CULTURE

History told through children

The political and social manifestations of post-World War II reconstruction are identified in the minds of most Greeks with United Photojournalists, a group composed of Dimitris Triandafyllou (1915-1976), Dimitris Foteinopoulos (1912-1993), Dimitris Floros (1911-1970) and Evripides Martoglou (1898-1978). Through thousands of negatives and pictures, they created a common consciousness following the devastation of the war as the country struggled to stand on its own two feet and become an equal member of the international community. Recently, Potamos Publications published a coffee-table book containing some of the group’s most celebrated photographs. The selection was made from the totality of their work, most of which is currently in the hands of N.E. Tolis, a private collector who also conducted the research for the new publication. Children, 1946-1961 – United Photojournalists, is a stunning record of children from all around Greece during the period of reconstruction, a group that represented hope in a period of intense political and social turbulence. In it, Tolis has aimed, through a strict and painstaking selection of approximately 230 photographs, to revive both the events and climate of the era, as well as to shed light on the group’s course. The album, which is also an important historical document based on original material and research, reveals the contribution of the four to the course of Greece photojournalism as a whole. Self-taught United Photojournalists, along with the agencies of Megalokonomos and Poulidis, are broadly considered the pioneers of Greek photojournalism. Their trademark was the great range of subjects they covered, both in terms of themes and geography, broadening the definition of photojournalism to include a personal point of view. All the photographs chosen for Children, 1946-1961 create a sense of poetic narrative that seems to outlive the moment when news ceases to be news, simply by the strength of the subjects photographed. The children of the Greek countryside – who comprise the majority of the photographs – seem to have cast their own spell upon the photographers, drawing them into their own rhythms. The crucial 15-year period of reconstruction, when shortages of material goods were huge in comparison to the 1970s, is given life, texture and form through the eyes of the children. Despite the poverty they convey, these photographs leave us with a sense of optimism. Individual portraits, group shots, street scenes, schools, playgrounds and beaches, photographs of youngsters posing proudly in front of the lens, humor and original compositions, commentary, and even sarcasm, form a panorama that rouses emotion at first glance. But beyond their artistic or emotional value, if one were to look at the photographs as pure photojournalism, one would see the great developments that took place in Greece in a relatively short period of time, but also gain a sense that some things have not changed as much as some might like to think. Though 17 years separated the youngest of the four photographers from the oldest, they all belonged to the generation of Greeks who grew up in the aftermath of two very important historical events: the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) and the Asia Minor Disaster. Evripidis Martoglou came from Asia Minor. He worked at the Acropolis newspaper as a photojournalist and it was he who took the famous pictures of the execution of the Koubaion group in Goudi in 1930. In many ways, he was a a mentor for the three younger reporters working in United Photojournalists. He spent the last years of his life organizing an archive of the group’s photographs. Dimitris Floros, more commonly known as Takis Floros, was the best sports photojournalist in Greek history, while Dimitris Triandafyllou and Dimitris Foteinopoulos, born in the same generation, started working in the 1930s. The four came together in the 1940s and started writing their own, collective history officially in 1946. They were originally based in the Pezmazoglou arcade’s Proias Megaron, which was, unfortunately, torn down in 1976. But though the world in which they created has been demolished, the testimony to their existence remains to take us on voyages through time. These characterizations are made in good faith, but all generalizations are a little dangerous and a little moot. The totality of an artist’s creations cannot be reduced to a few types. This is why we made a cinema of our own, one that speaks about people. Cinema is not political – people are political beings. What’s important is the lone individual among others.