Black and White photographs 1972-1983, Agra Publications, Athens, 1983. (Bilingual, greek-english), 72 pages, 24x17 cm., 59 b/w photographs.


Leonidas Antonakopoulos
Aris Georgiou: Circumstances
A book that is “readable” without needing to be read.

“A photograph is no more than what it seems to be. Already distanced from ‘reality’ by its silence, its absence of movement and continuity in time, its two dimensions, and its isolation from anything outside its frame, it can create a different reality, an emotion which wasn’t there in the real situation. And it is the tension between these two realities that is its power.”

Richard Kalvar

Another high-class publication from Agra has recently appeared on the scene: Aris Georgiou’s Circumstances, a collection of black-and-white photographs taken in America, France, Italy, and Greece between 1972 and 1983. It has to be regarded as something more than a mere collection of photos, for, in addition to “photographing” his progress so far, in Circumstances Aris Georgiou, also reveals a profound meditation on people, space, and their relationship in time. He notes that the subject of his photographs is “the human presence and the web it weaves with the space it inhabits”. In Aris Georgiou’s work, the human presence is indeed paramount — though not overwhelming — in a variety of spaces, from rooms and shops to squares and deserted neighbourhoods. It dominates even when it is absent, as attested by the folds in a bedcover or a bicycle resting against a pillar.

The particular value of such moments lies in fully exploiting the possibilities photography offers as an insentient, but emotive memory. It calls up spectral images of a past that is inaccessible to us, not only because it is past but also because we never knew it when it was present. Only the lens has managed to touch it, violating its relationship with whatever then contained it. The new reality that is created releases an emotion which the original situation had no suspicion of. When they were taken, none of Aris Georgiou’s photographs — nor any other photograph — carried the charge and significance they acquire when exposed to our gaze. Thus the fleeting moment that precipitates the act of taking a photograph is transformed, when removed from its spatial and temporal context, into an independent source of imagination and emotion for everyone, except the people depicted (the two elderly figures, for instance, heedlessly converging in a quiet Athens street in July 1977, neither felt nor had any suspicion of the range of symbolisms, feelings, and emotions which their chance encounter engenders in us, the belated observers of their involuntary immortalisation).

A photograph, then, is like a sensation arising from a borrowed memory or an impression created by someone’s story. In his Circumstances Aris Georgiou is telling the story of human beings’ relationship with their (self-constructed) space, firing our imagination with the ingeniously playful expedient of placing one shot next to another. In other words, the photographs on facing pages form a pair, selected by Aris Georgiou and Stavros Petsopoulos so that their convergence will create a symbolical dynamic to complement the aesthetic development. This is achieved either by emphasising features which are repeated (e.g. the solitary woman gazing at the sea in Brittany, opposite the boy with his back to the sea in Chalkidiki, both of them in a boundless deserted landscape), or by introducing contrasts (e.g. the woman “searching” a curved sculpture with a hole in it or the man gazing blankly at an enormous jet-black square canvas).

This, in my opinion, is the second aspect of the book’s functional success: as well as the emotions and thoughts provoked by each photograph individually, when they are thus connected they generate inklings and symbolisms which the separate photographs cannot create by themselves. Given that they were all taken at different places and times, with no intention at the moment when they were taken of creating any connection between them, one feels that, thus liberated from the past (that is from itself), photographic memory spurs the imagination and brings contemplation, in contrast with human memory, which fosters introspection and lends support to knowledge.

With philanthropic compassion, Aris Georgiou’s gaze seeks to isolate and frame anything that will bring out his own discreet humanity. Even when the human presence is absent from the places where it belongs (but which recall it), the effect is one of tranquillity, regardless of whether or not the place itself inflicts aesthetic violence. The “circumstances” all seem to be “quiet”, in order to enhance the soundless wealth of memory and time, flowing by unabated, with mute precision. The silence of the human figures in Aris Georgiou’s frames is definitive and affluent; they communicate with others and with the space in a whisper low enough not to jar the contemplative mood imposed by their omnipresent works. Even in the bustling Metro or a crowded street, Aris Georgiou’s photographs arouse in me the feeling that the human figures are silent, allowing their mere presence (or absence) to speak for them. It is a presence which is constantly on the move or reminds one of the energy it contains.

I do believe that the visual arts are appraised more easily and effectively in the language of the senses rather than of words. Nevertheless, somewhat diffidently, I shall attempt to write about the “pictorial aspect” of Aris Georgiou’s work (that is, of its character as visual art). “Circumstances” is characterised by the simplicity of its compositions and its faultless framing, which help to bring out the essential features, to make the photograph, in other words, “be what it seems to be”. Aris Georgiou avoids the pitfalls of geometric rigidity and distorting plasticity, and shows the same persistence in all his creative work (paintings and photographs) in shrewdly selecting and using form to serve its very essence. The spare, black-and-white tones, always carefully selected at the printing stage, seem to assist the principal emotions that each “circumstance” engenders. Aris Georgiou’s work is thus closely linked with his earlier output, despite superficial differences in form (i.e. specific, easily assimilated shots, as opposed to abstract compositions). In any case, the nucleus of his abstract compositions is similar to “Circumstances”; the technique is the same, and the only difference lies in the degree of abstraction from reality.

I should like to finish by noting how important it is that publishers — like Stavros Petsopoulos, editor of Agra Publications — should broaden their outlook and bring out more books that are one step removed from the current consumerist attitude to reading. (Each book is considered in terms of x reading hours, multiplied by the cost per hour, plus the intellectual surplus-value, equals the publisher’s profit and the printing!) Besides, photography has a claim to some publishing space, owing to its close connection with printed matter in general. Could not every photograph in “Circumstances” be a short story, or become a short story in the mind of each one of us?