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Book Review

Title: Nisyros, Nymph of the Aegean

Author: Nikos I.  Chartofylis

Photographer: Cornelis de Vries

Publisher: Athens, Fytraki Publications, 2001

ISBN: 960-535-183-8

Reviewed by Paul Campanis (the younger)

The Nymph is simply an amazing book.   The photographs capture the heart and spirit of Nisyros like nothing that I have ever seen before.   Strangely, this book did not catch my attention for two years. And it certainly is as captivating as any quality photo books.  Perhaps this is because, as I later found out, the publisher did not market it heavily.  It could also be that other books on Nisyros were released at the time.  Maybe people lost this gem in the mix.  Whatever the reason is unimportant.  What is important is the way the poet and photographer worked together to produce such a wonderful work.   The lithography for the book, published by 'Fytraki', is excellent.

The format of the book is very simple.  As you open the book, the right leaf is a large striking photograph.  Underneath the photo is a one-line description of the photo in Greek, English, German and Dutch.  On the left hand leaf is a short poem about the photograph written also in Greek, English, German and Dutch.  

So we have a book that is perfect for light reading, meditation and the best cure for my home sickness.  It is a perfect addition to a coffee table collection.  

The photographer is Cornelis de Vries.   Cornelis has adopted Nisyros as a special place in his heart.  He has taken over 5000 shots of the Island and he knows every inch of my homeland.  He does not retouch or crop photos.  His art stands on its own.  Some of the pictures were extremely dangerous to take and for this and his other efforts, we are extremely grateful.  

Other photographs are of life on the island and really portray the soul of the place and it's inhabitants.  There are many pages devoted to the older buildings.  They make me wonder what life was like back then perhaps when my great grandparents lived.  

One of the photos that touches me a lot is the image of a wedding wreath case taken in Emborios.  This small cabinet must have held the wedding finery from a marriage that took place over 100 years ago.  The poem next to it reads: "Hail, wedding-wreath case at Emborios, wounded by monster Time."

The photo reminds me of the 28 years that I walked through my great grandparents homes in Mandraki looking at all of their possession and wondering what life must have been like before in this place.  It gave me a longing for my grandmother who departed this world in 1974.  It also gave me hope that the wounded case would be healed and remembered as we continue to make thorough renovations to these homes.  

I also liked the way the poet referred to "time" as a monster.  What a monster it is! It helps me to learn to make the most of the time that I do have and not waste it on unimportant things.  

It is exceptional that a book can really reach down into you and grab a hold.  This book is one of those rare works.  I highly recommend it.  

The poet, Nikos I.  Chartofylis, died before the book was published.  Since Nikos was not able to speak, he communicated with Cornelis by using paper and pencil in Greek and English. The poems demonstrate clearly that Chartofilis understood the true character of the monster Time.  

Click Here to View Book Cover

What follows are some notes that Cornelis, the photographer, wrote to give some more insight, inspiration and information for those who possess the book:
Cornelis Writes:

I would like to invite you for an imaginary walk through the book.  Not page by page: more like picking flowers.   We will not take them all.  Let's see what we will find.  

The book opens with a glorious sunrise, made from Panagia i Spiliani, and ends right before sunset, showing Lefkandio, seen from the same place.  In between, the album guides us along Nisyros' special places in a logic sequence.  

On page 21 we find a panoramic view of Panagia i Spiliani: look at the waves; so sensitively colorful.  

Page 29 is one of my favorites: during all my visits to the island, I saw Pali only once with such a smooth sea.  

Page 33 shows Emborios in parabolic composition hugging the mountains' saddle in pastel colors.  

Page 39 shows ruthlessly the bittersweet character of our existence.  

The blue room and its broken window glass, somewhere in Emborios on page 41: For the eye the room seems empty; the soul however feels the emotions belonging to the house: as if one can hear the voices of the people that lived there once.  

Page 44 is depicting an old house in decay.  It is still so beautiful though.  Look at the wall's color purple and rusty brown in all their shades; the window and the door seem so dreadfully functionless: the scenery had a strong impact on me and I stayed speechlessly standing in the house quite a while, before I took my camera.  

Of course, I love the image of page 47 with Anthoula and Smaro.  After about three hours taking posed pictures, I told the girls to take a break.  They walked away onto one of the terraces, having a lot of fun.  Seeing such a delightful picture in red and green, I picked a huge bunch of flowers and had my ultimate image of Nisyrian women in their traditional dresses.  Surprisingly enough, as Anthoula saw this image, she was a bit angry with me.  She thought she looks terrible on the image.  However both Anthoula and Smaro are wonderful and so typical Nisyrian on the picture.  I know many people will recall golden memories seeing this image, including Loula.  

