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Sunlit Sentiments: Yorgos Efthymiadis’s “The Lighthouse Keepers” at Gallery Kayafas     

The photographer honors the queer communities in Greek locations where he came of age, revealing a tension between preservation and belonging.

Review by Douglas Breault

Photographs by Yorgos Efthymiadis, featuring scenes of nature and profiles of individuals, line the walls of the gallery.

Installation view, “The Lighthouse Keepers,” Gallery Kayafas, 2024. Photo by Alina Balseiro.

“The Lighthouse Keepers,” a solo exhibition by Yorgos Efthymiadis at Gallery Kayafas, presents a warm constellation of photographs that depict faces and homes from the seaside community in Greece where the artist was raised. A current resident of Somerville, Efthymiadis is known for celebrating photography with his project The Curated Fridge, which showcases postcard-sized prints from artists across the world on his kitchen refrigerator. In this new show, the pensive images capture aging architecture and skin affectionately adorned by the sun. The exhibition opened in Boston only a few days after the legalization of same-sex marriage across the nation of Greece. Efthymiadis reveals how complicated it is for queer folks to balance identity and culture within this community, finding a quiet tension between preservation and belonging. The exhibition’s title suggests the offering of safety and guidance through treacherous waters—and the potential risks involved.

In the image titled Stelios Z, a man in red stands in the doorway of an empty room and peers into the distance, turning from view and concealing his face. The silhouette of his form is mimicked in the crumbling wall to his left, revealing a void of bricks. While the light within the photographs typically steers the viewer to the figure, this cluster of photographs enlists shadows to protect the figures from onlookers. The repetition of doorways and windows is putting these figures within boxes that hover between spaces seen and unseen. The individuals and architecture are stitched together by a holy glow of sunlight. The prints are meticulous, containing details that beckon viewers to lean closer, to linger with the warmth and sincerity of tender connections, and the stillness within each image is palpable. Unframed photographs are clustered to merge the identities with their spaces, becoming an entangled story that is drawn together through repeating, oscillating forms, reflections, and horizon lines.

Yorgos Efthymiadis, (clockwise from bottom center) Stelios Z, 2019, Icons, 2019, House, 2022, Christo S, 2019, Door, 2023. Installation view, “The Lighthouse Keepers,” Gallery Kayafas, 2024. Photo by Alina Balseiro.

Efthymiadis considers how queer communities can be represented and the histories a photograph can contain. He notes in his artist statement, “Growing up, so many of us were queer in our seaside town we joked ‘it must be in the water.’ Some have left, many have stayed.” Shot in Nea Moudania, Thessaloniki, and Athens, the photos in “The Lighthouse Keepers” developed over the course of six years of returning home to locations in Greece where the artist came of age. The images of the artist’s friends and family members communicate as a poignant whisper rather than an overt scream. All of the portraits within the exhibition withhold any exuberant expression of emotion; instead, the people are postured as careful listeners. In Efthymiadis’s photograph titled Mirsini A (2023), a beautifully tanned woman gazes softly downward against the backdrop of a faded floral pattern. The saturation from her ruby necklace draws the eye to the climbing roses in the photograph hung to the left of her image, bringing contrast to the vital stem of flowers and the fading room behind her. Her gaze is not indifferent but rather seems apprehensive of attention. The surrounding photographs suggest a beautiful isolation, tucked away by levels of stairs and revealing an empty space to confide in, a small refuge from a culture that is lingering in a traditional past.

An arrangement of three photographs, Field A, Field B, and Field C, in a tight row traces the movement of shadows within the grass, asserting the banality of the space as a worthwhile subject for understanding the passage of time. The arrangement is situated above a portrait of Costas, who Efthymiadis looked to as a queer elder when he first came out as a queer man himself. The grasses and weeds appear to stretch out in front of a misty or golden horizon, but upon closer inspection are actually growing right in front of walls from abandoned buildings.

Yorgos Efthymiadis, (clockwise from bottom left) Costas T, 2022, Field A, 2023, Field B, 2022, Field C, 2022, and Ailanthus, 2023. Installation view, “The Lighthouse Keepers,” Gallery Kayafas, 2024. Photo by Alina Balseiro.

Other sun-drenched scenes are simple depictions of windows, gates, and walls that articulate the history of the homes, highlighting the growth of plants and lingering penumbras that stretch across the space. Hundreds of seashells collected into bottles, original mid-century furniture, and Christian crosses adorning the interior walls appear to have been untouched for generations. This town is one where inhabitants tend not to leave, and the ocean horizons peeking through the corners of the homes evoke an ache of isolation or captivity.

Yorgos Efthymiadis, (clockwise from left) Thomasson, 2023, Yorgos Z, 2019, Akalyptos A, 2023 Akalyptos B, 2023, and Trumpets, 2023. Installation view, “The Lighthouse Keepers,” Gallery Kayafas, 2024. Photo by Alina Balseiro.

Efthymiadis photographs the landscape of Greece as a place that falls short of paradise, suggesting a compromise between the queer individuals and the walls and windows that obstruct views of the outside world—perhaps keeping them from fully being a part of it. As a whole, the images contain a meditative rhythm steeped with care and admiration for queer folks and compassion from others who shape their experiences. Efthymiadis matches the empathy of the community that fostered his development with careful attention to the domestic reveries and the intimacy of human connection, bathed in a resilient light. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Yorgos Efthymiadis’s “The Lighthouse Keepers” is on view at Gallery Kayafas and has been extended through March 30, 2024.

 

Douglas Breault

Contributor

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