Vertical Time

Essay by Maro Vandorou

In spring of 2010 I traveled to my birthplace in Athens to collect photographic material for Vertical Time, a body of work exploring the process of transformation. To establish a visual vocabulary of abstract concepts, I turned to symbols and archetypes from my Hellenic roots. Soon, Persephone emerged as a haunting, unanticipated presence. I searched for her--the essence of the soul of humanity--in Athens, in the ancient cemetery of Keramicos, but she was nowhere to be found; the city was in turmoil. I traveled 450 miles to the “Oracle of the Dead,” the Nekyomanteion of Acheron. Homer, in the Odyssey, referenced this site as the ruling seat of Hades and Persephone of the Underworld. I descended into the underground crypt with its 15 arches carved in rock: moldy darkness, overwhelming silence; all I could hear was my heartbeat. The light meter could not register measurable light. How was I to capture any images, her presence?

I was looking for Persephone at a particular moment in time: not the innocent young girl who has been abducted, but not yet the powerful queen of the Underworld, who would become the equal of Hades, judging the souls of humans. My Persephone is transforming; she is about to take the glistening, seductive pomegranate seeds Pluto is offering. I asked my logical mind to look the other way.

“If it be your will” I murmured to her; I placed my beloved-vintage Rolleiflex on the muddy floor of the crypt, set the self-timer and walked toward the deepest crack on the wall, relinquishing control, surrendering.

Later, with a profound sense of gratitude and humility I saw that images had somehow been inscribed on the film. And my highly idiosyncratic definition of the adjective Persofόneia came into sharp focus:

Per•seph•ό•nei•a (pər'sɛfənia) adj. 1. of, relating to Persephone 2. A set of states (recognition, preparation and surrender) preceding transformation. The initial hypnagogic state of transformation is silent, ineffable, with temporary suspension of all external signs of life [the roots in deep earthbound sleep remained motionless]. In preparation, it is necessary to acknowledge and release depths of grief and to honor beloved persons living or dead. With sacred vessels, she offers libations of milk, honey, and wine. She can now sever ties and emotional attachments so that she can turn and remain inwards-focused. Once she accepts the inevitability of transformation, she crosses over to a new state of consciousness marked by hypervigilance and denuded sensitivity to messages of low frequencies, barely there. Sustained, focused introspection purifies intent; she can now become witness and participant, subject and object of the irrevocable transformation. This act of surrender is a leap of faith, as the outcome of the transformation is unknown. Carl Jung might have said: “She is heeding the summons to surrender to the gods, to what wishes to live through her into this world.”