It took 20 years and over 2000 photos for Dimitris Vlaikos to decide it was time to place the soul of his work into the body of a beautiful hard-cover coffee table book that could grace homes around the world.
Titled “Myrmidones” after the name given to the inhabitants of his native Aegina (the introduction aptly explains the various possibilities of where the name originates), the book is composed of images depicting an extraordinary blend of local characters, landscapes and everyday details. The book is mostly anthropocentric, because Vlaikos has honed the art of capturing his subjects’ personal essence without guidance, a talent that has gained him a great reputation as a portrait artist and numerous assignments to photograph well known personalities.
Leafing through the book was a deeply touching experience. The way in which the photographer has captured the essence of his subjects – human or not – makes it an ode of sorts to his home island, rich in emotion, but characterized by stark realism.
Vlaikos spends half of the year in Aegina, chiefly during the summer months, and the rest of his time travels to and fro between various work projects. By creating this book, it seems as if he has established an unbreakable bond with the Saronic island’s people, land and elements, regardless of where he finds himself.
It’s apparent by looking at your book that you harbor a great love for your island.
There are amazing people living there, and it is multifaceted in a way that I’ve rarely witnessed elsewhere. Also, what I love about Aegina is that you can be sitting at a café where there’s a minister drinking coffee and at the table next to him, a fisherman – and the waiter will treat each of them with the same courtesy – or the same rudeness! Some people have described the island as ataxic. You feel and see that.
I think that has a lot to do with the fact that most of the island is flat – so all houses are on the same level, and everyone has the same access and right to light. It’s the same with the sea. There aren’t some beaches that are more exclusive than others, anyone can go to any beach, or rock, and swim. Overall, Aegina seems to bring out a life force in people, and if you’re the kind of person that wants to evolve, it offers you that possibility.”
How did the book project evolve?
The Myrmidones reached a very high level of civilization in antiquity thanks to the elements of their land – the rock, the light, the sea, the raw materials, their drive to create. And until today, these elements remain essentially the same. So the book was my way of juxtaposing the Myrmidones of the past with those of today.
I also wanted to create a book that is like an art object, a beautiful memento to have in one’s house. I put a lot of care into every aspect – including the use of only black ink, which is very rare. I collaborated with a very good friend, the graphic artist Dimitris Makaratzis, who created the cover, as well as Despina Giannouli, who wrote the texts (in Greek and English) and is my wife and writes and directs theatre plays. My professor Vasilis Artikos, whose exhibition “In drum and dance at the rock-cut churches of Lalibela” is currently on show the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens, provided much advice and support, as well as other close friends.
How does the light of Aegina and influence your work?
In my research, I centered on the various elements of light. [In the book, Despoina Giannouli writes: “Thanks to the geomorphology of the island, almost all of its inhabitants can savor the light from sunrise to sunset. The paspara, the white stone and the fine-grained soil reflect the sun’s rays intensifying the colors of nature.”]
It’s not by chance that Nikos Kazantzakis lived there for 20-30 years, or Giannis Moralis, for most of his life, or Christos Kapralos, or the poet Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, and they all produced their work there – it wasn’t their place for holidays but for creative work. And today the island is home to over 100 artists, so this land, and especially its light has something special that has drawn so many creators from antiquity until the present day. Light is my tool, it’s what made me want to evolve my art.
Apart from light, what do you feel are the other strong elements that inspired this work?
I think the energy of the land plays a significant role, but that’s not something that I can define with words. In the book’s introduction to the origin of the name Myrmidones, one of the ways they’re defined is that they were “the people of the “myriad vibrations,” as Aegina was considered to be a region of strong and sacred energy vibrations, a place fertile for spiritual development.
How did you put the book together?
An important part of this book is the rhythm one follows as one turns the pages. I wanted it to create in the viewer a musical rhythm, a transition from image to image through a story of sorts, like a journey.
What will become of the rest of the photos you’ve taken?
They will remain in my archives, and maybe I’ll use them in future. I have a space in my studio/gallery space in Aegina where, upon appointment, one can come and see exhibits.
Central distribution of “Myrmidones” is at “Lixnari Aegina” Bookstore. E-mail: [email protected]. Tel: +30 22970 26424. Shipments are made throughout Greece and abroad.