Art photography. (Bilingual, greek-english). Text: Matoula Skaltsa. 48 pages, 24x17cm. University Studio Press, Thessaloniki, 2006.


Matoula Skaltsa
The photographs of Aris Georgiou

From the book Aris Georgiou / Arboretum, UNIVERSITY STUDIO PRESS, Thessaloniki 2006

Vilém Flusser has written that contemporary society exists within the stifling embrace of a photographic universe1. It is within this universe that we experience and evaluate our world – a world dependent on photographs corresponding to actions and experiences which, in their turn, have been photographed after first being evaluated as models of actions and behaviour patterns. Criticism, then, should concentrate on the way in which actions or experience are reconstructed and rendered in photographic terms through the camera lens, and on the intentions of those who created and programmed the devices through which this photographic universe is constructed.

However, beyond the devices themselves (all of them playthings reproducing the same movements) and the programmes which govern their function (playthings combining the same elements) there is also the information which the photographer attempts to record, in other words, improbable states or situations with a tendency to escape the tendency to become probable. At the same time there is also the intention of the photographer, which rests on his perception of the world – the construction of which is dependent again on the photographic universe that surrounds us2. Photographic criticism, then, if it wishes to approach the meaning of a photograph, must also analyze the photographic universe which contributes to shaping the world view of the photographer, and his intentions as they are manifested in his work. But at the same time the photographic critic – aware that the meaning of the photograph is the product of two intentions, that of the photographer and that of the observer – will need to be able to analyze his own iconographic universe, which plays its part in shaping his own world view, and therefore his own critical discourse.

The critic’s role, then, is to transform images into concepts, and to write his own form of ‘history’, as he attempts to understand the concepts and interpret the intellectual constructs which the artist has transmuted through the magical power of the photograph. The critic and historian must de-mystify the artist’s image – in this case, the photograph.

I have always found it difficult to tackle the analysis of photographs because I felt that I lacked the necessary critical equipment, and because I was anxious that my training in the visual arts not exert an undue influence on my eye and my critical approach. My appreciation of the photographs of Aris Georgiou only served to increase this sense of inadequacy. As time passed, Aris was busy enriching our own photographic and artistic universe – through the Photographic Synkyria, the photographic supplements to the journal Entefktirio, the volumes of photographs he edited and the exhibitions and catalogues he produced as director of the newly-founded Museum of Photography in Thessaloniki. For me, and for many others both here and abroad, the name Aris Georgiou was synonymous with photography. Thus his recent kind invitation to write this piece was accompanied by a number of works on photography. It happens, however, that the works he had decided to display are so rich in visual values that one cannot help seeing them with reference to the Impressionists, to Dutch landscape painting and the visual idiom of Rembrandt. And after all – why not? My career in museum management had taught me to take as my starting point the thing in itself.

It is light which records the image on the retina, and light which produces the photograph; it is this same light which Aris’ photographs record. Eye and camera capture the ideas and images which flash through his mind and are held in his heart, evoking the poetry in the daily world around us – both as image and reality, since reality itself is in the end constructed of the images through which we perceive it. As his career has progressed, Aris has moved from the specific subject, tenderly presented in black and white, to the harsh, reticent, coloured abstract3. The same approaches are reflected in his literary work and designs, in architecture and publishing, and – as far as I can tell – in his general attitude to life. Both his great loves have flourished in the Arboretum series. First the tenderness of his vision, enchanted by colour, light, texture, shadow, tensions, levels and depths – all defined within stark frames both horizontal and vertical. This is the side of his nature which we see in the works Obscure Unison, H. D. Thoreau in Kassandra, Centenarian Schism, Mineral Offspring, the two works Triple Tree Trip and Grove Devide, as well as the five panels making up the Edessa Pinewood, which is in fact divided along both vertical and horizontal axes, despite the single image which the forced proximity of the five parts attempts to re-create. This particular work, with the lines of energy moving from border to centre and vice versa, and the different distance chosen for each of the, almost identical, subjects, finally reconciled in one unified whole, shows the artist’s ability to find the golden mean between an excessive lyricism and an arid austerity. Likewise in Luxembourg Vertical we see a characteristically impressionist landscape – formed of light and shade – cut through by a line of light, like a flash of lightning, slashing across the photograph from top to bottom with an energy enhanced by the constraints of the surrounding verticals.

The other facet of his nature can be seen in the staccato, recurrent images – separated by time, space or depth – of Luxembourg Travelling or Trees with Socks, as well as the severity of a limited subject matter charged through repetition with tension, multiple meaning and incipient lyricism, as exemplified in the series Bark Drama, One-Five, Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Mauthausen and Treblinka.

In the menacing light tones which Georgiou allows to slip through the divide between mind and lens – in Luxembourg Vertical, Hermance Secretive Creek/V, Hermance Secretive Creek/H and rei Through, one discerns an eclectic affinity with the lustrous golds of Rembrandt, emerging as they do from the gloom of the painter’s dark brown, green and black. In Sling on Gold and the woodland landscapes with their gentle curves formed of light and dark surfaces in Sylvan Theosophy, Glade Through, Freedom Suite and Petalian Dusk we are reminded of the playful impressionism of Degas and Monet, as well as the play of light and shade in the gentle terrains and foliage of the 17th century Dutch landscape painting.

Finally, it would appear that not only do we perceive the world through images – we perceive those images themselves through the impressions left on us by other images already seen. After seeing Georgiou’s work we will no longer see the pines and olive groves, the contours of the Greek landscape, in the same way. We will have borrowed something of the artist’s own vision, enriching with his images the iconographic universe which forms our own reality.


Matoula Skaltsa
Thessaloniki, 29 November 2005