Aris Georgiou Auto-Bio-graphie
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It is almost twenty years now, I was over forty, when I first tried that disposable, plastic-and-cardboard Kodak camera which took panoramic photos of a 1:3 format, approximately. As I aimed it indiscriminately at the world around me, I realized that this format was almost ideal for shooting trees when you held it upright, and even more ideal for side views of cars when you held it horizontal. I began to record in this oblong horizontal format the cars that attracted my interest or those which combined with their context to make what I thought was a powerful photo.
I realised that my gaze went for cars that awakened memories from times past, rosy or otherwise, and triggered my nostalgia for repressed desires, or belated tolerance, and perhaps even a retrospective rejection. At some point I got over that quasi-panoramic shooting and used any camera or film that was handy whenever the automotive bug hit me. I also realised that what I had recently begun to do consciously had always been part of my photographic practice, literally from the outset.
So what was it that interested me most — photography or cars? I accepted my twofold interest. And I used photography to revisit the emotions of childhood and youth, as well as to enrich my still-evolving photographic world with some missing tesserae. The mechanism for excavating memory was once again triggered with the aid of the incontrovertible photographic evidence.
On the other hand, on many occasions when recent reality denied me the visual information, or when my path did not lead me to it, memory went into the adventure unaided but, hopefully, without too much risk of faltering. After all, I was not looking for historical recording; I was more interested in reliving the moment. This is how it was understood also by my friend Philippe Delacroix when he quipped with a laugh, years ago: “What you are working on is in fact your auto-biographie!” I adopted it. And here it is as a title, for all the obstacles: Auto-biography.
Curating amazement by Hercules Papaioannou (Photography Researcher).
Photography and automobile are both exciting technologies that took off during the twentieth century, becoming emblems of metropolitanism, of the innovation of the machine, with a peculiar omnipresence that promoted —in an indeterminately half-literal, half-metaphorical way— the conquest of space and the shrinking of time; the strange fusion between private and public. The car as a powerful engine accelerated the wheel of modernity against the seemingly static tradition. As a commodity it is mass produced, carries national, historical and social connotations and is often an artifact of advanced aesthetic and technology. Similarly, photography represents an eclectic combination of aesthetic and technology that favours the abundant circulation of images and has a profound impact on ideas and behaviours. Photography and the automobile have left an indelible mark on the life of Aris Georgiou.
How does one choose the tools that carve out one’s personal interface with the world? In the case of Georgiou we have a clear indication: the two photos he took (p. 38) in April 1968, at the age of sixteen, of the family Plymouth Valiant station wagon in which his father had been recently killed in a tragic accident. The first is an exterior shot, awkwardly descriptive. In the second one the adolescent Georgiou enters the car shooting from the rear seat, from the place of the underage member of a family that would never be the same again. The photograph is a silent, no less heart-rending farewell to the father. And to a carefree adolescence. After that, Georgiou never left photography and its inexhaustible ability to fix, with a Sisyphean futility, aspects of anything that can go missing from a personal microcosm: people, objects, landscapes, fleeting arrangements. He also fearlessly retained a closeness to cars, driving and researching them with undiminished interest. Deep inside him the two, following an invisible route, established a strong bond: car photography. The space of five decades sincethat adolescence is now sufficient for a sober assessment of this bond on his spirit; an assessment which may well be a key raison d’être behind this book. From the early ’70s, when Georgiou began to take photos systematically, to the mid-’90s, he did not always picture cars deliberately, until one scene in the countryside of Pella acted as a trigger for his active pursuit of cars through the eyepiece.
Now his quest was intentional, along the future as well as the past — in the photos already accumulated in his files. But isn’t this the best recipe (if there is one that ’s meaningful) for the artistic act? An unplanned, spontaneous encounter of the conscious with the unconscious? Some two more decades after that, the number of his photographs with cars in them has grown considerably and is mostly about relatively old models. As if photos, in their special, silent way, could mend the invisible wound and at the same time preserve the morphology of the postwar cars that fed his youthful imagination and cultivated his passion for driving. The inclusion of all these photographs in a single context whose cohesive element is the common subject (occasionally serving only as a pretext) is not an easy matter. The structure of the book was dictated by Georgiou’s multifaceted interest in cars: in the first part a long text links personal history with that of the automobile, interspersed with snapshots from the life of the photographer and his broader social environment wherever the car was present. It is followed by nine chapters arranged by the main hubs of its production or large consumption.
