thodoris tzalavras – nicosia in dark and white

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Thodoris Tzalavras

Nicosia in Dark and White

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On Your Fiftieth Anniversary
Short story by Ioanna Mavrou

Everything is quiet. The years pass like water in a stream. You sit and wait patiently and impatiently. You can’t decide if you’re happy that nothing bad happens, or sad that nothing happens. You can’t be sure but you think you were lucky. You are alive. You have mementos of the time before the war. You have mementos of the war too. You wonder if broken countries can be put back together and what kind of glue is necessary for such a delicate operation. You are growing old and weary and your children flew to places far, like migratory birds coming back once a year, and then going away again. The TV doesn’t show the Don’t Forget places anymore and you wonder if that means you should stop remembering.

When the roadblocks opened you couldn’t help but go through, but instead of reconnecting with your family ghosts you felt betrayed that your old house would go on living without you. They smiled and stood there and held the door open for you to come in and look, but their family pictures on your old mantle told you that they would never want to leave. When you saw the sea of your youth you felt a piece of your heart sinking in it. The smell told you this was home but you doubted that any court could give it back to you.

You now have a new picture to put on your wall, a new thing to keep you up at night. The centuries aren’t comforting you anymore, history stays with history, and you feel like you’re fading into it. You raise your flag in defiance every October, of that country that could have been. You keep thinking of inappropriate jokes you don’t dare tell people, like how the whole thing was a big practical joke, payback for April Fool’s Day 1955: “Here, have a country, we swear, it will work, in fact we guarantee it.”

You are both ashamed and entertained by your wit. You think of the days when you had frappés with your friends at the Nicosia Airport café and watched the planes land and take off. You were too old to fight in 1974, too scared to not run away. You were never one to want revenge but sometimes when you follow the road that no longer takes you home you feel like crying.

The years have been kind to you, your children often say, and you don’t want to make a fuss so you don’t tell them. About the dreams that come now almost every night where you are stuck in mud on the bottom of the sea like the Kyrenia Ship, waiting for divers to dig you out. The ancient faces you see now are your own, you speak to them in Ancient Greek and tell them what they already know. That you are afraid.

(Note: On Your Fiftieth Anniversary is a work of fiction.)


Thodoris Tzalavras is a Greek photographer currently based in Nicosia, Cyprus. Nicosia in Dark and White is his first monograph.

Ioanna Mavrou writes fiction and is studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. She loves photography.

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Thodoris Tzalavras

Nicosia in Dark and White

38 Responses to “thodoris tzalavras – nicosia in dark and white”

  • Love this. Moody. Quiet.

    Now… I’m off to work to photograph construction site.

    Congratulations on being published here, Thodoris.

  • This is so not what I usually look at, and even less would make as photographic work.. so I am even more happy to have the book, the real thing (next best thing to the prints I think).. above there’s only part of what is in the book.. it has opend up my mind, and for that I say thank you, Thodoris!

    mw, if you read here, the other day you’ve asked what makes a landscape picture better than another.. here you have an answer.. the photographs here might not be landscape, but they have what makes them better than others of this kind.. in each one there is that unexpected something you can discover.. at least in my opinion..

  • Very nice. I like the pictures very much. A kind of calmness. I like the tones, and the movement of the people in some pictures.
    I’ll have to lookup where to order the book.

  • Thodoris. Good to see your work here.
    Not a massive fan of this work, as you know(especially in this format), but having seen large prints of some of it I can recommend those to anybody.
    It seems odd though that this is listed as a work in progress while at the same time being published as a book. How so? Are you still shooting more for this, or for another volume?


  • Michael…
    Thanks man.

