Desperately seeking Diamonds

A man dies. All that‘s left ofhim isa suitcase full ofdocuments and old photographs. found buried in the basement of an old Greek house. Who was he? Why did he emigrate to Australia? And why did he change his name to Sidney James Diamonds? Miranda France investigates.

Mankind‘s relationship with photography has been a complicated one: while the amateur eye glances at a painting or a drawing and accepts that there are several layers of meaning to it. a photograph appears to have fewer dimensions. Photography is the one 'art‘ that can confidently be taken up by anyone but. given that we can all take a photograph. is it ever what we expect it to be. a truthful portrait ofreality‘.’ ()r is it nothing more than an approximation‘.’ This is one of several questions central to John Stathatos‘s photo-based installation at Stills a show which has a fascinating history behind it. and some intriguing implications.

The story starts five years ago. when Stathatos :I was presented with a suitcase full of papers. discovered by a friend. in the basement of an old ; home on the (ireeek island of Kythera. As i Stathatos explored the contents of the suitcase. he i discovered that they had belonged to a certain Sarandos Diakopoulos. who was born in Kythera i in 1884 and emigrated to Australia in 1908. There 'i he ran a cafe. or ‘refreshments rooms' in New ; South Wales and. in 1925. changed his name by i deed poll to Sydney James Diamonds.

Among the suitcases contents. Stathatos‘s attention was particularly drawn to a number of photographs in which Diamonds as it turned out posed in various situations with a group of friends. The photographs. Stathatos deduced. were in fact sophisticated self-portraits. 'Whatl found interesting in the images right from the start is the incredible sense ofcontrol in the self-portraits.‘ he explains. Nowadays. particularly in the West. we tend to be hyper-sophisticated about the way we look at photographs but. in Australia. in the 1910s and 1920s. in an immigrant society. you‘d have thought that the approach would be much more naive.‘

Thanks to the technology of the time (modern


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negatives would have been too small). Diamonds‘s originals have withstood enlargement to near life-size. revealing details that he himself would never have seen. Four large photographs provide the substance of the exhibition; intriguing. unusual. they provoke mixed feelings of nostalgia and pathos. Stathatos is fascinated by the mystique of old photographs 'it doesn’t have to be a picture of your Aunt Bessie. it can be someone else's aunt or a complete unknown still you feel this tug that the past and memory exert on you‘.

The other part of the exhibition deals with the

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documented part of Diamonds‘s life certificates.

papers and meticulous ledgers recording expenditure on various items (including two diamond rings; a clue. perhaps. to his choice of surname). Stathatos‘ own research carried out over the last two years - has been restricted to what he could get out of the suitcase. ‘lt became a game going from clue to clue.‘ he says. ‘Just for the hell ofit. I didn’t use any other sources.‘

While Stathatos encourages viewers to draw their own conclusions about the mysterious Diamonds. he also flirts with our reliance on 'evidence‘ and hints that Diamonds may be his own invention. His intention is to pose questions. but not to answer them. ‘I don‘t like aggressively presumptuous exhibitions. the kind that say. “I know more than you and you can't understand what I‘m all about” what I call “academic dandyism“. But I do like exhibitions which say “Things are not quite as they look." '

Naturally. Diamonds's ambiguous history serves Stathatos's purposes well: ‘There‘s almost an element ofschizophrenia behind the two names. Sidney James Diamonds is this dashing photographer who appears in all kinds of wonderful situations in the photographs. almost living out a kind offantasy life offin the “jungle”. doing all sorts of things a respectable immigrant was not supposed to be doing. Then there‘s Sarandos. his other self. who saves money and keeps obsessively tidy account books and even wrote down somewhere “today I got engaged at 1pm and I reckon that my expenses for the wedding will be such and such."

It is not a mystery Stathatos plans to investigate any further. ‘For me the project is now complete: I‘ve got my version ofSidney James Diamonds and i I’m happy with that.’ |

Sidney J antes Diamonds in A us‘lru/iu is all/1e Stills Gallery. Edinburgh. until [6 Nov.


Title-LEI ii iii October on 53