The Unnerving Ephemerality of Constantine Manos

September 20, 2021 Constantine Manos Photography

The book has eluded me for years. Hell, for a while even the photographer’s name slipped from my mind, replaced with that on-the-tip-of-my-tongue feeling you get when something is just beyond the periphery of grasp. Which is oddly fitting, because the pictures Constantine Manos takes are like that: Fleeting glimpses into the lives of others, dream-like impressions that tend to slip from your memory.

I read about Manos many years ago, tried to get his photo book but couldn’t. It’s been out of print for years and the occasional copy retails for hundreds of dollars on eBay. And so I forgot about the book and eventually the photographer’s name, too.

What I remembered were the pictures: Starkly colorful shots, almost minimalist in their simplicity. Taken in the brightest midday sunshine, they have a specific style: You see light and shadow, skin tones and silhouettes against bare walls, paired with all possible tropes of Americana: Ice cream cones and estate wagons, Ferris wheels and basketball courts. Manos called his collection American Color”, as if that particular hue could only be captured in the U.S. I’m willing to indulge him, as I’ve indulged others.

If color blocking is a trend, then Manos was years ahead of it. His pictures are full of stark contrasts reminiscent of the early digital era. And what might seem gaudy elsewhere just tends to work here: The photos—awash with blues, reds, and yellows—imprint themselves on your retina. The color itself is the subject here, all the aforementioned Americana relegated to a mere supporting role.

And yet there’s something ghostly about these shots. Like a dream, they seem to disappear from memory as soon as you look away. For years, I had some of the pictures above lurking around on my hard drive, looked at them countless times and yet only their contours remained. These pictures are taken to fade from memory, and for once that’s a compliment: They’re able to surprise you over and over again.

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