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A Greek Portfolio - 50 Years Later

May 30, 2013
by Constantine Manos
In a new exhibition honoring the great photographer Constantine Manos, the Benaki Museum presents a tribute to his multi-awarded <em>A Greek Portfolio</em>.

Childhood experiences are deeply affecting, and at times, can direct us to a voyage of discovery later in life. For Constantine Manos, it was the story of his parents’ lost Eden on the island of Afisia in the Sea of Marmara that fueled his imagination. It was a life they lost, along with all their belongings, in the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey in 1923. Immigrants to the U.S., Manos' parents’ longed for their past village life, which prompted him to travel, discover and record the rural life of Greece in the early 1960’s.

What initially may have been a nostalgic and perhaps even romantic notion of a return to his family’s roots lead Manos to the villages and isles of Greece to confront a reality of poverty, isolation, and ingrained traditions. He followed the unchanging cycles of toil, hardship, celebration, and the rituals of departure. Through this, he wove a tapestry of warm humanity and benighted solace. It is a poetic transformation of the daily (and sometimes harsh) existence into images of magical moments. With introspection and humility, he allows his protagonists to disclose themselves. And through the timing of the shutter and his classical compositions, he leads us to truths and meanings that are universal.

His approach is so refined and subtle that many people stay only at the surface of the ethnographic aspect of the work. And while that will prove valuable with time, it remains the outer clothing of the soul of a people whose perseverance, pride, dignity, and core values are revealed. Manos beautifully exposes this human complexity with utter simplicity and a lack of artifice.

Of course, it is within the humanistic photographic tradition of Henri Cartier-­Bresson in which Manos functions. He brings to every image a myriad of connotations and unique details to each remote area of the country. He shows us how these peoples--of the sea and the land--struggle within the environment that is their particular destiny. While simultaneously closing, in prints of great beauty, the chapter of rural life in Greece.

There is a unique opportunity here in this celebration of Manos’ 50 years of A Greek Portfolio. This exhibition provides the public the rare chance to see the wide range of images that were edited out of the book by the photographer, but whose variety and depth and truly impressive, in addition to all the book's famous images.

Capturing the one magical moment in a single image is crucial and critical for every photographer. Editing and deciding which image tells its story best is equally important. Thus, the full disclosure of images taken provide us with a more wholesome understanding of the photographer’s process of selection and method of working and thinking.

In this way, Manos has not only made an invaluable donation to the Benaki Museum, but has, with an open heart, given us a vision of what we, as a rural nation, once were.

<em>John Demos, Curator</em>

For the 50th anniversary of the creation of the multi-award winning A Greek Portfolio, Constantine Manos re-examines the images he took during the years 1961-­64 (and ones he added in 1967), when he wandered his ancestral land in a manner that was “leisurely and unplanned, that of a friendly observer,” and offers us a different take on his material. In the first section of the exhibit, we present a series of original prints from the images that Manos himself selected in 1972 for the book. In the second section, images were chosen from 219 original prints that the artist recently donated to the Photographic Archive of the Benaki Museum, which were not included in the layout of A Greek Portfolio. Together, in totality, these two sections present a worthwhile sample of Manos’ artistic intent. Although they have not had the same exposure, the images that are revealed for the first time reflect the uniqueness of the land and its inhabitants, in no small part due to his poetic abilities. The manner in which he approaches his subjects stands out from the prevailing photographic trends of his time, and operates as a starting point for new photographers as they attempt to capture the Greek countryside.

Aliki Tsirgialou, Benaki Museum


Guided tours by Constantine Manos on Friday May 24, 12:00-13:00 & Thursday May 30, 18:00–19:00. (SOLD OUT. The exhibition will be closed for the public during the guided tours)

Every Thursday, at 12:00, guided tours by the curators of the Photographic Archives.

T. 210 3671 015
Wednesday, Friday: 9:00 - 17:00
Thursday, Saturday: 9.00 - 24.00
Sunday: 9:00 - 15:00

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