In the early 20th century, photography fought to be acknowledged as an authentic art-form in its own right. Consequently, some photographers of the era took inspiration from classical painting and sculpture. This work is a perfect example, taking as its muse Greek architectural decoration, specifically the elegant and noble frieze of the Parthenon at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece . . .
The photographer’s name is Nikolas Boris, about which there is some historical information. Research has found that he was a Greek artist and graduate of the Art Academy of Athens who, as a teenager, immigrated to the United States in 1917, and quickly began a successful career as a photography with a studio in Cincinnati, Ohio. Although almost unknown today, in his time, Boris was a well known and respected artist, publishing his work in the leading photography magazines of the day. He was known for both landscape and portrait photography that embraced the aesthetic of classical oil painting. The Smithsonian Museum owns nine of his photographs made in Greece during the 1920s. This piece is likely from the same era of his career. (For those seeking more information on Nikolas Boris, the 1930/Janurary—December/vol. XXXVII issue of the photographic monthly, Camera Craft offers a brief biography, as well as high praise reviews of his work.)
The bottom margin of the mounting board is signed with the artist’s name and the total of the piece: “Bas Relief”. The name is a reference to the sculptural friezes of the Parthenon in the Acropolis in Athens which depict similar scenes; by placing the models against a mottled backdrop with diffused lighting,and shooting the pose with a shallow depth-of-field, the artist conveys the sculptural technique of low-life stone carving so famously used by Phidias in the Parthenon’s frieze. One last note on the title of this photograph: I believe this is a very early edition of this piece; apparently, later editions (only one of which I was able to locate) were re-named “Greek Athletes”.
Although very old and in less than perfect condition, this photograph still retains is primal power, the artist’s vision and classical composition captured for immortality. This is a rare artwork, and very likely the only one like it you will find available anywhere else! And it will make a stunning addition any decor or collection of early photography, representations of athleticism in art, or, indeed, any admiration of the male figure in motion.