The editing sends a clear message: the most aesthetically interesting photos merit a whole page, while those with a documentary approach are grouped in sets. Yet even within the same category there emerges a complexity which is probably innate in the photographer himself: sometimes he makes beautiful portraits of cars; elsewhere he notes their contrast with the urban or natural setting where they are temporarily parked; he captures multiplicities of cars or abandons himself to the delicate or explosive colour atmosphere they create. In New York he locates a car that lends its glamour to the setting of an outdoor shooting. More-over, the car is often a telling class symbol: it may exude a feeling of rarity and exclusiveness or adopt the run-of-the-mill air of mass circulation. In these photographs there is a constant interaction between the style of cars and that of public space, the osmosis between old and modern as the photographer moves along cities, countries or decades. Also varied is the photographic approach: with an architect’s surgical precision, Georgiou regularly resorts to a frontal treatment that seemingly reigns over excessive subjectivity, claiming faith in raw facts. But then he will adopt angles or distances that reflect his adaptation to circumstance. Similarly, he employs different cameras and materials, analogue or digital, and keeps alternating between the vividness of colour and the austerity of black-andwhite.
The car takes us everywhere, so it can be found everywhere itself. In order to fully depict it as a phenomenon one must follow its very nature, trace its geographical shifts, outline its supranational identity. Thus many photographs attest to a cosmopolitan traveller’s pursuits in India, the USA or Europe: the magnificent Pontiac against the skyscrapers of Chicago (p. 209), the old Fiat outside the tailor’s Shop for Police Uniforms in ’73, during the dictatorship (p. 254), the sturdy Soviet Moskvitches and Gaz Volgas in the neighbourhoods of Moscow (p. 280 - 282). Several cars are emerging from painstaking caption as advanced symbols of national industries. Others are pictured in countries that only import cars (as well as cameras), defining an invisible dividing line between places which produce technology and aesthetic and those which consume them as both utility objects and unspoken ideology. The conceptual dialogue between photography and the car thus unfolds on many levels, while photography is historically proven to lend itself to the cultivation of obsessions which can easily escalate in terms of accumulative power and collecting dimension.
It is hard to find a photographer who was never hooked on such an obsession: flowers, women’s legs, airports, corporate conference rooms, dolls, burial monuments — anything can be separated from context and become, in the form of images, the object of archiving, cultural critique, poetic reflection. This publication comes at a time when the scope for noticing a car is considerably narrower, at least in the heart of the city. Cars are so much part of our surrounding reality that our vision now dismisses them, save for the few exceptions when the car itself ostentatiously draws the gaze. On their part, cars continue to unstintingly serve the escalating mobility, the decentralised life of a modern city with complex suburbs and networks of commercial and leisure centres, acting as a means of liberation from suffocation but also as its curse. Auto-bio-graphy, thanks to its complex use of photographs, ends up like something of an unintentional abbreviated theory of photography: it is methodically focused on a single subject without heeding the strict discipline of photographic typology; it presents an irregular game of semantic hints and formalistic quests; it presents the photographic act as a contraction of individual and collective memory with personal expression. In all these it uses the car as a guide in a tour of the inexhaustible urban condition.
As a project it represents a small yet vital fraction of the oeuvre of Georgiou, who has demanded of himself that he remain unquestion-ingly available to curate into images his amazement before the neverending enigma of the world with the zeal of a teenager. Also, to excite viewers with his superficially remote yet internally enthusiastic gaze. Finally, to read carefully the architectural gesture through pho-tography as well as to “architectonize” each photograph according to the unspoken commands of vision.
But who is Aris Georgiou?
Aris Georgiou was born in 1951 in Thessaloniki. He studied architecture in Montpellier, France and continued with a DEA in urban planning. Upon his return to Thessaloniki in 1978 he began as a translator, and between 1979-1985 he did art programmes for the state radio. Since 1977 he has been exhibiting his painting and photography in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Greece and abroad. In 1984 he was among the founders of PARALLAXIS, which in May, 1985 organised the first international photography events in Greece. In February, 1988 he conceived Photosynkyria, Thessaloniki’s annual international festival of photography, which he went on to run for fifteen years.
As an associate of Entefktirio magazine he instituted the “Camera Obscura” supplement, which has presented over 100 photographer portfolios to this day. Between 1998-2002 he was the first director of the Museum of Photography in Thessaloniki. He has published his work in numerous books, magazines, monographs and catalogues. His professional activity is in architecture and, to a great degree, graphic design, usually in conjunction with his cultural interests. In 2011 the National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation published his album In and around Papamarkou.
An Autobianchi Bianchina Convertible 1965,Paris 2000 photo by Aris Georgiou
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The importantly is to be a good invitation for those who can come to see up close this importand exhibition or at least to seek this remarkable book from Aris Georgiou."