Capturing a lust for life on camera

Photographer George Vafiadakis (1890-1978) seems to have lived an entire life in just one day, every day, and he has left behind 3,000 negatives (mostly glass plates) that are a celebration of life. His vision of and lust for life is currently being showcased at an exhibition by the Hellenic Archive of Literature and History (ELIA), running until June 30. «George Vafiadakis: Diaries» comprises 60 photographs from the interwar years which represent just a selection of the extensive and well-organized archives of the photographer. The exhibition is accompanied by a Greek/English catalog (sold at 15 euros) which contains all of the photographs in the exhibition as well as explanatory notes by the president of the ELIA board, Manos Haritatos; George Vafiadakis’s nephew, Antonis Vafiadakis; the show’s curator, Eleni Maligoura, and Epta Imeres journalist Costis Liontis. George Vafiadakis’s photographs seem to literally jump off the pages of the diaries he himself put together, page by page, as a narrative of his life’s story. The photographer lived in Smyrna until 1922 and those who remember him remember best his sense of humor and his ability to always see the bright side of life. Through his photographs, he has immortalized the micro-story of his own life, that of his life partner Iris, his friends and the people he met along the way. His diaries are a panorama of people caught by the lens in almost-staged moments that appear, however, impromptu and heartfelt. With an idiosyncratic impulse that paradoxically seemed to rein in self-discipline and the need for harmony and neatness, Vafiadakis’s photographs mirror the joie de vivre and elan of the interwar years. When he appears in the pictures himself, it is always in a manner that seems to be poking fun at the narcissism of the subject/photographer. A member of a climbing and walking club, Vafiadakis went on numerous excursions around Greece and Italy, taking photographs that have little, if anything, to do with regular tourist snapshots. Even where an archaeological monument features in a photograph, it is never the focal point. Body language is the star and the human compositions, set off in a theatrical manner by the hats and scarves so commonly sported in that era, have a distinctly artistic feel to them. Vafiadakis’s tone, whether photographing himself, Iris or others, is reminiscent of the artistic idiom of old silent films, whether the outfits worn by the subjects are formal – as in one on Olympia in 1925 – or when they are very casual, even bathing costumes – such as the many photographs taken on beaches. Vafiadakis, whose archive was donated to ELIA by his family, is still smiling at life. ELIA, 4 Aghiou Andreou, Plaka, tel 210.321.1149.

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