Before delving into Ilias Georgiadis’ journeys throughout the world and within himself, one picks up the stitched case, thin, black and squared like a vinyl record sleeve, with a pale blue title sheet on the front and a section of a contact sheet on the back. Both are partially attached to the textured paper, casually trembling as the book is taken out, a movement that announces the eyes’ own restlessness.
Vialattea, the title of the three-stanza poem by Matilde Vittoria Laricchia that accompanies the photographs, means ‘Milky Way’ in Italian. It is a word strong enough to conjure up the vastness and darkness of space, but also the cyclical passing of time, as we whirl year after year around the Sun. Georgiadis’ camera is in perpetual movement, too, seemingly on a train without destination, gazing outside the window at the fugitive landscape. The journey takes place in twilight, where only the brightest sources are visible to photographic film – is it the water gleaming, or the roundness of the full moon, or a lonely bulb in yet another station? The camera takes in the world in black and white. The ambiguous subject matter – the running earth, the collapsing buildings, the grand bodies of water, the pointing woman, the shimmer, the haze and the grain – disorients the viewer, denies them the solidity of the ground, the fixed point of view, the depth of a sharply focused image. There is a sense of rhythm, sometimes like a lullaby, floating along the landscape, and other times zooming in, falling abruptly into the photograph.
The pictures grow big, occupying the fullness of the page, and turn small, being attached to the book with tape. They are shown alone, on the black satin background of the paper, or in sequences, reproduced from contact sheets. The different scales and the layered blacks activate multiple points of view, moving the viewer through space, between background and foreground, and through time. On their own, the images slow down time, inviting contemplation, while the contact sheets create a countereffect and compress larger segments of the journey.
Georgiadis describes Vialattea as a series that deals with existential agony, his own way of coping with the heavy awareness of fragility and mortality. On the sunny autumnal afternoon that we speak over Zoom, his words surprise me, because at a first glance the book burdens me rather than lifts me up. There is no way for me to escape the racing train, although there is some degree of comfort in watching, in the distance that separates a viewer from the world, the inside from the outside. Georgiadis seems particularly invested in playing with our sense of balance, photographing familiar sights that anyone could happen upon in an uncanny way, reminiscent of post-war imagery, of William Klein, Kikuji Kawada or the Provoke movement. Similar tectonic societal changes are currently underway, with Greece still recovering from the 2008 economic crash and struggling with the refugee crisis. As we speak, we can hear in the background the voices making up an antifascist march; it is the eve of judges passing the verdict on the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn’s case. One could easily project the anxiety of a rapidly changing world onto Georgiadis’ images.
The tension between the multiple temporalities of the book, however, complicates how Vialattea is viewed and read. The time of the photograph is double: first, the split second of the camera shutter; then, its coming to light in the darkroom. Georgiadis allows a longer time in between shooting and developing, purposely forgetting and recovering the image. The vision of the outside is made up of the coarse grain of Kodak 400 TX, later blown up, scratches and dust revealing the very essence of film – its transparency. Vialattea is therefore as much about the journey, as it is about photography itself.
Georgiadis’ interest in physics and cosmology is made visible in his images of the sky, with its celestial bodies, and of dust particles on negatives, echoing the Universe.
The publication is the result of collaboration between Georgiadis, designers Valentino Barachini and Chiara Capodici, and editor Matilde Vittoria Laricchia. In it, the artist’s travels become a single mysterious, cinematic journey to nowhere in particular. But what is the purpose of moving without a terminus point? Georgiadis’ interest in physics and cosmology is made visible in his images of the sky, with its celestial bodies, and of dust particles on negatives, echoing the Universe. He tells me he started travelling and photographing in order to think. Once again intertwining scales, he puts the individual and the cosmic on the same progressive line, the arrow of time, where everything moves towards its ultimate fate – death. While spacetime expands and the Milky Way travels through the Universe, our body’s cells move too, to keep us alive, our neurons fire to give meaning to our existence. There is no surprise, then, that Georgiadis finds comfort in motion and anxiety in stillness.
Photography has a special relation to this anxiety, due to its ability to record for posterity the likeness of the world. There is a sense of intimacy, of safety in the film’s transparency, like a promise of showing everything ‘as it was’, no thing hidden. Of course, we now accept that photography is as opaque as any other form of representation, but that hasn’t stopped us from pointing our cameras to the world, in an effort to keep it still. In Georgiadis’ case, photographing seems to be a condition of the journey. If the final stop is stasis, death, a page that turns to reveal uniformly spread black ink, then he will keep on moving, camera firing, neurons firing, stars firing above his head, letting images flow from the world inwards and then spill outwards again.