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Mayflies: Reviewed by Blake Andrews

Book Review Mayflies Photographs by Dimitra Dede Reviewed by Blake Andrews After the loss of her mother the artist experiences the interruption of her own timeline on one end while having to fulfill her own role as a mother to the other end...
Mayflies. By Dimitra Dede.
Photographs by Dimitra Dede

Void, Athens, Greece, 2019. 112 pp., 8¾x12½".

Taking a page from the playbook of Gustave Courbet, Dimitra Dede’s debut monograph, Mayflies, begins at L’Origine du monde. The Greek photographer’s cover photo is less explicit than Courbet’s, but its yonic form is just as striking. It’s a hazy, vertical opening traced in faint silver on a black surface. The image resists immediate resolution. Is it a galaxy? A ghost? A vagina? …? It turns out to be none of these, just a dark hollow in the trunk of a tree. Even after the photo is decoded, it’s hard to escape comparisons to the Origin of the World. A fitting starting point, considering that the photos to come meander through themes of motherhood, death, and ephemerality.

All of these ideas are encapsulated in the title. Mayflies are insects whose brief lifespans are measured in hours; their scientific name, Ephemeroptera, refers literally to passing events. For Dede, life’s transitory nature intruded in the worst way possible, the premature death of her mother. This event — described poetically in the books’ final text passage — was the impetus for the monograph itself, as well as the experimental processes explored within.

MayfliesBy Dimitra Dede.

The cover is merely the entrance to confusion. On the inner pages, pictures of torsos, icescapes, clouds, portraits, and tarps revel in ambiguity. None are printed “straight”. Instead, Dede is focused on physical alteration; her pictures are the visual equivalent of screams, hair-pulling, and deep grief. Dede attacks them with chemical burns, wax, fire, solarization, paint, air bubbles, and more, teasing them away from whatever documentary instincts they might have once possessed.

For the first three-quarters of the book, her tweaked monochromes are printed in dark greyscale on black matte paper — the combination creates an extremely compressed tonal range. There are a few color photos in the mix, printed with a palette so desaturated and subdued that they feel underwater. All are enlarged past the point of comfort and printed full-bleed, so that they defy easy absorption during a casual reading. They take a bit of time, perhaps another reading, or three or four.

A chaotic quality spans throughout this work, which lends it emotional punch. Dede’s are-bure-boke recalls the Provoke-era Japanese provocateurs, whose impulses were also born out of trauma. Although the experience of losing a parent defies photographic description, Dede has fashioned a response that feels more honest and truthful than any straight photograph. This is Dede’s “way of dealing with life, coming to terms with reality, isolation, distance, thoughts, questions, and creating pictures, decoding subconscious images, or coding them.”

In the book’s last quarter, there’s an abrupt shift as the pages transition to white. A beautifully scripted poem and colophon are followed by several more pages of blurred landforms. Photographically the material is similar to its predecessors. But set against a bright background, this section feels surprisingly hopeful, couched in the deep red endpapers that tighten the book into a cohesive whole. It’s on this brighter note that the book closes, a hint of better times ahead. This too shall pass. Time heals all wounds. Humans live and die just like mayflies, albeit on a slightly longer scale. All bodies return eventually to the origin of the world.

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MayfliesBy Dimitra Dede.

Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at