“Caesura” is a collection of photographs about the transitory state of the people who entered Greece after crossing the Aegean Sea—the infamous “death passage”—on their way from their homelands in Asia and Africa to the land of promise and hope: Europe.
Typically the term “caesura” means the brief silence in the middle of a poetic verse or a musical phrase. I use it in this context to represent the silent break amid two periods of loud “activity” in a violent and distressed narrative.
The characters in “Caesura” take on temporary identities as they pose for the camera in frames of transition and uncertainty. They embody ambiguous sensations of restlessness and tranquility; also present is a sense of timelessness and durability, as if these people have existed beyond time. They stand still in an in-between psychological state, on the verge of anonymity—suspended in space between two discontinuous moments. They are not a nameless mass: they have distinct identities and names, recognizable faces that reveal courage, determination and stamina. And yet, they are plunged into the melancholy of the temporary landscape in which they were caught: an eternal space characterized by the gloominess of the border scenery.
The surrounding environment is uncertain and confusing. It lacks distinct landmarks, and yet it represents an actual and relevant topographic context. It is a space caught in a transitory time “in-between,” an archetypical condition where—as Wittgenstein put it—life happens “outside space and time.”
For the viewer, there is an almost a categorical impression that these characters travel anonymously in a mass exodus. Their sobriquets underline this. They are named as a group: refugees, migrants. Like a swarm of people who escape from a building on fire. Nevertheless, in reality they have names as well as families and friends who recognize them and pray for them; they are not just nameless faces.
In these photographs, we can see how life is occurring in an allegoric and literary “Waste Land.” To quote T.S. Eliot’s poetic landscapes: “Under the brown fog of a winter dawn…sighs short and infrequent” are exhaled…
“Caesura” is a collection of the personal narratives and private moments of people who are caught in an intermediate and neutral space; they pause here before continuing their journey, building and shielding temporary microcosms.
These images serve as evidence of their newfound freedom; they are reminiscent of the photographs taken by early Italian and Greek migrants to America that were then sent to their relatives back home, declaring their successful arrival in the actual (and symbolic) new world. They signify the adoption of a new identity.
The photographs in “Caesura” do not attempt to provide answers or make a historic statement about this phenomenal mass exodus by exposing human agony. Rather, they seek to raise questions about the human condition and the nature of identity.
—Demetris Koilalous, Athens, 2016
Editors’ Note: Demetris Koilalous is a member of the LensCulture Network, a recent initiative we launched with the idea of offering talented, accomplished photographers a place to showcase their work on a global stage while also giving them a place to share, learn and engage with one another. The LensCulture Network began with a small number of hand-picked members, and we are very excited to watch it grow and evolve.
If you’re interested in seeing more work on this topic, we’d encourage you to check out one of these previous features: Award-winning photojournalist Sergey Ponomarev’s series on the refugee crisis; Tourists vs. Refugees, a jarring sequence of photos that pairs the two irreconcilable groups of people; and The Stateless, Placeless Desert, an affecting (and elegant) series on the relationship between body and home in Iran.