    Can’t thank you enough for your support… how about a print exchange? You’ve got my email…

    It wasn’t my call, but then again in my mind every personal project is a work in progress… as long as I still make pictures I can always add to it… as for plans on expanding it, when I first started this project I was thinking of covering the whole Green Line, but I had to settle for “just” Nicosia because of logistics… besides trying to organize a traveling exhibition of this work for 2011, I’m basically planning to take on a different project soon…

  • Thomas, ALL…

    You can order my book from the website of our publishing house.
    Please note that for every book that we sell through Burn, we’ll be donating 30% of its price back to Burn. Just leave a note in the “Add special instructions to the seller” when you check out on paypal, indicating that you found out about my book on Burn or send us an email at

  • Thodoris, congratulations on being published here. This is great stuff, which I think I’ve told you before, and I’m still sorry the other thing didn’t work out. A lack of imagination on my part, I guess. Enjoy the holidays!

  • Congratulations, Thodoris – I am certain the book looks wonderful and the prints as well. And I love the story.

    I had been meaning to write to you since last fall so that you would know that I was good with your decision, but I was going to wait until I posted a few pictures that I took at a “haunted house” on the Arctic shore where I paid a very brief visit in September when the whale hunters I was traveling with beached their boat to exchange fuel with another. Then I was going to share the link with you.

    But I still haven’t made the post.

    One of these days.

    Nothing so elegant as what you have done here, but it could have been fun.

    Congratulations again.

  • You were too old to fight in 1974, too scared to not run away. You were never one to want revenge but sometimes when you follow the road that no longer takes you home you feel like crying.

    i will never forget that day that drafted my father and took him away to go fight against the Turks , against the invasion that was orchestrated orchestrated by CIA ( Henry Kissinger’s “people”) and used the greek junta as the pawn and of course the turkish army…They divided Cyprus and all that just because there is lots of oil in the aegean sea…I will never forget that day..tears in my eyes ..i was only 6 years old but nothing can erase that memory of the whole family (minus the father) gathered around that little german radio listening to the scary news…The Turks attacked, the US were watching (keeping the fire burning), greece under dictatorship…dark times…

  • Haunting. And even more so with Panos’ comments making it such a personal essay for him and your description of finding these houses during your military service. The one with the tree growing up through the door really got me and the one with the stuffed bear under the debris. Love the texture of these photos. Congratulations on being featured Thomas. I would love to see Cyprus.

  • Thodoris, I didn’t do much, just buy a copy of your book :)

    Print exchange? Oh yes… will write you tomorrow when back home.. but, there’s a big BUT.. I do love to print, but am no pro!! You’ll have to keep that in mind!

  • Turkish invasion of Cyprus (learn more here):

    “The United Nations Security Council has challenged the legality of Turkey’s action, because Article Four of the Treaty of Guarantee gives the right to guarantors to take action with the sole aim of re-establishing the state of affairs. The aftermath of Turkey’s invasion, however, did not safeguard the Republic’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, but had the opposite effect:….”


    a slip up on my part…this work is categorized correctly now as a photographic essay…

  • Beautiful, poetic… all pictures.

  • Marvelous. The last shot says it all for me, tenacious plants reasserting their dominion over humankind. Powerfully poignant.

  • Awaiting moderation? Oh dear. Have I done something naughty?

  • PAUL…

    i got that earlier today myself….i was thinking the same thing!!

  • Akaky…

    The reason the other thing didn’t work is that I thought of it too late in the game… not enough time to do it right… I actually loved what you sent me… also, I know that you made some kind of arrangement with Anton in order to get Burn-01… please let me know if I can use the same way to put a copy of my book in your hands as a thank you…


    I’d love to see those pictures… also, please send me your postal address in an email…


    I had no idea… thank you for posting the link… I mainly did this work in order to express my own feelings about this place… I’ve always hoped though that this work could move people to search about Cyprus on their own…




    You believed and that is more than enough…


    I’m honored having my work featured here… I truly think that this place you’ve built will be in history books one day… also, THANK YOU for taking a leap of faith and letting me put your name and words in my book…


    Thank you


    When I entered that room I thought of Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”… in particular the scene were Mowgli asks the elephants to bring the jungle back to the human village…

  • Well we are all in good company. Got the message too. Moderation…well, that is what we should all strive for isn’t it?

