“Bittersweet Apple ”… Photography by Niko J. Kallianiotis
The duality of my life’s trajectory makes my visual identity a fluid one. My formative years were spent in Greece, but for all of my adulthood I’ve lived in the United States. Because of my hybrid background I view the world and my surrounding environs from two different perspectives, both culturally and socially. This circumstance has heightened my sensibilities but concomitantly created an uncertain identity crisis. My cultural and social values have been challenged; feelings of alienations instigated the desire to attempt and recapture and reevaluate my identity. Expatriation was not a personal decision, but my current photographic language is. By concentrating on the physiognomies of the human form and the topography, I venture to investigate the unhidden qualities of the communities in which I reside, cope with my alienation, and reflect my desire to assimilate. I photograph intuitively aiming for a symbiotic outcome, and use the medium as a mode of expression and acknowledgement of my feelings. My subject choice derives from intuition and desire to explore the unknown and rediscover the familiar. Through form, light, color and layered compositions, my work organically evolves, and evinces a melancholic and desolate feeling, indicative of my alienation. I search for nostalgic images reminiscent of my homeland and concurrently reflect and interpret life in small-‐town America, and the yearning for survival and cultural perseverance. I am interested in the vernacular, the inconsequential, the humble, and the comical. Through my photographs I am looking for the core values of American society and at the same time reevaluating my own. For my most recent project, “Bittersweet Apple”, I spent two years investigating the Greek-‐American Diaspora in Astoria, New York. This is a diverse setting that was once the center of Hellenism in North America. As a youngster, I resented being in Astoria and during my first visit twenty-‐five-‐years ago, I often tried to find ways to escape and move back to Greece. Everything seemed foreign to me, even the people who shared my own heritage. I felt a powerful sense of disconnection, and an unspecified sense of anger. I missed my friends, my extended family, my neighborhood in Athens, everything. What I expected to be familiar during my first visit to the States was actually quite unfamiliar, regardless of the reminders of Greek culture that the area offered. That environment, its diversity, even the faces I encountered in the community, only added to my sense of alienation. There were Greeks here, but they were not “my” Greeks. The images from this project reflect a fresh encounter with what survives of the Greek culture in Astoria, explores the symbols and cultural traditions, and the mingling of memories and an evolved perspective. My intent is universal and the task of rediscovering a sense of belonging through photography is challenging and compelling. I expect that those who experience the work and share similar feelings of alienation will relate to the work more than those who more easily blend in, or pretend they do in order to feel more accepted. Being an immigrant induces a double perspective that contains both the element of connection and distance. Each element has its own rhythm, its individual course and its own dynamic.
Niko J. Kallianiotis holds a B.F.A. and M.A. in photography from Marywood University and an MFA in Photography, Video and Related Media from the School of Visual Arts, in New York. He started his career as a newspaper photographer, first as a freelancer at The Times Leader, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and then as a staff photographer at The Coshocton Tribune in Coshocton, Ohio, and The Watertown Daily Times in Watertown, New York. At the moment he is an Assistant Professor of Photography at Marywood University in Scranton, PA and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He is also a contributing photographer for The New York Times and Getty Images.
Originally from Greece, he tries to investigate and assimilate in the communities he resides, both in Pennsylvania and New York, by concentrating primarily on street, documentary and portrait photography. His work has been published and exhibited nationally and internationally.