www.artnewsletter.com, February/March 2012
Michael Katakis. Photographs & Words. Additional Text and Materials by Kris L. Hardin. 192 pp. With 120 colour and black & white illustrations. The British Library. Hb. £25.00.
For more than 25 years the American photographer and writer Michael Katakis with his wife Kris Hardin, a cultural anthropologist, have travelled the world documenting and observing many and diverse peoples: with tenderness always, sometimes with passion. Conscious of their responsibilities to their subjects, they sought a suitable institution where their archives would be appropriately housed and, just as important, made available for others to study. So it was that, by a serendipitous meeting with a curator who recognized the true value of their material, everything is now housed and cherished in London, in the British Library's collections.
In his Foreword, John Falconer, Curator of Photographs at The British Library, emphasizes that theirs is “not a voyeuristic documentary... but a record charting... the characteristics of human society which bind rather than separate.” Furthermore he explains that theirs is a shared and “continuing determination to speak out in the cause of both tolerance and honour and not to become a silent accessory to injustice.” In his Introduction Michael Palin reinforces these points when stating that a “love and respect for humanity” entwines Michael Katakis and Kris Hardin “and all of us who believe that there is a way to tell the truth.”
All becomes apparent in this beautiful book, its understated design mirroring and accentuating illustrations and text, selected to highlight some of Michael's and Kris's interests and concerns. First, for example, their sojourn in Sierra Leone in the 1980s before that splendid West African nation was swept by civil war; then a joint and lengthy project to study the making and intense human consequence of The Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington DC; and finally Katakis's own travels through his native “and troubled land” in the aftermath of a great national disaster the 2001 attack on the Twin Towers in New York, known ever after to the world as 9/11.
The photographer's sensitive empathy with his subjects is everywhere noticeable, sometimes near overpowering in its portrayal of human dignity and sadness, by contrast with his ability to capture the infectious delight of a spontaneous human smile. For Michael Katakis, Kris Hardin is his “True North” nowhere more apparent than in his photograph of her anxious face close by two sculptured and clasping hands - in Rodin's Paris museum. This book is a kind of love story of them both for each other, and of them both for the subjects they have portrayed and studied.