Review by Gerhard Clausing •
In Greek mythology, the Minotaur was a human-like creature with the head and tail of a bull, and his favorite meals consisted of sacrificial Athenian youths. His home was said to be an elaborate labyrinth on the island of Crete. Naturally as well as unnaturally, there was more to that story, including some historical background; feel free to check out the details on the internet under “Minotaur.” In any case, that mythical narrative serves as the inspiration for this project photographed on his home island of Crete by Charalampos Kydonakis (aka dirtyharry). It is a companion volume to his previous project Warn’d in Vain, which presented a unique view of New York City through the eyes of a stranger, reviewed in the PhotoBook Journal last year. This second photobook is a view of his home turf for the eyes of all the rest of us.
Having studied Kydonakis’ style before, we expect a visual narrative that will be an interesting challenge. The title itself, Back to Nowhere, is already mysterious: as an oxymoron it contains a contradiction within itself. And on the naturally beautiful luscious green cover we see the stylized replica of the Minotaur’s labyrinth home. Beware, inside the book there are many visual surprises. This time Kydonakis has observed his native island of Crete over a period of several years and shares his unique vision with us.
This project reminds me of an outdoor evening we spent in the inner city of Athens, wedged between apartment buildings, to view an outdoor performance of the ancient comedy The Clouds (Νεφέλαι Nephelai) by Aristophanes. Knowing very little Greek, I had to rely on my other senses to get some meaning out of the performance, taking in visual moments including gestures and interactions, as well as sounds and their expressed emotions. At such moments the unfamiliar can become somewhat familiar, and the familiar can be colored by an eerie strangeness. The unknown can assume an ordinary sameness as one contemplates it for a while.
So it is with this new book, which I see as a metaphor for our contemporary life. Kydonakis’ photography is an in-your-face study of everyday detail (some of the artists that he says inspire him are Weegee, Diane Arbus, Goya, and Max Ernst), against a background of specific cultural surroundings. His observations include miniscule details and many off-moments. I consider this a study of interesting twists and turns that show a lot of what I call “indecisive moments” that definitely demand the viewer’s attention and interpretation.
The book is laid out with double pages to be mostly viewed vertically, as shown below. You are thus invited to be involved in a sequence of many visuals and juxtapositions, a dynamic flow of mostly diptychs. There are animals, mood pictures, locals, hidden items, mysterious danger, and more, often presented with heavy contrast or some flash illumination, unposed and rough. We get a sense that his homeland is both ancient and modern, and not just the perfect tourist paradise, with much history behind it and more adventures to come, with struggles and issues both unique as well as shared with other places.
The appendix contains a list of titles and locations, as well as the outline of the underlying narrative segments.
An intriguing and refreshingly stimulating photobook indeed!
Charalampos Kydonakis – Back to Nowhere
Photographer: Charalampos Kydonakis (born in Heraklion, Crete; resides on Crete, Greece)
Publisher: Crowd-funded and self-published, © 2019
Hardback, sewn; fabric cover, debossed; 160 pages, unpaginated, with 111 color images; 15.5 x 22 cm (6 x 8.5 inches); printed in Turkey by Bilnet Matbaacılık ve Yayıncılık A.Ş., Istanbul
Photobook designer: Charalampos Kydonakis