functional adaptability.” Obviously, very little of that “adaptability” is on display here. The Athens Olympic Aquatic Centre, Marousi, sits empty and derelict. Patches of weeds sprout up in the sand of the Faliro Olympic Volleyball Centre. The parking-lot asphalt seems to span miles, all of it oddly devoid of oil stains. The desolation verges on the cinematic, and you start to wonder how much of what you’re seeing reflects the venues’ day-to-day lifelessness and how much results from careful editing.

Whatever the answer, Smith didn’t have to work too hard to evoke a sort of post-apocalyptic void. “The most surprising part of the project was the small number of people I encountered whilst photographing the sites,” he says. “I feed off the loneliness and solitude whilst documenting locations like this, it helps your concentration and it’s easier to ‘get your eye in’ so to speak. [But] at times it was even too much for me, and I’d rush back to my hotel to pick conversation with the evening barman.”

It’s impossible to glance over these photographs and not wonder if London is hurtling toward the same fate. Organizers there endeavored to avoid some of the biggest problems that’ve plagued other host cities: They repurposed existing arenas, built several temporary structures, and made it possible to convert new facilities into smaller buildings. Still, London now has eight new venues that didn’t exist before, including the large, controversial main stadium. Here’s hoping Smith doesn’t have reason to photograph it in eight years.

Smith’s photographs will be exhibited at the Print House Gallery September 7 to October 3. Limited-edition prints can be purchased by contacting Smith or the gallery.

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.

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