Reviving 9,251 km2

BedtimeStoryFRONT

 

I met Nikolas last May on occasion of a publication and touring photographic exhibition entitled 9,251 km2, showcasing a journey to the less frequented areas of the island.

At the time, we spoke about the challenge that Nikolas and his photography partner faced as they aimed to pay photographic tribute to the natural beauty of the island, both on land and in the sea; a journey with a goal to travel and experience the entire total surface area of Cyprus: 9,251 km2.

The resulting images are unlike any you have seen of Cyprus in the past; literally, the book celebrates the natural beauty of Cyprus in an elegant, polished and sophisticated way and offers a glimpse, at times literal and at times abstract, of forgotten places and moments of the island that allow viewers a proud look at Cyprus’ landscapes.

At the time I recall the challenges being, naturally, of a technical nature; capturing the right moment and seizing the right angle, finding the alternative locations in order to portray a vision of a Cyprus less travelled, or should I say a Cyprus almost absent in popular media.

But even then there was also a notion that Nikolas tried to slip between the lines; a pride for the beauty of the island and a resounding need to uplift the potential of locally produced work and not only.

Initially coming from different professional backgrounds, the two were led to explore their new ventures as photographers, but perhaps more so for Nikolas, his return to the island for this purpose also rang warning bells. Warning bells that gave meaning to the effects of the financial crisis that had just hit the island at the time, as well as the means the island was going to have to find in order to deal with it.

Within this context, realms of the local tourist product emerged. Nikolas had then expressed the desire to portray an alternative image of the island, a wish that eventually came true when viewers, in surprise, asked: “Are these really photos of Cyprus?” I was one of these people too.

The beauty of these images being capable of saying more than a thousand words portrayed more than the mere representation of the landscapes the duo was capturing. Eventually, it is through the words of the photographers themselves that the images began to tell stories.

By memory, one of these stories was that of a submerged village in the district of Limassol. The photo itself depicts the bell tower of a church half emerging from the waters of the dam it now inhabits. It’s difficult to tell whether the story is about what happened to that village, or church, or if the story has to do with where the church is, the elegance of the photo at hand, the privilege of the eye behind the lens that captured the moment.

 

Turning matter into postcards

A little more than a year later, the duo is back with a vengeance, or should I say an extension of what they started doing in the first place.

Maintaining the photography work carried out for the exhibition and publication, they have decided to present a selection of these in an alternative form; namely postcards.

There’s obviously a flaw here; handling a dying trend could be tricky. Yet the aspiration is that this initiative will revive the initial 9,251 km2 project and bring a breath of fresh air to the traditional products found as souvenirs within local tourist resorts.

A selection of 48 images, 24 from each photographer, have been transformed into classy postcards, featuring predominantly black and white images of the less travelled road the duo experienced some years ago.

And the design of ‘new’ display stands that accommodate their postcards are indicative of the determination behind the initiative.

Nikolas estimates this will be a five to seven year project, based on the fact that tourists, both local and foreign, will always come and go. But the process in which the photos will eventually be branded is also reassuring.

Keeping 24 photos in reserve, the duo will see how their photos are received based on the numbers of specific photos being bought and will, from time to time, replace the ones that are less ‘successful’ with the ones on reserve.

Nikolas defines this as a control mechanism which on the one hand will prevent the duo from adding to the selection, giving the product a concrete presence and on the other, will also enable them to carry on working on other projects.

It’s when we talk about the existing selection of images to be sent out by post that a more generalised picture of the local tourist product resurfaces in our conversation. But as opposed to last year, Nikolas grasps notions of the industry from a ground-breaking point of view.

Holding the beauty of the island in one hand, and the confidence of his work in the other, he refers to the existing postcards on the shelves which can only recall another era, that of the 1980s.

And considering this trip back in time,  the new images to be seen by the beginning of the next tourist season in April is revitalising. It’s when Nikolas describes the locations, angles and details of the postcards I shuffle through as we call it a day that I’m convinced that delving into the dying trend has more to it than just a challenging vision.

“This one (postcard) is to show how clear the waters are here,” Nikolas says as he points to a photo that was taken two metres under water looking up towards the sky. “In my mind, anyone would want to come and jump in this sea,” he smiles.

The photographers of the 9,251 km2 exhibition, publication and postcards are Nikolas Michael and George Pantazis. The publication can be found in major bookshops and at both international airports. Postcards are now available in selected outlets in Protaras, Limassol, Paphos and Troodos and will continue to be distributed throughout the year.

 

***Article published in The Cyprus Weekly Newapaper, August 2014

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