CULTURE

Archive traces the rich history of Kalamata

The shop sign saying «Photo-Techni» at 17 Kolokotroni Street, on the corner with Agiou Nikolaou Street, near the historic center of Kalamata tells the story of three generations of photographers. It is a story directly related to the development of the city itself, as it has been imprinted on the tens of thousands of glass plates and negatives that belonged to three pioneers of the art of photography from the late 19th century and throughout the whole of the 20th. The Dekeles Archive, as it is known after the younger of the three photographers, is a wonderful collection of photographs which, like a fan with many folds, condenses all the phases of the life of the city of Kalamata. 110 years of service It is there, in the same position, where the old antique cameras, lined up as though ready to spring to life, preserving the otherwise lost atmosphere of the old studio, are religiously guarded. Now the old photographer’s studio, traditional to the end, exists only as a site in memory after 110 continuous years of service. Here came the ladies of Kalamata, with their hats and veils, the soldiers, the bourgeoisie and the families for a group photo, all saying «cheese» in front of the paper scenery. How many children of the interwar period were born, how many tears and hopes were expressed before the photograph was taken? And inside this small space, which seemingly all Kalamata passed through, which made its way here for its gaze to seduce and be seduced, the three photographers with their cameras emerged, one passing the baton on to the other. For decades, tireless and fully equipped, they recorded all the city’s goings-on; the streets and neighborhoods of Kalamata, the quiet houses in the lanes and the serene neoclassical facades of the center. The visits of kings, bishops and political party leaders, which enlivened for a bit the sedate rhythm of this beautiful city, are all documented, as are World War II, the occupying Germans, and the resistance fighters. The villages of Messinia, the local athletic associations, the boy scouts, and the groups of friends appear as well. Giorgos Loizos It was Giorgos Loizos, born around 1870 and active until the mid-1930s, who set up the studio and made a name for himself. Later Dionysis Dimitriades arrived at the studio from Zakynthos. When the years had passed, he handed the baton over to Giorgos Dekeles (1932-2000). Dekeles entered «Photo-Techni» in the 1950s as the third link in the photographic tradition. He had the privilege of finding an extraordinary photographic treasure and the foresight and devotion to look after and expand it. The contribution of Giorgos Dekeles to the preservation of the collective memory of Kalamata is inestimable. In his own way, he too wrote the history of the city. What he caught on camera is what remains. As his daughter Anna Dekeles told us, the studio, a meeting place, has been kept as it was in the past. Ms Dekeles is not a photographer herself but feels the need to preserve this piece of the history of Kalamata. The old charm oozes from the atmosphere of the studio and the old cameras. And yet, the romantic mood evaporates once one is called upon to find a practical solution for the future of this archive of Kalamata, with the help of modern technology and specialized staff. An archive for Kalamata Kalamata, a city which on occasion has pleasantly surprised us with its artistic activities, truly deserves a photographic center, which could be supported by the city’s own population and local sponsors. The Dekeles Archive could easily become the basis for a photography research center which could, in turn, liaise with Skopelos, an important center of photography, for exchanging exhibitions and research collaborations. Gradually, a whole series of cities could come together to create a network for collaboration and find a solution to the problem of the forgotten photographic archives of the regions. These centers, which would be run with the support of local forces, private and public, could provide positions of employment and spurs for research. The Dekeles Archive, known only among narrow photographic circles, has come to public attention at a time when the government is preparing to announce a policy for photographic archives and to open channels of communication with other state and private institutions and centers. Kalamata, with its urban tradition, possesses a treasure the fate of which ought to be taken seriously. The Dekeles Archive is a special case which, by its very idiosyncrasy, sheds light on 20th-century Greek society. It should most definitely be made more widely known.