Page 49: the bell tower of the church in Emborios seems to float above the paper in a three dimensional way.  Before I got this image, I took several photos of the bell tower year after year.  Finally, back in Holland analyzing the transparencies, I understood how to make the picture.  Absolutely symmetrically in just two colors: blue and white.  

As I walked through the narrow streets of Nikia, I discovered the freshly painted signboard meant for a grocery shop.  Well, the rest was just following my inner voice: one page 53 you can see the result.  

Everybody loves the image of the two bottles on page 63: 'husband and wife' as Nikos Chartofylis wrote.  What is it in those bottles and the old door that touches people? By the way, on the round part of the 'female' bottle the photographer's reflection can be seen.  

Taking the image of page 67 was almost fatal.  I wanted to get rid of the grey piece of rock in the lower right corner of the picture.  Trying to kick it away, I generated a cascade of stones and dust from underneath my feet except the stubborn grey one.  Was it a goddess that whispered into my ear: 'Come on, matia mou, don't be a fool; leave it?

The image of page 69 was a tough one again: the colors of the rocks and the sand both in the sunlight and in the shadows remain open from orange-yellow to purple-blue.  Good litho-photography!

The green scenery on page 73 showing Ramos and the Volcano, with Parlendia in the distance remains a miracle.  Explain to the people that they should come in spring instead of summer: they may think you are just another fool on the hill.  

The tree on page 75 fell some months after I had taken this picture: three images weren't in focus* and I had only one good slide.  The picture, not far from the pumice stone excavation, is history: the place as it was doesn't exist anymore.  Neither does Chartofylis.  He saw in the bushy part in the top of the tree a craw's nest.  It wasn't a nest, Nikos: merely leaflets.  It was a nest since Chartofylis said so: a nest or leaflets: it is whatever your imagination tells you, seeing the picture.  

* After I fell with my photo equipment somewhere in the Paliokastro area, it appeared that my camera's mirror had to be adjusted.  Working with telephoto lenses was not possible anymore.  It is a miracle that nothing else happened to my gear, as I climbed onto rocks or as I walked over unstable walls.  

Page 77: I cannot count the amount of days I had to wait until the moon was right on top of the pumice stone cone.  I can't even recall the years I just missed it, until the very evening I felt the time was ripe.  Solemnly I entered the grey-blue area extending from earth to moon: a very fascinating cosmic moment.  

My favorite monastery is Panagia i Kyra on page 83 in helical composition.  The surrounding area is mysterious: an old fortification originating from the Stone Age full obsidian fragments; the island's only natural spring leading deep into the rock.  Do the bulldozer-boys dare to enter the well after they covered the entrance area with rubble? Do they dare to do so? I guess they don't, and neither would I have dared, after bulldozing such a sacral place.  

From my height I saw Pachis Ammos with its waterline like a white ribbon: page 85.  Pachia Ammos? No, on Nisyros it is Pachis Ammos, and Panagiá instead of Panagía.  Nisyrians aren't Katharevousa freaks: most of them aren't I reckon.  

On the picture of page 87 I arranged the 'matia tis thalassas' in the shape of Nisyros' map on the black volcanic sand of Pachis Ammos Beach.  Eh, neither do we say 'ofthalmakia' instead of 'matia', do we? A sweet Greek girl gave me the one in the centre: that is the Volcano.  I kept it for years in my pocket until the day I made the picture.  I closed the girl and the fortune- eye of the sea into my heart forever.  

Page 95: the one and only kambanario of Agios Ioannis made with ancient marble fragments: so powerful multi-religious.  

Did you discover the surfboards on the image of page 99? Aren't they tiny: isn't Chochlaki amazing; and to Enetiko Kastro, and the monastery of Panagia i Spiliani and the many abysses?

Amazingly, most people love the image of page 101.  The older people of Nisyros, especially the Mandrakiotes, take their time to look carefully. Sometimes with shiny, wet eyes they start talking about what was.  They speak with respect and love about the times as rooms were simply decorated.  They tell about the whitewashed well 'to Piaouli' close to Tavla tou Gialou, where boys met girls in the darkness of the night: their whispered kisses submerged in the breaking waves' sound.  


Review written by Paul B. Campanis (the younger)

Contact the publisher to order this book. The details are below:
Fytraki Publications
Kifissias Ave 270
Athens 152 32

tel. +30.21.06843670
or +30.21.06843672
or +30.21.06843673
fax +30.21.06818561