Photographer Effy Alexakis unveils 40 years of the Greek-Australian experience in new book

Effy Alexakis: 'Forty Photographs – A Year at a Time' chronicles the Greek Australian experience with text from Leonard Janiszewski, to be launched in Athens

As a documentary photographer, Effy Alexakis has dedicated much of her life to unveiling the often hidden narratives of the contemporary Greek-Australian experience. The book ‘Effy Alexakis: Forty Photographs – A Year at a Time’, will be launched at Australian Embassy in Athens on September 27.

The documentary photographer, along with her life partner, Leonard Janiszewski, a sociocultural historian, has spent over four decades capturing the intricate narrative defining Greek Australians, Greeks in Greece and beyond.

Their latest project takes place on the island of Lemnos, where they delve into the Anzac heritage that has shaped so much of modern Australian identity and myth-making. Their journey takes them to Sykea, in the Peloponnese, Alexakis’ ancestral village near Monemvasia.

Australian Ambassador in Greece, Alison Duncan, will officially launch the book ‘Effy Alexakis: Forty Photographs’

After the the launch of ‘Effy Alexakis: Forty Photographs – A Year at a Time’ there will be an ‘in-conversation’ hosted by the Australian Ambassador to Greece, Alison Duncan that also includes Dr. Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory of the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens.

Alexakis and Janiszewski will discuss their work and research methodologies and how they have adapted to new technologies. They’ll share the highs and lows, the personal impact their work has had on their lives, stories that have left lasting impressions, and insights into how the Greek-Australian experience has evolved.

‘Effy Alexakis: Forty Photographs – A Year at a Time’ is a compelling photo documentary book showcasing 40 years of the Greek Australian community, each photograph representing one year since 1982 accompanid with a story. The images capture the ever-evolving face of the Greek-Australian presence, its diversity and resilience.

“These forty images represent a very personal account,” Alexakis writes in the prologue.”They include people I admire – often everyday people who have achieved and continue to accomplish remarkable things – and issues and themes of importance to me and, hopefully, others.

“I start the series with a photo of my parents and end with a portrait of my mother […] Leonard and I have made lifelong friendships and numerous important discoveries along the way – about ourselves, about Greek–Australians, and about the complexity of the ever-changing world that surrounds us.”

The emerging themes in this 40-year photo-documentary include the historical and generational roots of the Greek presence in Australia, the entrepreneurial spirit in the diasporic experiences, the growing influence of Greek women’s voices, and the enduring embrace of family, tradition, and Greek identity. It also looks into the dynamic meld of cultures through intermarriage and the ever-present connection to Greece, an attachment maintained in times of joy and sadness. It also reveals bonds with Australia’s First Nations people. Alexakis and Janiszewski say they hope they will assist in getting a ‘Yes’ over the line in the forthcoming referendum on a First Nations Voice to Parliament.

1984: Effy Alexakis captures the Greek Independence Day celebrations at the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House in 1984. “The girl’s gesture echoes the curved forms of the sails. Occupying the middle ground is a dense band of people seated upon the forecourt’s steps – they are all Greek-Australians. The image confidently declares, ‘We are Greek; we are now part of Australia!'” writes Leonard in an essay included in the book. Photo: Effy Alexakis

Their work also points to the global diversity of Greek-Australians’ origins and the significant role of Greek-Australian associations in preserving their heritage. For Alexakis and Janiszewski, this journey has become intertwined with their personal identities and family life, an inseparable part of who they are.

In their quest to document and uncover the Greek-Australian experience, they travelled early to Greece to discover what was left behind.In the 1980s and 1990s, they explored abandoned Greek villages affected by migration, revealing the term mavri xenitia to describe the experience of those living in these deserted places. Alexakis’ 1995 photographs and interviews from these trips resulted in the exhibition and book Images of Home: Mavri Xenitia.

More recently, the pair documented Greece’s economic collapse and resulting social and political upheaval during the Greek Financial Crisis of 2008 – 2016. Alexakis’ work highlights the class and social divisions that became apparent, often through the street art and graffiti that depicted the chaos—the period deeply impacted them personally as they heard of how their friends and relatives navigated this turbulent period – when Greece’s middle class almost collapsed.

Currently, Alexakis and Janiszewski are documenting Greek-Australian writers in Greece, such as Gillian Bouras and Yiannis Dimitreas.

“These transnational writers influenced us greatly in our early work, particularly with documenting not just the pragmatic exchanges of the migration/transmigration process but the lived emotional experiences, the whites, the greys, the blacks and the abundant colours of a life in-between cultures and nations,” says Alexakis.

1990: “Ilias Fountis and his wife Anna (nee Lambou) – references the personal dislocation and suffering of migration, and that Australia’s history is to be found beyond the nation’s shores. Ilias migrated to Darwin as part of a Kalymnian diving crew to harvest pearl shells off the continent’s northern coastline. He was separated from his wife and family for almost three decades. He returned to Greece to live out his remaining years among those he had left behind. The drama of Effy’s beautifully composed and sensitively structured photo reinforces the enduring stoicism of the couple”, Leonard writes about one her most iconic pictures. Photo: Effy Alexakis

Richard Neville, Mitchell Librarian at the State Library of NSW, describes how Alexakis and Janiszewski have built “an archive of incredible richness: the revelations of the nuance and complexity of the Greek Australian experience that emerges from it would simply not be possible without this depth.”

“For forty years, I have been witness to, and a participant in, Effy’s quest,” says Janiszewski.

“That box brownie camera case in her childhood photo did suggest much of what was to come. Effy’s camera has been the witness to many, of many, for many. And that will be her lasting legacy, long after her last photo, her last capturing of ‘a moment in time, of an Australia of ‘her time’ has been shot, printed, exhibited and discussed,” he writes in the the book.

The launch of Effy Alexakis: Forty Photographs – A Year at a Time and the discussion at the Australian Embassy in Athens on September 27, at 6.30 pm, is open to the public. The book will be available at the event and by Alexakis and Janiszewski. Attendance is limited, and those interested must register by emailing before September 20. All confirmations will be sent out by September 22.