Review by Kristin Dittrich •
While visiting the first “Photobook Fest“ on May 22, 2022, a new art fair at ICP New York dedicated to the contemporary photobook, I discovered this wonderful small photobook, like a zine, with the title Fragments. This project tells a strong and visually beautiful story about the immigration of a woman from Greece to New York. The author of this book, Anthoula Lelekidis, is the daughter of the lady portrayed in the book, a project with the sociological theme ‘post-memory.’ Throughout this book project, the daughter reveals and reconstructs the beauty and pain of her mother, the process of her separating from her community in Greece, from her family roots, as she started her own life in America in painful exclusion.
In my curatorial assessment, photographic images in books can always be divided into main images, bridge images, and annotation images. In this book, the main pictures are all images of the mother, registered in the individual portraits. Other main pictures are all those about the community (family, location) to which her mother belonged. The bridge pictures provide transitions between the main pictures. All the pictures showing water constitute such a connection, the bridge between the continents, between the country that the mother leaves and the country where she starts her new life (the United States). On the 3rd level are the so-called annotation pictures. These are pictures that give supporting information about the mother; they are pictures that describe someone or something in greater detail. For example, one annotation picture shows a handwritten note by the mother where she describes a dream she had.
In connection with the book I (KD) talked further with the photographer Anthoula Lelekidis (AL) on June 10, 2022 about the project:
KD: In which media do you work?
AL: I work with photography, photographic collage, image transfer and mixed media.
KD: What exactly are you interested in, what is your goal with the book?
AL: My work investigates themes of personal memory, nostalgia, loss, and migration. I have a deep interest in the archive and I alter found family photos to interpret a deeper tie to my Greek heritage and uncover ancestral roots within blank spaces of my recollection.
KD: Is there a final result, is it the process that counts, or both?
AL: Both the process and the final work is important to me. My process includes collecting, researching, and editing; the assembly of images, then an intuitive response that includes ripping, transferring, and layering photos in unexpected ways. Within the process, I begin to uncover and understand the intuition that guides me – why I place certain images together and how I can retell the story of my ancestors through memories that I wasn’t a part of but have inherited through stories and prints that were handed down to me through generations.
KD: What is it that interests you?
AL: I am interested to tell the story of the lives of the Greek diaspora – those whose lives are filled with a deep yearning for home, and the need to create a life away from it. The idea of post-memory, a term coined by Marianne Hirsch in her book The Generation of Post-Memory, is also a great inspiration to me. ‘Post-memory’ explains the relationship that the ‘generation after’ has to the collective and cultural trauma of those who preceded them. Through this perspective, I search for connections between my birthplace, New York City, and that of my ancestors, who originated in Greece and Asia Minor. My reconstructions illustrate a journey through inter-generational narratives, with the intention of creating new value for and insight into these personal inherited histories. This investigation through the perspective of an individualized narrative acts as a mediation between the realm of post-memory and the resolution of a troubled legacy.
KD: What role does that title play in the work?
AL: The title of my zine is θραύσματα, which translates to Fragments. This title reflects both the visual fragments I am piecing together through collage and transfer, but also serves as a metaphor for the splitting of families who fled from their homeland due to war or poverty, a story similar to my ancestor’s own. The found images depict symbols of cultural traditions and family bonds, while the process of collage and transfer suggests feelings of displacement and isolation. By combining fragments of my own photographs together with found family photographs, reassembling and reworking them, I am interested in constructing new images that bridge the gap between time periods and suggest the conflict and consequences involved in relocation.
KD: What is the role of the place where you produced a work?
AL: Mostly working during quarantine, I produced all of this work at home surrounded by boxes of found family archives. The isolation of quarantine pushed me further into sitting with these archives and creating a new version of the family album – one in which I am inserting my own story and reflections. I am mostly using images found and taken from the 60s, 70s and 80s – a time period in which my family began emigrating to America from Greece. I think this period is important within the work, and bridging it with my own photos of today creates a retelling and honoring of these ancestors who sacrificed so much for me to live as a first-generation Greek-American.
KD: Are there references to older works?
AL: Before working with family archives in collage and image transfer, I was using a similar approach to family work through old negatives and objects. Projects such as the Matchbook Study as well as A Rosebush and its Thorns have led my current work to what it is today in a very deep way. Both works investigate the life of my mother as an immigrant and as a young American living in New York City, but also talk about the process of grief and loss after she suddenly passed away several years ago. Her passing was a major turning point in my artistic practice and led me to create work revolving solely around family and archives.
The Matchbook Study is about my mother, Betty, was a child of the late 70s and early 80s. Her interests included listening to The Doors, hair-styling, smoking Marlboro cigarettes, clubbing, fashion and dancing. She frequently wore red lipstick, leather jackets and teased her curly hair. Her youth was the epitome of the 80s glam lifestyle. In 2014, her life suddenly ended at the age of 49. Upon finding a box filled with my mother’s matchbook collection, I set out to find all the locations she once visited. From restaurants and bars to nightclubs and hotels, this study led me to a route she once traveled in her youth. As my investigation continued, a sense of wonder and discovery connected me with her memory. This study aims to reconstruct memories which occurred before my birth; to find out who my mother was before she became my mother.
KD: What is your background?
AL: I am a first-generation Greek-American lens-based artist based in Queens, New York. I hold a BFA in Photography from Parsons School of Design and received the Community Fellowship from the International Center of Photography in 2019 and 2020. I was a resident at the Skopelos Foundation of the Arts in 2016, focusing both on photography and printmaking. In 2008, I earned a scholarship from the Students On Ice Organization to travel to photograph Antarctica and Argentina. I am currently a Faculty member at the International Center of Photography. My class is called “The Archive: A Personal Study” which focuses on using family archives to develop self portraiture and family work through photography, collage, writing and mixed media.
Kristin Dittrich – art critic, curator, mentor, and Director of the Shift School for Contemporary Photography (Dresden and Vienna).
Anthoula Lelekidis – Fragments
Photographer: Anthoula Lelekidis (born 1989 in New York; lives in Queens, New York, USA)
Publisher: Self-published; © 2022
Language: English and Greek
Softcover, saddle-stitched; 66 pages, 5.5 x 8.5 inches.
Photobook Designer: Anthoula Lelekidis
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