DISCOVERING THE BEAUTY OF THE CYCLADES
ALLA SCOPERTA DELLA BELLEZZA DELLE CICLADI
by W. M. WILMAN
Exhibition at the Aquarium of Milan 10th May to 5th June 2019
The exhibition “Discovering The Beauty Of The Cyclades” by W. M. WILMAN promoted and produced by the City Council of Milan - Culture and the Aquarium - Civic Hydrobiological Station is part of the Photofestival program (17th April/30th June), an important citizens’ manifestation dedicated to photography. The project focuses on the natural beauty of islands of this archipelago in the Aegean, from the volcano of Santorini to wild, less explored areas of Ios, Sikinos, Folegandros, Poliegos, Kimolos, Milos and Serifos.
Sea and land, particularly their interaction, are dominant elements of this work, which has taken over four years to complete. A frequent visitor to the Cyclades since 1974, Wilman has, over the years, intensified his knowledge of the islands through freediving, rock climbing and trekking.
Memories crowd the mind: swimming in the dark for kilometres after sunset on return from freediving adventures; the yellowfin tuna of over 100kg which swam circles around him at incredible speed, one September morning, the groupers below, outside their lairs, spectators with expressions of disbelief close to an island where those who dare climb its steep natural walls enjoy captivating views of Ios, Irakleia, Keros, Amorgos, Anafi and Santorini from its single stone peak; the shipwreck, once vital to islanders, remains only as half, its bow upright and motionless; currents that flow by the east-west edges of Folegandros forceful enough at times to carry away those that challenge; the mines of Serifos, many dating back to ancient times; the remains of long jetties, like train bridges extending over rivers, invisible from the land having crashed into the sea a century ago or more: enormous objects in a natural maritime museum. The fish, particularly Mediterranean pike, over a metre in length, are hypnotised by these structures positioning themselves inside as if they were at home; the uninhabited island of Poliegos, a dream to explore, its rugged pyramids extend upwards through light-blue water, crystal clear, from seabeds white as salt, its dramatic land formations high above a magic assortment of colours comparable only with Milos and Kimolos nearby.
On land exploration of the islands never caused the photographer serious physical harm, though a number of challenging situations did occur. Wearing a camera pack loaded with equipment, he’d climb vertical rocks faces with little more to grip onto than thorny bushes sharp like blades for metres at a time. On one occasion late in autumn, he ventured too far amongst rocky hills and valleys deep with precipitous inclines. Misjudging the speed of the disappearing light and approaching darkness, he became lost in the vast expanse when the goat trail he was following came abruptly reached its end.
Proposed to UNESCO in order to encourage the conservation of the archipelago for future generations, the project was influenced by the late Professor Angelos Delivorias, a leading Greek archeologist and director of the preeminent Benaki Museum in Athens for over 40 years, who died in 2018. His explanations and precision, during the twenty years they knew each other, were significant in orienting the photographer towards less known, wilder locations.
The islands of the Cyclades took their name from the ancients due to their circular form (κύκλος / kyklos). Between Europe, the Middle East and Africa, they are visible to each other while quite separate from the continents that surround. Insular and homogeneous from a geomorphological point of view, their climate is arid for much of the year. Their story began in the Neolithic era, around 12.000 years ago, thanks to natural resources and their potential role as commercial stopping points.
They were influenced by Minoans and Mycenaeans, while the Persians attempted to occupy them during their efforts to conquer Greece. They then entered the orbit of Athens with the Delian Leagues (478/477 B.C.)
Commercial activities pursued during Roman and Byzantine times were prosperous enough to attract the attention of pirates. Participants of the fourth crusade (1202 - 1204 A.D.) divided up the Byzantine Empire causing the Cylades to come into the Venetian orbit. Economic prosperity continued in spite of pirates. Later, they were dominated by the Ottoman Empire until after the war of independence when they became part of Greece in 1830.
Amongst the images exhibited, one does not follow the theme of sea and land. With permission from the Direction of the Aquarium of Milan, a photo is included entitled “Lost Lady of Sikinos, Neiko”, which anticipates by two years an archeological discovery of notable importance.
In 2016, W. M. Wilman photographed a woman in classical dress while she walked towards the entrance of the church of Episkopi built 1.800 years ago on the ruins of a temple of Apollo in a remote part of the island from where Santorini, Ios, Paros, Milos and Folegandros can be seen.
In 2018, during restoration work on the monumental building, the tomb of a noble woman called Νεικω was found.
Undisturbed in a hidden part of the church, Neiko lay with golden bracelets, rings, a necklace and a brooch, together with green vases, metal objects and organic remains of her clothing. The quality of the jewels indicate that she was an important figure in the island’s society. Until that moment, Episkopi was understood to have been built as a mausoleum for a Roman general of the 3rd century A.D.
The building resembles a temple and because of its height is considered unique in the Greek world.
The exhibition at the Aquarium of Milan is dedicated to the memory of Prof. A. Delivorias.
NOTES ABOUT W. M. WILMAN
Two meetings were of importance in orienting Wilman towards the idea of a photographic project about the Cyclades. The first happened on a deserted beach in the archipelago in the late 1990s when a former President of the United States, joined by many members of his family and a man who later became Secretary of State, climbed out of an inflatable boat.
The second, which happened in Milan, involved an Italian artist of international fame notable for his satirical sculptures.
These experiences, absolutely unforeseen and unforeseeable, caused him to conclude that everything is possible, encouraging from him an expression of passion for the Cyclades he hadn’t imagined before.
Originally from the Notting Hill area of London, with English, Irish, Czech and Caribbean origins, he spent many years in Milan following a teaching career. He was lecturer and consultant to a great variety and significant number of professionals and organisations including: a leading Italian fashion designer, PhD students of the faculties of Natural Sciences at Università degli Studi di Milano, national and multinational companies, law firms and also advertising agencies, where he worked with many of the top creative minds in Italy.
He was official photographer of the Milan Cricket Club, which brought about the opportunity to develop experience in capturing human movement, indispensable in the main project about the Cyclades which includes the interaction between the female form and the Mediterranean environment.