Athenians: A stream of vibrant people awash on the tide of memory

In his book Athenians (Pub. Kastaniotis), Costas Ordolis makes a statement about Athens; it is quite likely that he had no such intention. These Athenians are just pieces of my life, he says in the prologue. And indeed this is the impression given by these black-and-white portraits that parade like the fragments of the imagination’s mirror. There is is a strong Felliniesque, surrealist and mystical element in the photographs of Costas Ordolis. But it is the aesthetic summation of these Athenians (residents, passers-by and visitors, all part of the urban cauldron) which favors a sentimental and sensuous (not sensual) interpretation of the city itself. Costas has his camera render the feel of Athens as described by Menis Koumandareas in his extensive introduction: The population of Athens is like a river that flows, bringing down stones and specks of gold as well. Ordolis shifts his lens to the banks of this torrential river and focuses on forms that only fleetingly acquire heroic dimensions. You won’t see bourgeois Athens in Ordolis’s photographs. But neither does this mean that you’ll see working-class Athens. Topsy-turvy fragments of personal memories and enlarged remnants of fantasy make up the faces of these Athenians. They are all like passers-by, beautiful, invulnerable and tragic, as insecure as acrobats, as decisive as lovers. The erotic element is powerful, apparent in solitary glances. Athenians goes directly to the inner recesses of the urban melting pot: alley ways, uncovered spaces in buildings, rallies, dressing rooms and sidewalks – the public expression of private life. Ordolis attempts a poetic transcription of the hard reality of Athens, which he presents like a retired actor from the silent movies. It is both beautiful and repellent. One and the same soul can feel enthusiasm and depression. Athenians seems to be a gallery of contradictions. Pulsating with life, like the meeting places of young people, and sidelined, like the city’s decaying neighborhoods. The prologue by Koumandareas outlining the Athens of 2000 through his own experience of the city (especially Victoria and Fokionos) sounds like an echo of the essence of this book: In the city where I was a child too, other children are now growing up with curiosity and the eagerness to know it, conquer it and become Athenians themselves. I see them every day on the street, full of strength, beauty and self-confidence. As I am no longer young, they pass me by indifferently, just as other young Athenians will push past them in the street one day. Life never stops here. Dielmann Verlag, based in Frankfurt, publishes C.P. Cavafy, Nikos Engonopoulos, Yiannis Ritsos, Kiki Dimoula and Demosthenes Kourtovik (The Nostalgia of Dragons). It is a small company which publishes a few carefully selected, finely produced books.

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