    After viewing and commenting on this essay my mind of course went back into the ways of war and this time I thought: If we only step forward in our spiritual and emotional growth by letting go of the past, why does that not apply to war? The deeds of our past leave their mark. Hopefully each “war” we learn lessons. If we continue to keep track in order “not to forget the sins against us” then are we simply disallowing healing to happen? By hanging on to that very personal pain of invasion or abuse we cannot go forward. We simply swim in a whirlpool around war. War in our person and war in our world. Would history not begin to reflect this change in mankind’s evolution if we began to forget the “facts” of the upheaval?

    For example, my father, I just found out, was a spook in the Korean War. Dropped behind enemy lines to wreak havoc in the “enemy camps” by taking out random soldiers in the dark. Sneaking in and then back out. When the two fronts came close he slipped back across and joined his fellow Marines. The story is he went mad one day after machine gunning from the top of a hill into a “horde of Chinese” that continued to storm the sides of the hill he was ordered to defend. Now it seems the two Koreas are acting on those old festering memories that have drawn lines between families.

    My father’s life was never the same. This trauma seems to have traveled through our family’s cells to manifest in pain in many ways. My dream is that the trauma of my father’s military life stops with me. Now of course, we have another involved in a war and I hope that he can understand the extreme importance of not allowing the trauma of Afghanistan to plant itself into his family’s cellular memory.

    Nicosia in Dark and White speaks to this feeling I have of war. That the memories are so old that they are decaying and soon will no longer be there as a reminder and a war starter. A memorial to war no more.

  • “One room is always enough for one person. Two rooms is not enough for two people. That is one of the conundrums in life.”–Jeanette Winterson

    “A change in the weather is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves.”–Marcel Proust

    Like Eva, I too have this book….and as I type this comment, i’m looking at one of my favorites photographs from Thodoris’ beautiful, lyrical, broken-heart’d book…a book that in, for me, not about absence, not about the vanquished, but to the contrary about perseverance…that which we have inhabited in truth inhabits us, for the remainder of our days……not in absence but in accumulation….

    Normally, I would write a long, if possible poetic, comment but instead I shall share with you what I wrote after Thodoris sent the book to me…..a small part, inspired by his book…

    1. Swift the sound of scattering wings that clip the space between a window in front of you and the far-lost long-ago window through which you once pulley’d down the sky: a kite of birds and telephone line, eclipsing.

    2. And we are born into the shape and space of a place from the moment our arms and legs waddled, suspended beneath the bulb of our parents’ breath, clothes-pinned in a fraction of a moment as if we a wire strung impossibly across an empty room, unmoored and levitating.

    3. A room: your invisible self written along the corners and cornices of a wearied room, handprint and weathered stain trammeled against an alabaster wall, bend of break and breath. Room or the aging of your limbs?

    4. Between stairs and a chair, I shall always take the chair: to meander forever without gravity and architecture prisoning and dictating the turn or tip of an exit. Gone while still remaining.

    5. Have you not awakened from the stiff-drift of sleep and found yourself crawling over the gravel of a torn-page book-strewn room and wondered: my stories, my dreams, my entire library or the shit left behind by the pigeons.

    6. Though we navigate our lives through the channel crossing of rooms, is it not our interior upon which we roam and promenade, kicking the dust and detritus of abandoned selves, parched yet forever you.

    7. You: that light bulb suspended in that empty room between the two curtain-less windows where we fucked and dreamed and broke wide all that we had been told to keep wrapped up, the bulb like my cum dripping like the dip of a spider’s web stretched from the pull and tug of gravity’s salacious hunger acted upon the falling weight of a pouch of eggs, the tug and hone toward birth and the blink of flash, there and gone: all that, distance and dance, lick and lack, cock and cunt, hope and yelp, we married in that empty room and the walls and the time and the light and the hunger and all that now, here, the moss of aged cement and bright loss, you.

