By Alix Norman
Changes: for the better, and for the worse. We change our hearts, our minds and our tune, our place and our pace. And, with the New Year now well into its swing, we’ve all been making – or at least thinking about making – changes to our lives. Usually, it’s a good thing: we vow to work harder, be better, eat more healthily. But sometimes, as these transformations occur, we forget what we’re losing; what we’re leaving behind. And that – especially in a city that has undergone so many rapid changes in such a short period of time – is not always a good thing. So Old Nicosia Revealed is both a timely and, it would seem, necessary, venture.
A project which aims to photographically document much of the Old Town before it disappears forever, Old Nicosia Revealed is an inspired undertaking. Consider those quiet corners, bustling cafes, and abandoned buildings you knew as a child. They’re probably gone – mere memories fading to sepia in the mind’s eye – as new development floods in: alternative cultures, artisans’ workshops, cafes that serve smoothies and lattes rather than metrio and sketo are taking over within the walls. But while this progress is all well and good, there are those who feel that the rich past of Old Nicosia should not be forgotten. And they’re doing something about it.
Natalie Hami, OrestisTringides, Konstantinos Stergiopoulos, Marine Altunyan and Dogukan Muezzinler are the brains behind the project. Sharing a passion for photography and the Old Town, they’ve been working on Old Nicosia Revealed for almost three years, and – to date – have compiled a readily-available online archive of several thousand photos.
“Our common denominator is a desire to express our love for the Old Town,” says Orestis who, along with Natalie, is explaining the story of this collaborative project. “Though we all started for different reasons, we share a communal passion for our city. Personally, I spent many years of my childhood walking round the Old Town. Back then it was almost deserted, a place almost on the periphery of being. But it gave me the freedom to think, to deal with my teenage angst,” he smiles, “and enjoy the silence. And now, with the events of recent history – especially as relate to the Old Town – being seen almost as taboo, I like to think we’re bringing a new angle of honesty to the place. I feel people appreciate that we’re not historians or curators; we’re none of us expert photographers. We’re doing this as friends making synergies, being ourselves and expressing our thoughts in the hope that we can encourage others to do the same.”
For Natalie, the project fills a more immediate need: the desire to document things that she knew would soon be gone, such as the old signposts that pointed the way to places that no longer exist. “That’s how it all began, really,” she explains. “Three years ago, Orestis and I found ourselves in front of a Laiko Kafekopteion signpost in the backstreets, and thought it would be interesting to go round taking pictures of similar features. And it evolved very quickly from there to include old houses, interesting detailing, forgotten spaces… anything we thought the public might want to know about.”
It’s this sharing of knowledge that seems to be the driving force behind Old Nicosia Revealed. “It’s as much about the photos as about sharing a story and listening to what people have to say,” Natalie continues. “Often, we’ll post a description of what we think may have happened in a certain picture, and people come along and tell us something different. And that’s wonderful – we’re totally open to finding out the true story.”
With all of the photos categorised and – where possible – comprehensively captioned, the group always strive for an unbiased angle to their photographic accounts: “When we describe a picture, we try to use a neutral tone, in a way that encourages people to approach us with their stories,” says Orestis. “We might, for example, take a photo of a wall. And maybe a soldier has carved his name and rank on it – that’s a story right there. There’s often quite a lot of research involved,” he enthuses, “but it’s fascinating to find out more about our city and those who lived here in the past.
“We’ve even been able to return things to their rightful owners,” he continues, mentioning how the group used the internet to return important papers to someone now living abroad, “and through this project we’ve made a great many friends from all walks of life – soldiers, tourists, students, rangers, academics and the like. I think we’re helping in creating a community feeling, even among those who don’t live in the city. It’s almost a re-appropriation of the Old Town,” he adds, “and for me, if we can help build this positive trend in a fun open, friendly, respectful manner that would be great.”
Growing all the time, the group has recently added free workshops and expeditions (as well as a competition sponsored by the Home for Cooperation using public entries as a basis for real life souvenirs) to their repertoire, and hope to be ever-evolving: “More activities, new angles, additional people, fresh synergies, building an understanding and appreciation of Old Nicosia,” says Orestis. “And, most importantly, inspiring others. I want to feel I’ve encouraged people to know that Old Nicosia is theirs. We always tell people that this is, in fact, their project – there’s no Old Nicosia Revealed without you.”
“Heritage and old things in general,” Natalie concludes, “have not always been accessible to everybody. We’ve tried to move forwards so quickly, that often things are lost. So, I think, probably the most important thing Old Nicosia Revealed is doing concerns presenting and preserving our history – before we move forwards into the future.”
And the changes that inevitably brings. There’s still a lot to learn, it seems, from the lessons of our past before the ever-changing future sweeps them away…
Old Nicosia Revealed
A collaborative archive of photos pertaining to Old Nicosia. The gallery (as well as information on how to participate, dates and times of upcoming workshops, expeditions and events) is available on www.facebook.com.old.nicosia.revealed. For further information, visit www.oldnicosiarevealed.org or email [email protected]