Introduction to 'Discovering the Beauty of the Cyclades'
by Mark Wilman

I love the freedom I find in nature's beauty. I've lived so many experiences climbing Aegean mountains and rugged hills, as well as freediving into the depths on a single breath all for the joy of feeling one with nature's gifts; over time finding reason to express myself through images hoping others might enjoy them too, and be encouraged to explore.

'Discovering the Beauty of the Cyclades' has taken over four years to reach this point in its presentation. Certainly there are discoveries still to be made, though with so much beauty in remote areas, any kind of research of the islands' terrains requires attentive planning and a high level of fitness.

Particularly enjoyable when exploring has been the constant reminder of ancient history through findings and markings together with dreamy views of distant islands and sea and sky horizons.

Those included in the project in geographical order heading north are: Santorini (volcano), Ios, Sikinos, Folegandros, Poliegos, Kimolos, Milos and Serifos.

An exhibition of the work at the Aquarium of Milan from 10th May to 5th June 2019 has been officially approved and promoted by the Department of Culture of the Municipality of Milan.

The project has been proposed to UNESCO to encourage the protection of the archipelago for future generations.

The Cyclades take their name from Kyklos, or circle, from the ancients and are located between Europe, Asia Minor and Africa. Because of their resources and usefulness as trade-route stopovers, they've been inhabited since Neolithic times, i.e. 12,000 years. The Minoans and Mycenaeans were influential, as were the Roman and Byzantine Empires and also pirates. The Fourth Crusade brought the archipelago under the Venetians who lost them to the Ottomans, when Barbarossa took them. They became a feuding ground for Orthodox and Catholics in the 17th century. And During World War II they were occupied by Italians and Germans. So they've been busy throughout history, fortunately, nature remains the dominant force keeping their beauty intact, mostly.

My first encounter with the Cyclades was in 1974 aged 10. Arriving from much fresher London, the inviting Mediterranean climate was decidedly alien to my English sense of weather. I remember looking up at the infinite blue sky in disbelief wondering when the clouds would arrive. The taste of a pizza in a small alleyway behind Ios port one night that first year is still memorable today, so powerful was the flavour of freshly picked, wild oregano.

Sensations from encounters with nature's ways are a dominant part of my life on the islands. The sounds, scents, colours and brightness, the waves at times made ferocious by the maddening force of Meltemi winds beyond belief in rage, like an ancient god inflicting revenge, and later, when the sinking sun has faded softly below the darkening horizon, Aegean night takes hold with its calming infinity of intriguing silver dot designs perched high above staring down.

The female kind. Many years after I began visiting, she appeared. A psychologist who'd grown up behind the Iron Curtain. I found her fascinating. Other than her particularly feminine ways and attitudes, she represented a geographical area I'd never had contact with and life experience I hadn't encountered.

The stories of her childhood were ones of a society heavily compromised, her buoyant approach to life because of this was an earned value. She was younger, very attractive to my eye and energetic, which caused an incredible energy to develop inside me.

Introducing the Cyclades to her came naturally. She adapted well to the physical demands of my explorative approach, learning to freedive, rock climb and trek long distances. The islands became an important reference for both and we began experimenting photographically with her acting as model inside the natural surroundings. The results were interesting and the concept was born:

'Discovering the Beauty of the Cyclades
Wild, Natural Beauty Blended with Beauty of the Female Kind'

The description: Wild, Mediterranean nature and its encounter with the female form creating a bond they naturally express: woman blending harmoniously with mother nature inside the untamed, scenic landscapes of spectacular Cycladic islands.

The female form inside the project:

In Cycladic history, the late Neolithic and early Bronze age periods, 2.800 - 2.300 B.C., are well recognised for their female idols, flat in form and carved from local pure white marble.

I have insisted on following the theme '... Blended with Beauty of the Female Kind ', believing it essential to identify woman's significance dating back to the archipelago's ancient culture.

That I grew up with a mother from the Caribbean and have three younger sisters has surely been influential in why I'm attracted to islands and why the female is a strong point of reference to me.

2016 saw us in Sikinos in search of something we couldn't quite express. Ios and Folegandros' closest neighbour has a complex physical character with a history of wine production dating back over 2,500 years, noticeable from terracing over much of the hilly and mountainous landscapes.

Galleries were created for the 'Visitor' section: 'Episkopi of Sikinos' and 'Circle of Stones' to name two. Most significantly, 'Lost Lady of Sikinos, Neiko' was photographed at the remote church of Epsikopi on the island's western side and can be found in the 'Beauty of the Female Kind' galleries. Two years later, in July 2018, an archaeological discovery in the lower section of this important historical building brought to light a tomb, 1,800 years old, of a woman of nobility and now understood to be the origin of its construction, not a mausoleum for a high ranking Roman general as was previously believed. Since our work here precedes the discovery, the photographs certainly have a particular meaning to us.

The opportunity to exhibit the work is surely exciting. A chance to help conserve the value of the archipelago's natural beauty for future generations would be truly meaningful.