Advancing Greek photography

Among the events organized on photography in this country, the Kythera Photographic Encounters is the most recent arrival and the only full-blown, scientific conference on Greek photography. Organized for the third consecutive year this fall, this five-day event includes a conference, a part of which usually focuses on a specific subject – this year photography of the Greek Civil War – as well as various exhibitions on historic as well as contemporary photography. Officially organized by the Kythera Cultural Association, the event is held in Kythera and is an initiative of photographer, arts writer and curator John Stathatos, who works together with his team in setting up each year’s event. One of the traits of the Kythera Encounters is that it expands to include a new aspect each year. A novelty this year was the «Young Photographers’ Encounters,» a subdivision of the entire event that included an open-submission group exhibition for photographers under 30, a portfolio review session and a one-day forum. The event strengthens the attention that the Photographic Encounters has placed on the work of young photographers since its beginning, both by organizing exhibitions on their work and by putting young photographers in contact with specialists in the field to discuss their work. Besides the portfolio reviews, Yorgos Depollas, one of the pioneers of the New Greek Photography movement, Yiannis Kontos (an agency photojournalist just back from Iraq) and John Stathatos himself, who recently exhibited a body of works at the Athens Gallery, spoke about their life and work as well as photography in general to this audience of young photographers. The whole event was met by success with the ample participation of 40 young photographers coming from principal photography schools and clubs from all over Greece. Stathatos intends to make the «Young Photographers’ Encounters» a staple part of future Kythera Encounters and to expand its duration. Initiatives such as this aim at helping the development of Greek photography. This, together with the documentation and study of the history of Greek photography – an under-researched field – is a long-term objective behind the Kythera Encounters. This objective is mainly met by the conference. This year’s conference was originally planned to focus exclusively on the period of «War and Occupation,» but given the still relatively small number of Greek researchers on this topic, the conference expanded to include more than one subject matter. Penelope Petsini, for example, spoke about the aesthetics and ideology behind «Periplous,» Magnum’s recent exhibition which was held in Athens and included images of contemporary Greece. A lively discussion ensued, with several attendants expressing their frustration at how the Cultural Olympics’ sole exhibition on photography involved a foreign news agency instead of Greek photography. A presentation of Panayiotis Fatseas on the preservation of the glass negatives of his grandfather’s work (Manolis Fatseas was one of the first photographers of the island whose work is now owned by the Kythera Photographic Archive), together with a number of theoretical issues explored by other researchers, provide a sense of the conference’s broad scope. Besides opening new topics in the study of photography, the conference is an occasion for photographic archives to be made known (researchers from the photographic archive of the Benaki Museum are steady participants at the conference) and evaluated. War and occupation was the subject addressed by several researchers, among them John Stathatos, who spoke about the photographic documentation of the occupation in Kythera. The exhibition «War, Occupation and Liberation in Kythera» addressed this very issue through a presentation of the holdings of the Kythera Photographic Archive. The negatives of Manolis Fatseas were among the works shown. They were enlarged in digital prints for a more contemporary aesthetic and included scenes of everyday life during the occupation, rare portraits of the German and Italian forces and the images showing the arrival of Greek and British troops during the liberation. A second exhibition, on the images taken by photo-reporter Yiannis Kontos in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans, reflects the Kythera Encounters’ aim of covering both the past and the present of Greek photography. The exhibition will be shown at the Thessaloniki’s Photosynkyria photography event in February, thus helping advance a policy of exchanges with other institutions, which is another goal of the Photographic Encounters. Inviting foreign art historians to attend the conference is yet another goal aimed at giving more international exposure to Greek photographers. However, the lack of goverment funding, at least for this year, poses a serious obstacle to the fulfillment of these goals. Officially, the Photographic Encounters is part of the Ministry of Culture’s Photography Network but the goverment’s focus on the artistic projects tied to the Olympics was, according to Stathatos, the main reason for the financial difficulties faced by the event this year. Stathatos said that the organizers of the Kythera Encounters had to cope with their savings, a reduced municipal grant and financial support from local businesses as the only resource. Commenting on this situation, John Stathatos said that the funding of the Kythera Encounters this year is «characteristic of the way culture is funded in Greece: seemingly haphazardly, with no continuity, no planning, entirely at the mercy of ministerial whims. Our complaint, and that of almost every cultural organization in the country, is not necessarily the level of funding at any one time, but the complete uncertainty regarding the ministry’s intentions; a pittance, but a pittance guaranteed for, say, three years in advance, provided on time and with a genuinely unbiased evaluation at the end of it, would be infinitely preferable to the present system of random windfalls.» One aspect of the Kythera Encounters which is financially self-sustained is the Milos prize, a financial award given each year to what is the best – according to an appointed committee by the Kythera Encounters event – Greek photographic, recent publication. This year the award went to Charis Kakarouchas’ photographic album on Cuba (released by Apeiron publications). Sponsor of the 2,000-euro award is MILOS SA, owner of the Milos restaurant at the Athens Hilton hotel. Held for the second consecutive year, the establishment of the Milos prize award will continue in the future. John Stathatos and his team are already planning ahead for the next Kythera Encounters. Despite present difficulties, they are driven by a commitment, a desire to advance the study of Greek photography and to create a lively forum for researchers in the field. Info at: