By Alix Norman
Once upon a time we had a holiday home in the mountains: ringing church bells punctuated the hours, goats pushed and paraded down the narrow streets, the smell of zivania from the still enough to make you feel quite tipsy. This, to me, was the true Cyprus, an island where black-clad grandmothers crocheted under the lemon trees while their husbands drank sketo in the sun. And until recently, it was a way of life that I thought had been lost. But I’ve been proven wrong: the true Cyprus still exists, if you know where and how to look – and it’s all been captured on film in a new exhibition entitled Impressions of a Mediterranean Island.
James Blake is the photographer, and though he hasn’t been long on the island, his love for every facet of the landscape, the architecture and – most importantly – the people shines out of every one of his 140 images. “Cyprus is a beautiful and fascinating island for any visitor, with an incredible history dating back 9,000 years,” says this world-traveller, a man who has lived and worked in all four corners of the globe, but his favourite place to photograph, he professes, is definitely Cyprus.
“I love history, and there’s so much of it here,” he says. “Greek, Roman, Persian. Crusader castles and Byzantine churches, Gothic cathedrals and Venetian cities. There’s always somewhere to go and something to see on this island. It’s like a history book.” But despite his love of his newfound surroundings, he admits that it’s the actual inhabitants of the island who really inspire his work: “The Cypriot people are fascinating and so friendly,” he says warmly. “It makes it easier to approach them, not only to photograph them but also to chat to them and learn about their lives. They have so much character,” he adds. “You could take a picture of a landscape, a building, and it would probably be the same in 200 years, but the people are truly unique in the moment.”
Having studied art and sculpture, graphic and web design, James clearly has a strong creative bent which he believes helps in his work: “I think I have an informed eye for something that might become a picture,” he muses. “Most of my work is pretty spontaneous, I don’t tend to sit around for hours trying to get each shot absolutely right. I just walk down the street and think ‘that looks good!’”
Not only has James worked all over the world, he’s also published three books of his photography. The first, On the Road was “a starting point,” he says, “photographs from the places I’d been, South Africa, Morocco, the Americas.” While the second focused more on the locals of the various countries, it’s the third of his publications that’s particularly relevant to Cyprus. The book shares its name and subject with his latest exhibition, Impressions of a Mediterranean Island, and in it one feels he has captured the true Cyprus: “It’s the whole island,” he says. “And though a lot of it is the people, there’s everything from landscapes to lizards and monasteries to mosaics.”
And perhaps a fresh perspective is what we jaded residents really need to rekindle our love for the country, a fresh eye to see what we’re all missing: “The exhibition is a reflection, I think, of how much I love Cyprus,” James concludes. “There’s no pretension to it, I’m not trying to be a great artist. It’s just about sharing what I’ve seen of this wonderful island and its people.” And with Impressions of a Mediterranean Island – both the book and the exhibition – James seems to have captured the real Cyprus.
Impressions of a Mediterranean Island
Photography exhibition by James Blake is hosted at Elefsis cafe/bar in Laiki Yitonia. Until June 8, viewable from 6pm onwards every evening. Over 140 framed works will be on display, with prices ranging from €20 – €150. Entrance is free. For further information on James Blake, visit www.jamesblakephotographer.co.uk or call 99 859344