Take a stroll on the second floor of the Benaki Museum in Athens, and Magnum photographer Constantine Manos' exhibition will take you to a world of lost slowness. His peripatetic years in rural Greece, among napping herders and thick fishermen, are captured in "A Greek Portfolio 50 Years Later," an astonishing collection of an ease gone. Or is it?
American-born, Manos belongs to the fraternity of Patrick Leigh Fermor, Robert McCabe and Bruce Chatwin, travelers who spent time in Greece and credited its light for making everything around it relevant. But this is a universal fact. Light makes space and time relevant indeed -- Einstein proved it. These wandering men detected an ease, an inertia, which is a tricky business. It has moved us from special to general relativity, gave gravity its geometry, spacetime its curvature. Follow Manos' later work "American Color," and you'll see the sweeps in the shades of the outliers as they orbit parlors and malls. His work relates you to the seemingly irrational. Forces you to wonder what bothers you with queerness, and when you look long enough you might simply say, "nothing."
The timing of "A Greek Portfolio" in Athens is apocalyptic, inertia has never been more relevant. After 5 years and a number of rescue packages, Financial Times states that "the sufferring of innocent Greeks must be blamed not only on the excessively fast fiscal cuts, but on the choice to keep protecting the already privileged while shifting the brunt of the burden onto the slenderest shoulders." Inertia is everything but aged and knows no boundaries. Manos' second and much larger homeland, the U.S., suffers from another gravitational side effect: time dilation. Clocks attached to massive bodies tick slower. Two weeks ago, the U.S. affirmed that conflict with Al Qaeda and associated forces (whatever that means) would go on for another decade or two. Days later, Obama worried that a perpetual war on terror would be self-defeating. Ουδέν μονιμότερον του προσωρινού Greeks say. Nothing is so permanent as the temporary.
Visiting Manos at the studio he shares with architect and painter, Michael Prodanou, in Provincetown, MA, I witnessed how little was irrelevant to them. Frame after frame, they walked me through the exact light that had to be in place to seize a precise spacetime. Art was countersigning science.