Charalampos Kydonakis – Warn’d in Vain

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Review by Gerhard Clausing •

As we know from history, the Greeks are distinguished seafarers and explorers, going back to ancient times. Part of the transmitted past is the story of Jason and the Argonauts, made famous by the poet Apollonius of Rhodes in the third century B.C.; their mythical task was to retrieve the golden fleece from a remote island. And in our time the Greek photographer Charalampos Kydonakis uses this ancient Argonautica story as inspiration for coming to terms with his contemporary visual and cultural exploration of the city of New York – a formidable task.

This photobook serves as an intriguing metaphor and gives the viewer much to puzzle over. It is a real challenge for an outside artist to come to terms with the multitude of microcosms that the streets of NYC present. Kydonakis, who uses the moniker dirtyharry on the internet, spent many months, spread out over the years 2014–2017, exploring the mysteries of the neighborhoods of NYC. He is a very thorough explorer, working long days to capture his impressions, even subjecting himself to danger at times, as did the ancient Argonauts.

The result is a refreshingly different approach to visualizing this city in which he is a stranger. Inspired in part by the street techniques of Bruce Gilden and especially the approaches of Winogrand, Weegee, and Parr, we find that Kydonakis’ work adds up to an interesting challenge for the viewer. He does not document, but rather confronts us with images that are puzzling to decipher. Many of the images are close-up, intentionally indistinct or unusual in the placement of light and dark, sharpness or less well focused areas. We are startled to see the sum-total of the human condition in many places, as if we are staring at ourselves in a mirror with multiple levels and timeless meanings – idiosyncrasies, adversities, struggles, and occasional moments of triumph.

The book is organized into twelve sections, somewhat parallel to the ancient myth. Some of the titles of those sections hint at failures, triumphs, and other parts of both stories, as we would expect, for example: “Wrath of Gods” – “Never Neverland” – “Warn’d in Vain” – “Revenge”. And we also find parallels in the images – a lost shoe, some threatening conditions, a lot of uncertainty, with an immediacy that is often lacking in other photography that purports to represent what transpires on the streets. Kydonakis said in an interview with Eric Kim, “I believe the photographer has to be a participant inside the human theatre, not a distant telefocus viewer.” That attitude is the major factor that has made this photobook a success. The viewer is encouraged to arrive at his or her own understanding after the journey through this photobook.

Kydonakis is also working on a parallel photobook, related to the Minotaur tale, dealing with his home turf, the island of Crete, to be titled Back to Nowhere. Having experienced Crete briefly, I know that the second book will also be a formidable challenge, but Kydonakis is more than up to the task, and we are very much looking forward to seeing it when it is published.

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Photographer: Charalampos Kydonakis (born in Heraklion, Crete; resides on Crete, Greece)

Publisher: Crowd-funded and self-published, © 2018

Text: English

Hardback, sewn; fabric cover, debossed; 160 pages, unpaginated, with 116 color images; 15.5 x 22 cm (6 x 8.5 inches); printed in Turkey by Bilnet Matbaacılık, Istanbul

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