Emmanuel Angelicas’ quest: Capturing the souls of Greece through liminal portraits

Unveiling the human tapestry: humanity in portraits echoing love, vulnerability, and the essence of Greeks

Emmanuel Angelicas tends to fall in love with his subjects. A little bit. Toso oso. I watched it happen over the three days he was in Athens, taking photos of the people I had found for him.

This was the start of a scheme that will bring him back to Greece over several years. More of a quest than a project, at its core, is his love of people, stories, Greek myths, and his profound talent for finding truth in images.

On Day One, six of his subjects trudged up two flights of winding, breath-taking-away, marble steps to emerge into a sun-washed apartment, where Emmanuel was waiting to charm and beguile them into dropping their defences to reveal something of themselves even they didn’t know was there.

They included gallerist Anna Kontoleon, PR executive Fany Zotou, businessman Pavlos Pappapanos, academic Adonis Bartsiokas, and Hero of the Polytechnio Melpo Lekatsa and her celebrated daughter, Dora Chrysikou.

“The Urban Terrorist Marricville -2000 by Emmanuel Angelicas.

As he chatted with them, he unobtrusively took photos with a tiny camera that seemed surgically attached to his hand. Not all the images were flattering. Sometimes, they were harsh, undoubtedly unfamiliar, but that did not bother his subjects, who were intrigued by them.

After voting on the Voice at the Australian Embassy the following day, we crisscrossed Athens to visit the final four subjects. We began at the Theatre Alkminis in Petralona, where Emmanuel produced one of the most potent images of the trip, actor/director Manolis Ionas standing nude on his stage in the pose of an ageing Kouros.

After the shoot, Emmanuel showed an instinctive solidarity by stripping off his shirt to be photographed seated semi-naked next to a bare-chested Manoli.

Arist Dimitris Tzoumakas sat at his desk, surrounded by books and art and lit by a dusty chandelier. Photo: Supplied

We drank coffee in the overgrown garden of the workshop of sculptor Giorgos Houliaras, watching spiders link his statues to each other with their silvery webs. Giorgos is a large man. When he donned his apron and mask and took to his work with a blowtorch, he looked a bit like Hephaestus himself. Emmanuel, who is smaller, is quick and agile. He capered around Giorgios while he worked, approaching, receding, crouching, leaping from place to place, looking for the perfect angle.

Dimitris Tzoumakas sat at his desk, surrounded by books and art and lit by a dusty chandelier. Here, the cramped space limited Emmanuel’s exuberant physicality but not his eye. In Dimitris, Emmanuel found an artist who uses words with the same directness Emmanuel brings to his photos, a surface simplicity concealing complexity and nuance.

Theatre Alkminis Emmanuel produced the potent image of actor/director Manolis Ionas standing nude on his stage in the pose of an ageing Kouros, then in instinctive solidarity he stripped off his shirt to be photographed seated semi-naked next to a bare-chested Manoli. Photo: Supplied

It was essential to visit Nikos Gazepis in his home. This intensely creative man lives surrounded by his work. Entering his house is like taking a tour of his brain. Nikos told us how his father would tally the day’s takings on the kitchen wall using a square carpenter’s pencil and how he, Nikos, would use the same pencil to draw animals on the wall near the numbers. Every year, everything would be concealed by a layer of whitewash, but when it came time to paint the walls, those layers were scraped off, falling in tiny flakes, bearing the markings of black lead that had once been part of a number or a drawing. It was precisely the kind of thing that would be noted by the child to be remembered by the man eight decades later and precisely the sort of story Emmanuel habitually elicits from his subjects during those chats when he clicks away with his tiny camera.

Made in Thessaloniki 2023 by Emmanuel Angelicas.

The final day in Athens was with a professional French model because Emmanuel could not find a Greek model willing to pose in the nude. The images were elegant and sensual, but the process was a businesslike collaboration between the two.

Emmanuel sees, perceives and creates. His Urban Terrorist, photographed in 2000, for example, is standing on the roof, aiming a silenced gun at the aeroplane overhead. It is ambiguous; is he shooting the plane or shushing it? He pursues the image, the tale it tells and the tale it could mean. At Mt. Kissavos, we found a hermit’s cave and a stream with a wooden bridge. This was all he needed to visualize buxom naiads (more in the tradition of Norman Lindsay than Botticelli), swimming naked in that calm, clear water. Stories fill his mind like confetti at a wedding.

Ema (French model) photographed in Athens 2023 by Emmanuel Angelicas.

If Emmanuel was a stranger in Athens in Thessaloniki, he was home. Here was the Thessaloniki Photobiennale, where he first exhibited as an emergent talent two decades ago and was spotted by one of the founders, Aris Georgiou, who has become a lifelong friend. His exhibition, curated this time by Hercules Pappaioannou, consisted of many original images.

The pace was fast in Athens, but it was purposefully frenetic in Thessaloniki: we rarely ate before 11 pm and never got to bed before midnight. In the round of openings, artists’ talks, discussions and videotaping, including drone, Emmanuel gathered images, people and stories to add to his extensive archive, which contains everything he has ever done, including the first negatives from his first photos from his first camera from when he was seven years old.

Ema (French model) photographed in Athens 2023 by Emmanuel Angelicas.

From the Thessaloniki Marathon to workers on a building site, Emmanuel’s voracious eye sees potential everywhere, and when he approaches, he is rarely rebuffed. If anything, it often works the other way, with strangers coming to him to take the photo. He always obliges. There are no strangers in Emmanuel’s world, only possible subjects and collaborators. Serendipity is his companion.

Vasilis Vasiliades and Tim Anasta filmed, taped, and recorded, while curator and mentor Alan Davies participated in talks and discussions. And I just looked and learned, gathering new insights to ponder on my late-night walks home.

Made in Thessaloniki 2023 by Emmanuel Angelicas.

Emmanuel Angelicas does fall in love with his subjects. But here’s the thing, so do they; look at the photos.

Emmanuel Angelicas grew up in Marrickville, he graduated from the University of New South Wales with a Bachelor of Visual Communication in 1984, and a Post Graduate diploma in Professional Art Studies in 1985. In 1993 he graduated from the University of Sydney with a diploma in Secondary School Education – Visual Art.

Kiriaki Orfanos is a Sydney based writer and teacher and author of Kythera from the Air.