Diagonios Publications, Art Series 14. Thessaloniki, 1992. Text and 18 b/w photographs (1980-81) by Aris Georgiou. 52 pages, 24x17cm., hard cover.

Ioannis Epaminondas
A Present Absence

(Aris Georgiou, 6 Aristotelous Street: Ten Years Ago, Diagonios Publications, Thessaloniki 1992)

Eighteen photographs of an apartment built in the fifties, a three-part text, and the poetry of the photographer and author, who, step by step, object by object, describes, remembers, analyses and unfolds a personal tale: the story of his grandmother’s home, which he photographed himself shortly before her death, just as it was, clothed with objects, photographs, and her own warm presence. Now, ten years later, through the fragments of his memory, and above all through the immobilised images he has salvaged like specks of gold, he conjures up his relationship with the woman who once existed and to whom this book is dedicated. The myth is brought to completion slowly, piece by piece, and the grandmother’s image is reconstructed through the things she herself touched and the rooms to which she gave the breath of life. It is significant that she is absent from nearly all the photographs; but when she appears towards the end, her image is already familiar to us, built up in the pages which have gone before.

For such a personal subject ― where one might all too easily lapse into mawkish sentimentality ― the writing is wonderfully tight and well-balanced, both tender and dispassionate. The same sentence may display an analytical, detached manner using almost professional terminology, and at the same time an insistence on the insignificant details, the gestures, and the memories, that elevate the account ― which is dispassionate in a different way ― to a restrained nostalgia, though not grief. There is no pain, the natural course of things is not questioned, it is simply lived through, with awareness and insight.

The objects and rooms are addressed with a careful restraint; even the somewhat outdated aspects are not touched upon directly; the tone is clement, velvety, at most allusive. The author embraces everything with grandfilial tenderness, for, divested of any aesthetic consideration, they acquire for him the rare value of mementoes of a loved one. As he himself admits, many of them now adorn his own abode.

Surmounting current social practice, which expunges the dead from its vocabulary, Aris Georgiou has serenely, without pain or grief, sensitively but unsentimentally, reserved for his much loved grandmother the most fitting memorial: one which we would all secretly wish for for our own family members; one which I too, with a touch of guilt and envy, would wish to have given to my own dear grandmother; a memorial which all children’s grandmothers would wish to have: our living memory, which keeps them alive amongst us.

For those who consider this book an extravagant or macabre gesture, I quote here from the last lines of the introduction: “When emotion shakes you to the core ... you don’t wallow in the sensation ... you devise ways of recording it”; and the last lines of the epilogue: “I would immobilise her environment by photographing it ... It was a wise decision I realise, ten years on.”