LIFE

Topics in Greek photography

By Alexandra Koroxenidis - Kathimerini English Edition

Kythera is an island of dispersed small towns, with varied landscapes and deserted, almost ghostly sites in between. It is a beautiful and strange place, at times austere but enticing, an island with impressive changing skies and rapidly moving clouds, especially at this time of the year. Still unspoiled by tourism - locals claim that the number of tourists rarely becomes overbearing - and with just a few hotels, Kythera feels at times like a throwback from years long passed. But Kythera is also an island that sustains its own community and local life throughout the year. In fact, a group of its permanent residents have in the past year done much to boost the island's cultural life. Largely through volunteer work, they set up the Kythera Cultural Association, a non-profit body that has helped organize musical, film and other artistic events. One of the most important activities of this Association is the «Kythera Photographic Encounters,» a three-day conference on Greek photography that took place for the second successive year roughly a week ago. John Stathatos, a curator, critic and writer on photography as well as a photographer who was based in London for years but is now living in Kythera for most of the year, is the creative director of the conference and basically the man who thought up the concept and brought it to life. His idea was to help advance the study of the history of Greek photography, a field which has not been fully explored, and to create a meeting ground for researchers in the area. Specialists posted in the Hellenic Literary and Historical Archive (ELIA), the Benaki Museum and the Museum of Photography have taken part in the conference. The response seems positive and the conference is gradually growing. This is the first year that it has been officially approved for state funding by the Ministry of Culture. If the funding continues, it is likely that Stathatos's intellectual insight and judgment could potentially turn this conference into an important event for the study of Greek photography. Besides the presence of researchers in the field, a strong aspect of the conference is the large attendance of photography students, especially this year. One of the goals of the Kythera Photographic Encounters is to encourage the work of young photographers and bring them into contact with people in the field. With this objective in mind, Stathatos makes sure that one of the photo exhibitions organized for the occasion of each annual conference shows the works of students, this year those studying at the Focus Photography School. More along the lines of this objective is planned for next year: a meeting in which individual works by students will be discussed with their teachers and fellow students. Although the display of student works gives a contemporary side to the event, the conference focuses primarily on the history of Greek photography, the area addressed in some of the most interesting lectures heard at the conference. Among these were: a presentation and analysis by Nina Kassianou of the photographs that the British war reporter Nancy Crashaw took in Greece during 1939-1945 (her research was based on the archives of Princeton University); a presentation by Vassiliki Hadzigeorgiou of the photos that Giorgos Vafiadakis took in the interwar period (his archive is owned by the ELIA); a comparative analysis by Iason Dimou between the photos that Herbert List took of Greece in the '30s; and Henry Miller's literary vision of Greece as well as an analysis by Takis Tzimas of the work of Nikolaos Tombazis. Although the audience that attended the lectures was not huge, it contributed to a lively discussion after the end of each talk. Some of the most interesting points made at the conference were raised in the course of these discussions. Like every conference, the Kythera Encounters had its own weaknesses. It seemed, for example, that many of the talks attempted to address theoretical concepts in photography but were lacking in analytical depth. Other lectures were filled with factual information but, in some cases, this was presented as isolated facts and not in the context of a broader analysis. These frailties could very well indicate the lack of systematic and in-depth analysis of Greek photography, which is precisely the situation that the Photographic Encounters hopes to gradually change. Seen from one angle, another shortcoming was the lack of a unifying theme. The first two years of the conference have been testing the ground for researchers and ideas. Stathatos said that, starting next year, the conference will focus on a selected theme, and the subject of Greek photography during the Civil War will probably be next year's focus. Exhibitions and award Apart from the lectures, the Kythera Photographic Encounters also includes a number of photographic exhibitions. This year there was the student exhibition as well as a group exhibition on the work of the members of the Photographic Circle Association, essentially a club and something of a training ground in photography established in Athens 15 years ago by photographer and teacher of photography Platon Rivellis. Members of this group share a common aesthetic which is largely influenced by the photography of Rivellis; one of the drawbacks of his lecture on the Photographic Circle Association heard in the conference was that it failed to fully describe the style of photography that he has supported through the Photographic Circle Association. One of the most interesting exhibitions held on the occasion of this year's conference was «Terza Natura,» a series of photos that contemporary Greek photographer Yiorghis Yerolymbos took in the course of the construction of the Egnatia Highway in Northern Greece. His work addresses how human intervention alters the natural landscape. Two other exhibitions focused on historical aspects of photography. Historical photos from Kythera were gathered in one of the exhibitions. The Kytherean Photographic Archive has been instituted in order to document and preserve these photos. The task of the archive is to trace, gather, copy (some in digitized form), preserve and classify in an electronic archive all photographic documentations from Kythera (www.kytheraphoto.com is the site one can visit to see some of the photos). Images from the archive of the photographer Dimitris Papadimos now at the ELIA were also on display in a separate exhibition. Papadimos lived in Egypt and Greece and his images of both countries were taken during the 1950s and '60s. A novel aspect to this year's Kythera conference was the institution of an award for a Greek photographic album. Five books published in the past year were short-listed and the award committee (John Stathatos, photographer Eleni Maligoura and Aris Georgiou, former director of the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography) finally decided to hand the award to Giorgos Depollas for his book «On the Beach.» The so-called Milos award is funded by businessman Costas Spiliadis, a supporter of the Photographic Encounters. The Milos award will continue next year. It is one of the various aspects of a cultural event that is open and flexible and that is making an island in Greece part of the cultural map. All in the hope that Greek photography will be better studied and new ideas will be heard. (Info at: www.kytheraphoto.com)

Online