Review by Gerhard Clausing •
Revisiting a place you have seen before is always full of many surprises. My wife and I have been to Athens a number of times and find the experience always exhilaratingly different; alas, as one would expect, even our relatives there are never quite the same as on the previous visit! To illustrate my own encounter with extreme contrasts in Athens: some years ago we saw the play The Clouds by Aristophanes in a courtyard between apartment buildings in the middle of the inner city of Athens, even though my Greek vocabulary was (and still is) extremely limited. That visual and emotional experience was certainly an unforgettable combination of messages from an ancient culture conveyed in a contemporary setting. So it must also be quite an adjustment for Niko J. Kallianiotis to get acculturated again to the roots of his past, having spent many years in the United States in his adult professional career. We see the results of his becoming reacquainted with Athens in the astutely assembled visions presented in this photobook.
This project does an excellent job of presenting a variety of contrasts. We see the old and the new side by side, the pride in former days of glory shown right next to contemporary struggles having to do with a difficult economy. We can study a great deal about Greek culture in a time of constraints due to covid restrictions. Just as is the case with all major cities, most of what one sees is not exactly a picture postcard representation of what tourists primarily want to go visit. Old buildings tend to crumble or need to be maintained, new archaeological sites are discovered and wish to be examined and kept up, and senior citizens and others with very limited incomes are shown existing on the periphery of life in such a metropolitan area. Sometimes relatively meaningless English phrases are seen as an expression of seemingly modern social settings. So much diversity, and so much social stratification …
To understand some of what is shown, you need some knowledge of some cultural contexts as well – such as the role of the Greek Orthodox Church as the nearly ubiquitous belief system, the custom of conducting military parades on some holidays, the importance of soccer, the wish of Greeks to express their opinions, and more. The overwhelming expense of maintaining densely populated spaces is a major source of difficulty for such a large metropolitan area as well.
The images are beautifully printed, each one having a size of 11 by 7.25 inches, usually facing each other on double spreads. There are fewer close-ups, and the distance shown by the photographer in his mostly wide-angle images seems to indicate his careful and tentative approach to reacquainting himself with the city. The images are all horizontal, duplicating the way our horizontal binary vision works. One also notices that there is a certain playfulness to this documentation by Kallianiotis. The essays by two experts give valuable additional background regarding Greek history, culture, social underpinnings, and artistic purpose.
This photobook is a successful visual journey of discovery in a major urban setting by an astute observer who wants to become part of it again, a visual detective on his way to ever new surprises in partly or seemingly familiar settings. It is the kind of street photography that merits close attention: the observant insider/outsider plays a supportive stance with a substantial level of tolerance regarding cultural differences and social changes.
The PhotoBook Journal previously featured a review of America in a Trance by Niko J. Kallianiotis.
Gerhard Clausing, PBJ Associate Editor, is an author and photographer from Southern California.
Niko J. Kallianiotis – Athênai: In Search of Home
Publisher: Damiani, Bologna, Italy; © 2022
Essays: Hercules Papaioannou and Niko Vatopoulos
Languages: English and Greek
Hardback with illustrated cover; stitched binding; 160 pages, unpaginated, with 119 color images; 31.2 x 22.3 cm (12.25 x 8.75 inches); printed in Italy; ISBN 978-88-6208-782-7
Photobook Designers: Yoav Friedländer, in association with Tomas Ginoudis, Lorenzo Tugnoli, and Dimitris Bourdanis
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