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Intense identity

by Dr Christopher Chapman, 1 December 2009

Dr Chistopher Chapman discusses the portrait of Australian author Christos Tsiolkas taken by John Tsiavis.

Christos Tsiolkas, 1998 (printed 2009) by John Tsiavis
Christos Tsiolkas, 1998 (printed 2009) by John Tsiavis

‘I wanted to give voice to how frustrating, how tortuous the straightjacket of conforming sexuality and gender could be, regardless of whether the norms applied were patriarchal or feminist, heterosexual or gay.’ This is Christos Tsiolkas reflecting on his first novel Loaded (1995) in a recent interview with Michael Williams in Meanjin journal.

Loaded is a powerful portrayal of a concentrated moment in the life of nineteenyear- old Greek Australian, Ari – the expectations of family clashing with Ari’s bold identity and non-conformist and raw masculinity. The complexities of contemporary Australian identity have remained central to Tsiolkas’s work.

Tsiolkas’s 2008 novel The Slap has sold over 50 000 copies and has won several awards including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. The book was long-listed for the Miles Franklin Award, and is being made into a television series for ABC TV with Tsiolkas as Associate Producer and Story Consultant. The Slap weaves narratives told from the viewpoints of eight different characters, revolving around an incident at a suburban backyard barbecue where a toddler is slapped by an adult who is not his parent. The book deals forcefully with issues of race and class in middle-class Australia. ‘It’s a series of questions being posed by the narrative and the choices that these characters make about questions of discipline, about questions of trust, about questions of care. And I, as Christos Tsiolkas the man, have no set answers to those questions. I do, however, have really firm opinions. That’s the process of engagement that I want readers to have. I want them to start responding to those questions, independent of what I think.’

Christos Tsiolkas, 1998 (printed 2009) by John Tsiavis

Tsiolkas was born in Melbourne in 1965 to Greek immigrant parents. Loaded was made into the award-winning film Head On (1997), directed by Anna Kokkinos and starring Alex Dimitriades. Tsiolkas’s third novel, Dead Europe (2005), won the Age Fiction Book of the Year. His non-fiction includes a study of Fred Schepisi’s 1976 film The Devil’s Playground, and the philosophical dialogue Jump Cuts (1996), co-written with the late Sasha Soldatow. Since 1998, Tsiolkas has also worked as a playwright, solo and in collaboration.

Photographer John Tsiavis was born in Melbourne in 1977 and started his photographic career working as a film stills photographer on Australian feature films including Head On, Chopper, Ned Kelly and Jindabyne. He now primarily works as a portrait and fashion photographer and director of television commercials. Tsiavis has photographed many Australian and international creative individuals, including Bono, Al Gore, Chris Lilley, Sam Neill and Geoffrey Rush. As stills photographer for Anna Kokkinos’s 1997 film Head On, Tsiavis was inspired to create a folio of portrait photographs of individuals involved with the film. He was introduced to Christos Tsiolkas and took the portraits on their first meeting. The portrait photographs were taken at a time when Tsiolkas’s reputation as a highly talented young writer was developing, the photographs capture Tsiolkas’s edgy persona and reflect the drama of his work.

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