    8. Hung upon the wall like the ossified remains of a prehistoric bird in search of lost flight, a belly-bowed coat hanger in mute conversation with the nob of a steel nose’d nail: two geometric universes moving toward their impossible marriage and entwining: the heroic hope of our imagination’s refusal to acquiesce.

    9. And what would you do if you fell upon a door in an abandoned cellar lying dormant beside a dust-tackled over-sized stuffed bear: clean the door or sew up the bear? Your life may depend upon it.

    10. Have you yet breached you initial choice?

    11. The plant in the corner blanketed by a 15-year old newspaper, the scar on the palm of your hand, 3 cm long crescenting your carpal ligament, just as the old window in your grandmother’s house was crossed by the neighbor’s laundry drying in the white-sky and your grandfather’s ashes stirred in the urn when the barometric pressure dropped.

    12. Stones gather beneath a fallow wall the way tab and tip and beer-caps drift as if dust into the knees of gutters and grassy corners. It is we, not the place, which is unkempt, is it not?

    13. Time enters our rooms like the trunk and beefy roots of an old tree hungrily sucking up all marsh and moisture of he brick and limestone of your home, it’s cancerous search an elongated attempt to abade its thirst. The remains of what remains, to placate the bereaved building and our bereft-shorn self. Yet, is it time which chews up the all-around or is it we, our insatiable dendrites aglow and afire, which swallow time capaciously and selfishly: branch and birch and bramble.

    14. You see a door that opens not onto a landing or street or courtyard but toward a broken pipe and ether, ether and loom-lost hair.

    15. Bone and feather-less wing, knobby beak and elongated rib of our throat: all that is left of our singing when the song has gone wrong, all that is left when the singing has gone rung.


    Rooms have gone, scattering. And yet there you are, remaining.

    CONGRATULATIONS T on this wonderful project and for your magnificent book…..

    i too, encourage y’all to pick up a copy….

    so sweet to see it published here…..:)))

  • #17 is my favorite – the mystery of it, whether it is abandoned or not. And #18 of course brings to mind some similar photos I (and many others) have taken at Angkor Wat.

    Congrats on the beautiful work.


  • The Turkish invasion took place in two stages and ended in August 1974, when Turkish troops occupied 36% of the island’s territory. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) was established in defiance of the terms of the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee. It is recognised only by Turkey. Intercommunal strife that preceded the invasion had brought Greece and Turkey, two NATO allies, to the brink of war in a number of occasions between 1963 and 1974; the most serious clash was prevented through the last minute mediation of the U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson on June 5, 1964. The Greek side has traditionally blamed the U.S. administration of President Richard Nixon, and in particular Henry Kissinger, claiming that the United States and NATO supported the idea of a Turkish military intervention and that there was an agreement reached with the U.S. Undersecretary of State Joseph J. Sisco, Henry Kissinger’s envoy, to support the Turkish invasion in Cyprus ,following a decision by the U.S. National Security Council in May 1974 to bring an end to the Cyprus problem.

  • I don’t understood why between pictures of rooms is one picture of bird’s corpse and one of one of hanger.
    I like pictures but not as a story. I wish see them as a exhibition in real world. Here not work for me as should be.

  • Marcin…

    The rooms themselves are not the subjects of my work… the effect of time on them and the remainders of human habitation are my subjects… to that extent the picture of the bird’s unspoiled corpse talks about time and the hanger on the wall talks about someone living in that room before forced to abandon it…

  • Congratulations Thodoris Tzalavras…
    I began by deciding my favourite photo was No5, the second time I watched your images I added No3, the third time No18 and the fourth time I fell in love with no1. This morning I´ve added no11… I´m sure I´ll go on adding a couple throughout the day!
    I find it´s a challenge to find the emotions a couple of walls contain but you´ve managed to capture the interrupted life of those gone…beautifully.
    So, well done.

