University Studio Press, Thessaloniki 1997

Aris GeorgiouOne of the peculiarities of photography – owed, like so many others, to its relative youth and to the fluidity of its structures – is the fact that a single individual can exert upon it an influence greater than would be possible in any other artistic field. Of particular interest has been the case of those photographers whose personal artistic practice, allied with an energetic involvement in associated activities such as criticism, teaching and curatorship, have provided both a focus and a springboard for the medium in a particular national or regional context. Amongst the better-known recent examples of this phenomenon, one might mention Joan Fontcuberta in Spain, Franco Vaccari in Italy, Peeter Linnap in Estonia, and Aris Georgiou in northern Greece.

Georgiou was born in Thessaloniki, the capital of Macedonia and modern Greece's second largest city, and it is with this city that his artistic and organisational talents are most closely associated. This regional loyalty, however, has never in any way implied a concomitant provincialism - rather, indeed, the opposite. Fluent in a number of European languages, Georgiou studied architecture in Montpelier, and has since photographed and exhibited in many parts of the world, including the United States, Israel, France and Germany. A polymath endowed with inexhaustible energy, he has been involved in a wide range of cultural activities including book publishing, graphic design, broadcasting, translation and composition as well as every possible aspect of photographic production, promotion and organisation. By some inexplicable miracle, these activities manage to flourish alongside an ongoing and busy architectural practice.

It is worth noting that Thessaloniki, nourished by history and a healthy sense of rivalry with the capital, has long been characterised by a sophisticated and lively local culture; unlike the chaotic urban sprawl of the Athenian megalopolis, it remains compact enough to maintain a sense of civic pride and identity, whilst still providing an arena large enough to escape the stifling provincialism of most small Greek towns. Though it is probably best known for its writers and poets, the city also boasts a significant number of private galleries, and houses the country's first (and highly successful) museum of contemporary art.

Georgiou's contributions to the establishment and promotion of photography in Thessaloniki, and, by extension, of Greek photography in general, have been considerable. First of all, of course, with his own artistic production, both in the form of exhibitions and through an impressive series of publications ranging from simple pamphlets to major monographs; his bibliography, it is safe to say, is probably the most extensive in Greece. Whilst his earliest approach to the medium emerged through an appreciation of the classic post-war European documentary style, he has since experimented with many other ideas, producing results which are always mature and frequently inspired.

Of his most recent bodies of work, my personal favourites remain "...Of Our Forefathers..." (1990) and Aristotelous Street 6 (1992), both of which in a sense represent a photographic excavation of the past; of a national past in the first case, and of a personal past in the second. "...Of Our Forefathers..." is a formal visual exploration of several major Greek archaeological sites, including Delos, Delphi and Knossos; in it, Georgiou moves from a lyrical contemplation of classical landscape and the precise study of the texture of time-worn stone and marble to a cool look at visitors decanted onto these sites by an all-consuming tourist industry.

Aristotelous Street 6, perhaps the artist's most subtle work, is a superficially modest and low-key monograph based on an idea of some originality: the reading, in both meanings of the word, of set of photographs which, despite (or perhaps because of) their considerable emotional resonance, remained untouched and unprocessed for over a decade. The resulting combination of image and text demonstrates an impressive skill in both languages; simple, straightforward illustrations of the contents and decoration of the flat occupied prior to her death in 1981 by Georgiou's grandmother become an eloquent lament for the passing not just of a beloved relative, but also of a particular generation and class.

Georgiou's involvement with the public face of photography has been equally fruitful. He was a founder member of Parallaxis, the organisation which in 1985 organised Greece's first-ever international photographic exhibition; held in Thessaloniki, it included 27 group and solo exhibitions and an associated program of events. Since then, he has published numerous articles, texts and translations on photography, art and architecture; above all, he set up Camera Obscura, a non-profit making umbrella organisation responsible for organising the annual Photosynkyria festival. Starting from relatively humble beginnings, Photosynkyria became Greek photography’s window on the world and the country’s most important international visual arts festival.

The present volume, the second of a welcome new series, can only give a small idea of the public and private achievements of an artist to whom a considerable debt of gratitude is owed by anybody involved with contemporary Greek photography.

London, September 1996