One day in May last year, I saw some photos pop up on my Facebook feed. Yenikoy. Taxim. Sultan Ahmet. Fener. They were from locations in Constantinople.
A friend of mine, photographer and journalist Yannis Dramitinos, had set aside some time to upload a few snaps from his phone. He was in Istanbul for an interview with the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, and he had taken some amazing photographs of the city and its people.
Nine months later, Greeks. Romioi. Greek-Australians first came to life at Steps Gallery in Carlton. Twenty-seven photographs on display from Constantinople, Cyprus and Sydney, each with their own expressions of identity, pride, gentleness and pain.
Today’s launch of the extended exhibition, Nationality: Unquestionable – Cypriots. Romioi. Greek-Australians as part of this year’s Greek Festival of Sydney is the realisation of several years’ work, establishing connections across cities and better understanding our origins.
Our student organisation, MUGA – the Macquarie University Greek Association – had been on the lookout to somehow inspire our colleagues in the Sydney scene, to showcase an aspect of our culture in some new way. With Yannis’ photography, we stumbled upon a project we could share with our compatriots at Melbourne University, MUNGA, and which would help to strengthen ties between all of us. It was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Yannis and I met in Sydney shortly after his interview with the Ecumenical Patriarch. MUGA and MUNGA Presidents, John Georgaklis and Themistocles Kritikakos, both agreed to break new ground and, thankfully, we won the support of the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW and the Greek Festival of Sydney.
Addressing the 100-odd guests at the Melbourne launch in late-February, Yannis spoke of capturing and recording distinct Greek communities that are disappearing from our lives.
The next day, he photographed my father, Jim.
With all my work as a volunteer in Sydney’s Greek-Australian community, its demise and eventual departure were never things I was prepared to accept. The public portrayal of my father though, on canvas as he battles for his life against cancer, feels like a kick in the guts.
Even still, I’m glad. My greatest personal ambition for this project was for the generations before us, our parents and grandparents, to know that we think about them. That while we struggle to comprehend the challenges of their respective upbringings, the pain of their xenitia, we respect their sacrifices enough to want to share them respectfully and honour them before the world.
Speaking to Neos Kosmos during the Melbourne exhibition, Themistocles spoke of the “fracture in your identity”, not knowing where we come from: Yannis’ photography manages to speak about faraway places and imagined homelands through the faces and expressions of people so close to us.
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This, for me, is why this exhibition is so special and so important. Yannis’ pictures not only convey a message about Greeks, Greek places and Greek-Australians, but their very depiction points to the collaborative exercise we undertook together, to both record and share our histories. It is a message of hope to our forebearers and an example to other communities that live beside us – too good an opportunity for the Greek-Australian community to pass up.
Nationality: Unquestionable – Cypriots. Romioi. Greek-Australians. launches tonight at 6pm at Kudos Gallery in Paddington, and runs Wednesday through Friday from 11am – 6pm, and on Saturday from 11am – 4pm.