Glimpses of George Lanitis

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the death of Cyprus Weekly columnist George Lanitis’, I find myself flipping through the newspaper’s archives to discover more about his life.

George Lanitis passed away exactly ten years today and wrote his weekly ‘Cyprus Diary with George Lanitis’ until one edition before he died. So I turn to the Weekly’s issue dated May 27, 2005.

I find a spread dedicated to his life and personality: “Master of communication; man of pictures and letters, ambassador of art… Some memories of our father; Tributes abound from friends and colleagues,” are among the headlines of the snippets written by some of the people closest to him.

Alex Efthyvoulou was one of the founders of this paper, which Lanitis joined very soon after its launch in 1979. He managed to pinpoint Lanitis’ grandeur adequately, for attempting to describe a man of so many qualities is quite a daunting task.

“The best way to describe George Lanitis is as a master of communication — and by communication, I mean the great variety of formats that George mastered to express himself and to get his point of view over to others,” wrote Efthyvoulou.

“He was, of course, first and foremost a media man. This is a generic term that covers people who made a name for himself, and not just in Cyprus, but internationally, as a master of all that “media” means. He worked as a photographer, a filmmaker, as a journalist, both as a reporter and as a photographer, and in his later years as a diarist, as an editor, as a public relations official, and artistic director, an author.

“That is a lot of things for someone to leave.”

Though his family roots originate in the Limassol village of Lania, Lanitis was born in Famagusta on February 23, 1936 and grew up and worked in Nicosia. He lived in Bellapais village of the Kyrenia District until the 1974 invasion, whereupon he moved to Psevdas village in Larnaca, where he lived with his family and maintained his working studio.

Among Lanitis’ many, many occupations and achievements, was his work at the ‘Times of Cyprus’ newspaper and then at the BBC, where he was appointed head filmmaker. He worked as a film director and head of International and Public Relations at the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (RIK); he worked as a Press Officer in the Cyprus High Commission in London and was elected Secretary General of the Commonwealth Arts Organisation. He was editor of ‘Cyprus Diplomatist Magazine’ for 24 years – all whilst maintaining a regular column in this paper.

Larger than life
Perhaps one of the best advocate Lanitis’ life path is his wife, Androulla Laniti, also a prominent figure in the Cyprus community. She was initially the director of the Public Information Office and later moved on to the Foreign Ministry’s department of press and public relations.

Androulla smiles at me as I tell her I am trying to get a clear picture of a man who was so active, but also a person who I only read and never met. “For someone who didn’t know him, [I would say] he was a generous person whose friends, upon his death, descriptively said that ‘he was larger than life’.”
As we delve into Lanitis’ past, Androulla doesn’t shy from exuding a bright side to her stories; her words are full of humour, laughter and obviously admiration for a man she followed through thick and thin.
Sitting in the old mud-brick house the couple shared in Psevdas, Androulla laughs as she recalls the photographs he left behind in his studio, the books he published, the many copies of the ‘Cyprus Diplomatist Magazine’, the thousands of negatives, films and slides which he never managed to digitalise, the “150 olive trees and a swimming pool!”

Eventually, Androulla defines George’s areas of activity into four areas: although photography is one which seems to have been held closer to the heart.

As founder of the Cyprus Photographers Association in 1960, George was interested in landscapes and humans. “He started off taking black and white photos and he published his first photography book in 1965: ‘The Island of Aphrodite’”, Androulla tells me. “Then he experimented, and when the invasion took place, he left it for a while.”

In 1982, George had his first solo exhibition, a period when he began experimenting again with photography and movement. “After his first exhibition, he was nominated Maître de la Federation International de l’Art Photographique, and then he began manipulating his negatives on computer and did abstract photography which was his last work before he died,” says Androulla.

In his own words
It is after this exhibition that George wrote: “I did not touch a camera seriously for years. I created many pictures in my mind but never photographed them. I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before; something beyond the medium of still photography, where I could combine my knowledge of Cinematography with still photography. This moment came in 1980, in Long Island, USA.

“I gently started moving my old Leica, as I photographed the soft autumn colours that are so distinctive around New York. I took a set of pictures to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and showed them to people.

“Are these works by Francis Bacon?” somebody asked, and I thought how cruel the Americans were. It was, in fact, an American compliment and I was encouraged to carry on.

“I did.

“That was the beginning of introducing movement into still photography, which gave me great pleasure.
“My exhibition in Nicosia gave me the satisfaction of knowing that my compatriots appreciated this unearthly form of photography, which was inspired largely by the poetry of T.S. Eliot.

“Suddenly, my photography was resurrected and I received invitations for exhibitions in Europe, Asia and Africa. The Federation International de l’Art Photographique awarded me the title of Maître on the basis of this work and I found my way into prestigious museums and galleries in Europe.”

Bon viveur
George Lanitis was also a person who loved good food and wine. As Androulla attests: “the French made him a ‘Chevalier de la Confrérie du Tastevin’ in 1994”.

“There was another ingredient, however: the fact that he was a bon viveur par excellence through his love for the good things of life, which he always wanted to share. Good company, good food and wine, where he excelled both as a cook and a wine connoisseur, coupled with his desire, through his socialist inclination, to strive for a better world, for justice, respect for human rights and the enjoyment of things that he enjoyed by people everywhere, that made him what he was,” wrote Alex Efthyvoulou, ten years ago today.

*** Published in the Cyprus Weekly

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