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“One of the great problems with the nature of photography is that people are accustomed to seeing a photograph as authoritative evidence, as proof of something,”

Bill Henson, interview with Janet Hawley, 2000.


Although Henson uses the contemporary art form of photography, his artworks are not documentary in style. The ONEIROI series is neither documentary or narrative, instead Henson desired to create a space between dream and reality. Hence the name ONEIROI. The Oneiroi are the spirits of dreams in Greek mythology who emerged each night from the land of eternal darkness beyond the rising sun. The Oneiroi passed through one of two gates (pylai). The first of these, made of horn, was the source of the prophetic god-sent dreams, while the other, constructed of ivory, was the source of dreams which were false and without meaning. The term for nightmare was melas oneiros (black dream). The series also wonders if there is a particular reason they many of us cleave to a heritage to which we only have tangential links or do the physical artefacts of our histories offer a way of capturing elusive nature of belonging?

ONEIROI – the project

This series was commissioned by the Hellenic Museum and supported by the Buckingham family. Henson chose six objects from the God's, Myths & Mortals collection which included a 3500-year-old gold cup, a 2500-year-old gold wreath, an Ottoman period choker and a knife which once belonged to a Greek revolutionary leader during the war of independence. Benaki Museum conservator, Eleftheria Gkoufa and Hellenic Museum curator, Sarah Craig, removed the objects from the cases and placed them on the model, instructing her how best to handle the objects in order to ensure their conservation and well-being.

The photographs were taken by Henson on the main stairway of the former Royal Mint building. Unlike many contemporary photographers Henson uses a colour analogue film camera. In the past he developed his own images, now he digitally scans the negatives into a computer where he manipulates the image before printing.


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