  • Yes, congratulations on doing such fine work, Thodoris. I very much enjoy the way you use the available geometry in your scenes to craft interesting compositions. I particularly like #5, which strikes me as something similar to what Matisse might have done had he been a photographer.

  • quiet photographs…
    the geometry in each frame is BRILLIANT!!!!
    lonely photographs,
    filled with HOPE….
    Mother nature,
    there is no stopping HER!!!!
    Congrats Thodoris!
    thoughtful essay…..
    And yes, I can only imagine your beautiful prints of these!

  • Lee…

    I’m an antiwar kind of guy, but I do believe that history should be remembered—even if it hurts—because it’s the only way to avoid repeating it.


    Thank you man!!! happy travels…

    Charles, Paul, Michael, Wendy…

    Thank you guys!!! (Wendy, have you checked your mailbox lately?)

  • Actually Thomas. I haven’t seen the world avoiding war due to lessons learned in preceding ones. The lessons learned from bad choices in our lives and war in the world should sink in and become cellular lessons that keep us from going that way again without having to drag it with us through millennia. It doesn’t seem to be working at all.

  • Thodoris

    I know the rooms are not the subject, they suppose not to be. But for me this two pictures are like two s-f novels in book with poetry about roses. inconsistently.

  • Distill “On Your Fiftieth Anniversary”, pour it into a photograph, and you are given #18 (without the airport café). Desertion, decay and death all in one. The family tree now outside, branches disappearing, roots destroying, and destroyed. The single path of disturbed tiles leads our eye into the image and the past, only to continue to the outside, the other side, and away.

    Add the historical context provided by (thankfully) Panos, and the associations continue: Turkey has taken over – they occupy just the north side, enclosed and tight, but they branch out spreading stubbornly to the earth and its people. Just by occupying with tenuous legality, they upset slowly the South.

    Yes, I can even follow the direction of the book’s Forward and hear not only the voices, but feel the nurturing listeners…

    Brilliant the way the photograph cascades. I wished this was presented as a single image – with essay extant – no more needs to be said or seen. I viewed Ballen’s interiors in Toronto two springs ago; it was a moving experience to see the large prints. The video presentation in class months later deflated the second reading. By the third time – here – I felt I was merely passing time. Maybe it was the move from print, to screen, to laptop; maybe architectural still-lifes aren’t my thing. The Ballen experience may have prejudiced me, but the stringing of these images leave me without connections or associations.

    But my, how I love #18…

  • Marcin…

    I hear what you’re saying… I obviously feel differently for choosing to include them…

    Two people from outside Burn who saw the final edit before the printing of my book, advised me to replace two pictures of bathtubs that I have included in the book… Even though I can see yours and their points, this in the end is my work and it should (for better or worse) reflect my own point of view… I’m sure it will work for some and not for others…

    The most interesting thing for me regarding viewers’ reactions is that each person loves it, hates it or is indifferent to it for different reasons… I have been showing parts of this project for the past three years—as I was working towards the book—and I have had quite a few times people telling me what they saw in these pictures… I have found myself more than once hearing others verbalize something very important about one or more of these pictures in a way that I could not…

    In any case, thank you for your comments though…

  • Jeff…

    Yes… the tree in the living room does summarize all I wanted to say… but a summary is still a summary and still feel that I needed all the other pictures in the book in order to say all I wanted to say…

    And by the way even though it does talk about “…Desertion, decay and death…”, to me it also speaks about resilience and life… in its core, even though a sad picture on one level, it’s the most positive and uplifting one in the whole project…

  • Thodoris…
    I like your adherence to your ideas in this essay… by that I mean how others offered you their advice, you listened and then you continued on the same “path” staying true to your voice. As you know for sure you can never please everybody. :)

  • Really love these images, Thodoris. I had seen some before, and it feels good to have them all together here. Very elegant and well crafted. Good to see black and white images that are not totally overdramatized, too. Quiter … for the second glance … You need time to look at the images and that totally goes with the subject.

