“My father’s funeral brought back several memories regarding the way death is dealt with in my country, Greece,” explains photographer Ioanna Sakellaraki on her latest series The truth is in the soil. When she lost her father three years ago, the Royal College of Art graduate set out to realise a project that confronted “the impossible mourning” she felt for her father, while simultaneously contemplating the fabrications of grief from a Greek perspective.
Interested in how an image can affirm memories through the disappearance of its subject, Ioanna explores the notion of death from her Greek heritage in these new works. After extensively researching the subject, along with the help of a bursary from The Royal Photographic Society, Ioanna journeyed to the Mani peninsula to photograph its last professional mourners. Inspired by the origins of Ancient Greek laments, the photographer intended to capture traces of bereavement and grief through the emotive images.
Endeavouring to further understand her Greek roots, Ioanna became interested in the professional mourners in Mani through her academic background. Known for its breathtaking scenery, Mani’s traditions of ritual lamentation can be dated back to ancient times and the choirs of Greek tragedies. In these tragedies, it is tradition for the principal singer to begin the lament and the chorus to then follow.
But after centuries of progression, the art became a profession, one which is exclusively made up of women. Now a dying art however, the tradition has not been welcome to the younger generations, and Ioanna not only captures this, but also celebrates its historic ritualism. “With this work,” adds the photographer, “I am aiming to look at how the work of mourning contextualises our modern regimes of looking, reading and feelings with regards to the subject of death in Greece today.”
By connecting her poignant grief with the dramatisations performed by the professional mourners, she looked into the subjective spirituality of Greek death rituals. “In a way, these images work as vehicles to mourn perished ideals of vitality, prosperity and belonging,” says Ioanna. At the same time however, The truth is in the soil is also about memory and memory loss. For Ioanna, the two subjects are wholly interconnected when venturing through an experience of grief. “I wanted talk about what is lost; parts of memories that are reconstructed, just like how an image of a lost person appears in our minds after they are gone,” reiterates the photographer.
When we look at a photograph, whatever we remember or forget of that person or memory is only ever a possibility, or a fiction, tainted by the information presented in the image. “This is how a photograph works in itself,” says Ioanna. “It’s in the photograph’s nature to capture what is forever in the future or already in the past.” In turn, the artist worked particularly hard on “finding ways for the images to tell something further than their subjects alone.”
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