Darkness and light, life and death: John Demos’s ‘Shadows of Silence’

With children facing their grandmother’s stick and black-clad women mourning as if part of an ancient chorus, John Demos’s «Shadows of Silence» – published by Apeiron Photos – attempts a balance between light and darkness, before entering a world of secret narratives, where the photos acquire elements found in paintings. Through the recording of rituals and traditions (80 percent of the black-and-white photographs were taken locally and the rest in Albania and Turkey), yet free of any traces of folklore, Demos’s photographic journey portrays the everlasting cycle of life and death; from early growth to final decay. Born in Thessaloniki in 1944, Demos studied art history and painting at the University of Chicago, before returning to Greece in 1969 to teach photography, fine arts and humanities at the American Academy in Athens. For Demos, the 1970s proved a highly productive period: In 1976, he brought out the album «The Greece That is Passing,» while he began working on the «Panigiria-Celebrations» series, a body of work which was showcased extensively in Europe throughout the ’80s. An active promoter of photography in this country, Demos and four of his colleagues founded the Photographic Center of Athens in 1979. Nine years years later, he and his wife, Bernardine, established Apeiron Photos, an agency representing a number of high-profile names, including Magnum, Rapho and Sygma. From 1995 to 1999, Demos developed the Photographic Center of Skopelos for the Ministry of Culture. Besides numerous one-man exhibits in venues and festivals in places such as The Photographer’s Gallery in London, Demos’s work is represented in major collections such as the Centre George Pompidou in Paris and the Art Institute of Chicago. In a photographic style reminiscent of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Demos’s lens captures his «Shadows of Silence» as they face their destiny and fate. But in contrast to the highly influential photojournalist’s view of the world, Demos’s own «Decisive Moment» is given a dark, at times, tragic spin. «Souls have their own History and their own Civilization,» writes Aris Marangopoulos in the book’s afterword. «The world of souls is always overwhelmed in the presence of the Inconceivable, and, depending on its response to this presence, it shapes its own particular History and Civilization in each era. Man’s existential desire to reach, to touch and, indeed to traverse the Inconceivable never ceases.»

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