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Ioanna Sakellaraki, at just 31 years of age, has already crystallized a concrete and solid view on photographic depiction

Ioanna Sakellaraki

Images of memory and loss

Text: Tassos Retzios | Photographs: Ioanna Sakellaraki's Archive
Ioanna Sakellaraki
Ioanna Sakellaraki
Winning a prestigious award at an international competition, such as the Sony World Photography Awards, is by definition an accomplishment. Doing so based not only on personal experience, but on a unique and distinctly shaped vision as well, gives added value to your feat.
 

Ioanna Sakellaraki is the well-earned recipient of the “Student Photographer of the Year 2020” award, as a post-graduate student of the London-based Royal College of Art, thanks to a project titled “The Truth is in the Soil”. This project was the outcome of a 4-year research on collective grief and the rituals of women’s mourning, as expressed through the traditional lamentations of Mani.

“As a general rule, when I kick off a project, I have no predetermined ideas, allowing myself to be carried away by my theme and my aesthetic approach towards what I desire to portray through the photographic lens,” she points out. “My most recent work revolves around both the notion and the loss of memory: how they fully interconnect when experienced through grief. I envisage my work as a vision, not as a testimony. My goal is to instigate the viewer to rethink photography through the prism of a transition to new scenery, to a place where reality and imagination coincide, in a limbo between different worlds, at the crossroad of ancestral rituals, personal trauma and time.”

What was it, though, that drove her to immerse herself into the world of traditional lamentations? “Through my keen interest to ruminate on ceremonial lamentation as a transcendental field, where body and emotion become one, in a rite that revolves around death, I allowed myself to delve into the linguistic and lyric aspects of lamentations, which ultimately served as a source of inspiration”.

Inspired by Greece
At the second stage of the Sony competition, Ioanna Sakellaraki was called to carry out a different theme project, titled “Sustainability Now”. So, she took a trip to Tilos and came up with “Aeiforia”, a series of night shots, where technology co-exists with the island’s landscape.

“Greece is a constant source of inspiration and locus of encounter in this project, albeit depicted in an imaginary way. The idea of homeland functions as a getaway, leading the viewer to a place beyond the boundaries of memory, to a land of oddity. Would it be accurate to say that the notion of travel and wandering to different places and times is a key component of her work? “My work as a photographer builds a locus of imagination and loss, placed within the magic voltage of reality transfiguration made possible only though the camera. By consciously adding a new visual interference stimulus to what has already been established as ‘reality’, my photos work as vehicles of mourning over the lost ideals of vitality, prosperity and belonging, aiming to portray something deeper than their object or topic, while setting up a ground that gives prominence to the salience of death. Binding together my personal grief with the dramaturgy performed by the wailing women, I search for the subjective spirituality embodied in Greek death rituals.”

When does one sense that a moment deserves to be captured? “The capturing of a moment takes place not only when a picture is taken, but during the stage of processing as well, as if you’re engaged in a constant dialogue with the picture. My work’s form fuels this dialogue, as it moves in-between the abstract notion of grief and its close relation with the reprocessing of memory occurring in times of mourning. My intention is to speak of what is lost along the way, of the bits and pieces of memories that are being reshaped, similar to an image of a deceased person that resurfaces in our mind. As we take a look at a picture, whatever we remember of forget, either as an eventuality or as a fragment of fiction, encompasses the blurring of all information presented through the picture. It is in the nature of photography to capture what will be eternally confined in the future, what is already pertaining to the past.”

“In my line of work, photography is transformed into a cradle of loss, serving as a passage to a borderline place of absence and presence. By contemplating on the way a picture can bring forth memories through the disappearance of its object, I navigate through the notion of death, seeking traces of grief and sorrow in the Greek cultural heritage,” explains Ioanna Sakellaraki.

Towards the future
What kind of emotions does this recent award trigger inside of her? Does it offer a different kind of boost? “I feel proud when hard work gains recognition. Receiving acclaim is definitely one of the most positive parts of the whole process, but what holds the greatest importance is to see the underlying ideas and notions of your work spur a sense of interest and understanding to people coming from different cultures and backgrounds.”

As to her future plans, Sakellaraki goes on to say: “I am currently working on my thesis titled “Archiving the Disaster: Preservation, Separation and Encounter”, having received a doctoral scholarship by the British Arts and Humanity Research Council. This PhD is an interdisciplinary study on the archives of two top-notch world organizations: the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), based in Austria, and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), based in Switzerland. My goal is to probe not only how the image of an impending disaster becomes a platform for the enigmatic relation between memory and loss, but also the ways through which these images generate contemporary narrations, whose topic is constantly modified through technology. The research will be showcased in various forms and mediums (audiovisual material, manuscripts, printed files), aiming to delve into the paradox emerging at the meeting point of preservation, death and survival.”

Who Is Who
Ioanna Sakellaraki is a Greek visual artist. Her work investigates the relationship between collective cultural memory and fiction, exploring the boundaries of a primitive, yet futuristic vision of places and people. She was recently awarded a Doctoral Scholarship for undertaking her PhD in Art after obtaining a Master of Arts in Photography, from the Royal College of Art. She is the recipient of “The Royal Photographic Society Bursary Award 2018” and was named “Student Photographer of the Year” at the 2020 Sony World Photography Awards. In 2019, she was awarded with the “Reminders Photography Stronghold Grant” in Tokyo and the “International Photography Grant Creative Prize”. Her nominations include: the Inge Morath Award by Magnum Foundation in USA, the Prix HSBC, the Prix Levallois and the Prix Voies Off in France. Her work has been exhibited internationally in art festivals and galleries across Europe, Morocco and Israel, with a recent solo show within the framework of the European Month of Photography in Berlin. Her projects have been featured in prestigious media, such as The New Yorker, The Guardian and Deutsche Welle. Most recently, she was invited as a guest speaker in the Martin Parr Foundation and the London Institute of Photography.

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