Presenter: Leonard Janiszewski
Since the early 1980s, Effy Alexakis’ photographic work has been quite diverse, ranging from commercial photo shoots in a studio or location, to specialist site photography on archaeological digs in Egypt. Her personal passion though has been the photographic documentation of Australia’s historical and contemporary Greek presence.
Renowned photographic critic Robert McFarlane, has applauded her images of Greek-Australians, highlighting that “there is a consistent humanity in Alexakis’ photographs, coupled to outstanding craft. Her photographs are never of the subject merely placed against an appropriate background. Quality of light appears crucially important to this photographer, as is the body language of her subjects… There is also a little of the great Magnum photographer Constantine Manos in her capacity to embrace the Greekness of herself and her subjects. Manos struggled and ultimately succeeded in coming to terms with his ancestry in his book A Greek Portfolio. Alexakis ploughs a similar field with equal dignity.”
What commenced as a standalone photographic essay in Alexakis’ post-graduate photographic studies – comparing and contrasting the transference and evolution of Greek cultural customs in Australia to those traditionally held in Greece – found ongoing resonance with her identity of self, place and heritage. With the sudden death of her father in 1983, Alexakis painfully and personally recognised how swiftly the history of migrant/settler families could be lost. Moreover, she observed that broad public and media perceptions of groups from non-English speaking background in Australia propagated misleading stereotypes. Alexakis consequently set out to document the historical and contemporary Greek-Australian presence, not only within Australia, but internationally. Her project title reflected her concern for self-empowerment in regard to the socio-cultural historical and contemporary identity of the Greek presence in Australia: “In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians”.
For well over three decades, Alexakis has undertaken countless photographic fieldtrips documenting Greek-Australian communities and individuals, both here and overseas. Major international and national touring exhibitions, books, articles, film documentaries, radio programs, lectures, and representation in both public and private photographic collections – including the National Gallery of Australia – have resulted, as has the recognition that her “In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians” project and archive is one of the most significant resources for original visual, oral, textual and memorabilia material on Greek-Australians in the country.
This lecture will provide an overview of Alexakis’ work, through her influences, socio-political outlook and the major themes she has pursued, evidencing her rise and development as a significant Australian social documentary photographer of Greek heritage.
Documentary photographer, Effy Alexakis, and historian, Leonard Janiszewski, have been researching the Greek-Australian historical and contemporary presence in both Australia and Greece since 1982. Their project and archives, In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians, encompasses visual, oral and literary material and is based at Macquarie University, Sydney. Their archive is one of the most significant collections in the country on Greek-Australians.
Various national and international touring exhibitions, three major books, over 200 book chapters, articles, conference papers, and three film documentaries have been produced. Of their exhibitions, the most pronounced have been ‘In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians’ and ‘Selling and American Dream: Australia’s Greek Café’. The former was created in partnership with the State Library of NSW and toured throughout Australia as well as Athens and Thessaloniki in Greece; in Athens it was part of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Cultural Festival, ‘Reaching the World’ and in Thessaloniki it was invited as the Australian component of the City’s ‘Cultural Capital of Europe 1997’ program. The latter opened at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra, in 2008, and is still touring.
Alexakis’ photographs are held in both public and private collections in Australia – most significantly in the Australian National Gallery, Canberra, and the State Library of NSW, Sydney. She currently works as a freelance photographer after completing 25 years service as Senior Photographer with Macquarie University. Alexakis has been ranked in the top ten portrait photographers in Australia. In 2001 Janiszewski was awarded the New South Wales History Fellowship to research a history of the ‘Greek café’. Both Alexakis and Janiszewski are Research Fellows with the Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations at Macquarie University. Janiszewski is also a Curator with the Macquarie University Art Gallery. Alexakis and Janiszewski have served on numerous history and arts committees.
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