A photographic treasure

The cleaning out of an old stately home in Kastoria in the early 1990s brought to light the then-unknown photographer Leonidas Papazoglou, whose work in turn revealed the scarcely familiar multinational character of early 20th-century Kastoria. The exhibition of photographs by Papazoglou which opened recently at the New Wing of the Benaki Museum (the first large-scale production by Thessaloniki’s Photography Museum) may focus on the time of the Macedonian Struggle, yet is a hugely valuable testimony to life in Western Macedonia shortly before the end of Ottoman rule. Papazolgou’s archives, consisting of some thousands of glass-plate negatives, was kept for years in cupboards in his room. During the summer of 1993, 75 years after Papazoglou’s death, his daughter Xanthippi came across this huge archive – the negatives that were still in good condition were placed in cardboard boxes and survived, while the largest part was sent to the local garbage dump. Two years later, Giorgos Golobias came into possession of the archive. In all, 2,500 negatives survived, most of them in excellent condition, as well as a small number of bits of negatives, while some others belong to some Kastoria residents. No one can give a precise number of the negatives that were destroyed. Leonidas Papazoglou did not limit himself to the city of Kastoria and, fortunately, he avoided ideological, national or other restrictions. Hence, his photographs give a pretty accurate picture of the era, with the Greeks, Turks, Jews, Turkish-Albanians and local Slavic-speakers who formed the majority of the countryside’s farming and cattle-breeding population. Papazoglou’s lens captured Kastoria and its surroundings before the movements of population imposed by the wars and ethnic cleansing of the following decades, and that is where the true value of these photographs lies. Giorgos Golobias stressed that Papazoglou maintained complete control over his shots. «One can draw a parallel between his work and that of an orchestra conductor, who dominates the musical instruments with his baton and prevents them from going out of tune, producing harmony,» he says in his introductory note to the exhibition’s catalogue. Benaki Museum – New Wing, 138 Pireos & Andronikou, Gazi, tel 210.345.3111-3. The exhibition runs to January 23.