by Katerina Paspala
Photographer Tzeli Hadjidimitriou is one Greece’s most hard-working and talented image creators and cinematographers. Obsessed with capturing stories through the lens, the results in her photos and short films draw on lyricism and are hauntingly poetic. Tzeli is opening an exhibition of her photos at Paddington’s Kudos Gallery. Part of the programme of the Greek Festival of Sydney, where she will present various events in conjunction with the Mytilinean Brotherhood of Sydney and the Kytherian Association.
We recently had a Kafedaki and chat to Tzeli about her passion for photography.
Where were you born and where do you reside?
I was born and grew up in Lesvos. Like many people I left my island home to go to University and I studied economics at the University in Thessaloniki. I then went to Rome and studied cinematography. I returned to Greece and made Athens my homebase. I began to photograph Greece and shared my time between Kythera, which I had fallen in love with and my beguiling homeland of Lesvos and the big-city of Athens.
Where in Greece do your ancestors come from?
My father and his ancestors as well as some of my mother’s family were from Anemotia in Lesvos. My grandmother was a refugee from Asia Minor and I was gifted with a deep sense of nostalgia and stories of the old world of Smyrna. The stories included the rituals and celebrations that my grandmother had experienced. My grandmother shared her love of a culture and education and lamented the world she had brutally taken from Asia Minor. To this day, I regard myself as a Lesvian of Asia Minor descent.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the age of 12, my grandfather gave me my first pocket camera. It was a Kodak and from that day I’ve been photographing the world. Photography is brilliant, I am able to catch time and beauty, it continues as my greatest form of creative expression. I now tell stories through the film-camera so the ability to frame a moment has become the basis of my current work. The film-camera has become the way to communicate with people. Through the camera lens I share my concerns about the world and needs of people.
I worked as a professional photographer for many years, both in the artistic worlds and in film and television. I published books of photography and travel. I have written several ‘off–the-beaten-track’ travel books including Kythera and Lesvos and my travel articles have been published throughout Greece. I have also exhibited my photos all over world including Athens, Instanbul and China. Today I work mainly as cinematographer/director.
With my pictures, I tell stories. Through my art, I want to “immortalise” the world that is lost because of globalisation. I photograph and film landscapes, empty buildings, spaces, people, at the limit moment before immersing in oblivion. Ruins, faded colours, old habits, and faces that do not seem to belong to their era, charm me and I want to keep them in my pictures. I look for issues that have the sense of truth, everything that has touched and has left its mark time. I photograph them when the light falls on them, transforming them and bringing them back to life. Light is my guide and this is the secret of my art.
How has your upbringing influenced what you are doing now?
I feel privileged to have grown up on a exceptional island in Lesvos, that is so sweet while also being so powerful in its historical presence in the Asia Minor Region and of course its unique people and lifestyles. But the amazing quality of light that I have yet to come across anywhere in the world, is made even more precious by the presence of the sea that is always there.
With the sea always present, along with the ouzo and octopus smells of salty, polite men and strong women, with the silver olive trees that plummeted towards the dark blue sea, these and other things made me what I am. Perhaps, if I was born elsewhere, I would not be a photographer. But how can you not touch this transformational quality of light? When I went to Kythera, (I was very young, 22 years old), always with a photographic machine in my hand, I began to understand that in Greece, in every corner of this land, light is changing. It passes through mountains, lakes, dry slopes, clouds, humid air, and transforms. I experienced this on Lesvos first, I realised it in Kythera and I searched it all over the rest of Greece. On top of that, this is the subject of my current report: Light, Greek Light, Magic.
As soon as the airplane enters the Greek airspace, everything changes, everything is multi-dimensional. Even if you are blind, you will feel it!
Apart from your family, what Greeks have influenced your life?
I grew up among teachers from both sides of the family. Education, has always been very important for my life. I grew up with principals and with a strict, just but fair father. But I have always been looking at life through the poetics of Imagining. This allows you to the Divine Within. This is essentially the essence of my film: In Search of Orpheus, which I will be presenting at the Greek Festival at 6pm on Wed 7 March. Orpheus was the greatest poet of all time, the symbol of human transformation. I have been very much affected by the Ancients. From Heraclitus, Orpheus, Greek myths, Hippocrates, the pre-Socratic philosophers, I grew up reading with Sappho, Cavafy, Elytis, Kavvadia, Seferis. The domain of the creative-space has always been my shelter in life.
What are you doing while in Australia?
I always dreamed of coming to Australia. When I was growing up, the houses and cafes of the villages were full of souvenirs with pictures of Australia. Half of them had migrated, and we lived with their memory. Proud of what they have achieved economically in their lives, and with a single sadness of separation. Some years ago I met Giorgos Kazantzis, Mytilenean from the same neighbourhood and told him that I wanted to make a photo exhibition, to show my work in Australia. Dancing with the Light photo exhibition at the Kudos Gallery, which is being opened on March 13 and includes photos from the two islands.
I will also have various showings of my films. Please check out the link below and if you come to see my films, come and chat to me.
What is your favourite Greek food?
My favourite food is ‘keftedakia’ (meatballs)…they remind me of my yiayia Renea’s. My grandmother and her ancestors gave me an appreciation of the unforgetable fagrant scents of spices and herbs that they had brought from Asia Minor. In my memory her keftedakia, were light and airy and smelled of Mint and Cummin. It is family folklore that when George Papandreou was the local representative, he would come to the village to eat her ‘keftedakia’ made by my yiayia’s hands.
DANCING WITH THE LIGHT – Photographs of Lesvos and Kythera
A: Kudos Gallery, 6 Napier Street, Paddington, Sydney
D: 13 – 17 March, 2018
KYTHERA, SECRET & UNEXPECTED
A: Kythera House, Level 1/24 King Street, Rockdale
D: Sunday 11 March at 2.30pm
THE SILENT PATHS- SHORT FILMS OF LESVOS
A: Mytilenean House, 225 Cantebury Road, Cantebury
IN SEARCH OF ORPHEUS- FILMAND Q&A WITH TZELI HADJIDIMITRIOU
A: Greek Community Club, Lakemba St, Lakemba.
For more details check out: greekfestivalofsydney.com.au/