    Not sure how the edit here is in relation to the book, so the following comment maybe only concerns this essay-edit.

    I am totally happy that you have that dead bird in there. IMHO you could even use more of these images, and use them to create a visual rhythm throughout the piece. As it is presented now, you get a certain disruption in the rhythm you have, which might be the reason why Marcin reacted to the bird and the hanger. As it is only one disruption … it feels a bit accidental.

    Without close ups, when I look at the images as they are now, everything seems in a save distance – and a bit of the same kind of distance throughout the essay. Instead of making me get close, I get a bit detached with this kind of rhythm … It might be the reaction you want, I do not know. I hope you are conscious of it?

    I will definitively have a look at the book. Congratulations on being published here, Thodoris!

  • This is a truly beautiful essay – I love the mood and the message your pictures share.

    Congratulations on being published here :)

  • T
    got the book!!!!!!
    it is beautiful…
    congrats and thank you again….
    Love the white cover!

  • Paul…

    I think that one of the main things that separate those who manage to make a mark in their field from the rest is a deep belief in the importance and value of their own work. I try not to have illusions on where I stand in my development as a visual artist at any given time and I do try to be my hardest critic, but at the same time I do believe in my own work and I (probably) am my biggest fan as well.


    Many thanks for your thoughtful comments…

    The following is not so much in defense of the results of my efforts that are displayed in the essay above, as much as an account of the process I followed.

    Regarding the disruption caused by the image of the bird…

    First of all, I consider this to be a strong picture, and just like the picture of the tree in the living room, this too speaks to me on multiple levels.

    From the moment that I shot it though I knew that I would probably not be able to use it, for the exact reason that Marcin and you have pointed out. It doesn’t fit with the narrative.

    But, when I showed a rough edit of about 100 pictures of this work to David on late summer 2009, he reacted positively to this picture and told me that I should use it even if in a smaller size, alone, at the end of the book. At the time I was thinking that I would only use horizontal pictures in the book, so the vertical pigeon was even more of a disruption. However, after editing and shooting some more, and re-editing and shooting even more, I finally decided that I would use both horizontal and vertical pictures, both because some of my favorite pictures are vertical, and in order to add another element to the visual rhythm of the book.

    So, having solved one of the problems for not including this picture, I then had to try and find a proper place for it in the sequencing of the book.

    Now, even though I tried to present here an edit as faithful as possible to what the book is all about, in the sequencing of the pictures in the actual book the dead bird is in the exact middle of the book, acting as an intermission with 19 pictures before and 20 after. So it’s not as prominent as it is here.

    I did however preserve (in the slideshow above) the sequencing of the book in the pictures before and after the bird—two of the most silent (in details) pictures, used as a buffer to contain the quite harsh, detailed corpse of the bird, which to me make Time feel tangible.

    Regarding the framing and the sense of detachment that you describe…

    Almost all pictures in this project were shot with the equivalent of a 28mm lens. One of the reasons for this, is that I “see” in 28mm… some people “see” the world as if through a normal 50mm lens, I “see” wide angle…

    This technical factor, coupled with my intension to include as much information and detail as possible in a somewhat architectural approach to the aftermath of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, did inevitably lead in this detachment that you feel present.

    But, this is not all there is…

    Even though the is an obvious lack of close-ups throughout the book, if you look closely (a second or a third time) I did in fact try to include some very distinct elements left behind by the people who lived in these rooms… in a sense, I have tried to give “you” (the viewer) both the big picture and the close-up all in one frame, and let you choose where you wish to focus your attention in each viewing of these pictures.

    Now, if I have succeeded or not, it’s up to you to judge.

    These were some of my (conscious) intentions and some of the reasons behind the results you see here.

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