A glimpse into a fading craft

A glimpse into the life at one of the few remaining tanneries at Tampakika, in Piraeus, is available at the French Institute until Friday. «Tannery,» the exhibition by young photographer and photojournalist Yiorgos Ventouris, is on display at the institute’s bistro as part of the Month of Photography series of events. Ventouris, distinguished at a recent competition held by acclaimed French photographer Philip Plisson, has also participated in Month of Photography events in the past (in 1997 and 1998) as well as the 1998 Photosynkyria. His work can be seen at Thessaloniki’s Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art and Photography Museum and in Odense’s Museet for Fotokunst in Denmark. «I took the photographs over a six-month period in 1998. I wanted to record the life of the workers there, but what started off as research turned into something much bigger and personal for me,» said Ventouris in an interview with Kathimerini English Edition. «Life is particularly harsh at the tannery.» Ventouris watched the workers take the hides in from the slaughterhouses, then wash them and get them ready for dying, which took place elsewhere. «Things are easier than in the past because of the machinery, but still the hides are very heavy and that is why older workers are pushed aside in favor of younger ones. There were many foreign workers, mostly from India and Pakistan, where they have a big tradition in tanning. The number of tanneries has been greatly reduced, mostly because of imports.» The photographer was so fascinated by life in the tannery that he is considering a follow-up to this work. «I am interested in all the different stages of leather production, from the slaughterhouses to the finished product which goes on sale,» he said. Already, two small photographs from slaughterhouses, on display in the current exhibition, hint at his future plans. «I am also very interested in what happened to the people who used to work there; I would like to track them down now.» Ventouris, who says he has been greatly influenced by his work with photographers Stefanos Paschos and Pavlos Symeon, among others, is experienced both in studio photography and in photojournalism. «What I love is studying a subject in depth, observing the lives of people over a period of time, because that is like recording society itself. Photojournalism is a great school, because you see extreme situations and learn to distance yourself. I think it is necessary to have that experience, as well as studio experience, to be able to move on to other things.» «It is always good to learn what happens outside Greece and to have someone else give you a critical opinion on your work,» he said when asked whether he thought competitions like the one he took part in are a good way to promote young photographers. «Plisson was very polite and very focused.» Ventouris does not believe that the problems of Greek photography lie in the lack of structure. «There are enough photography schools to learn the basics at, then it depends on you. The problems are financial – the market is very bad; for instance, freelance photojournalists have almost disappeared, they can only survive working with agencies. The audience is also small, although it is getting bigger.» Yiorgos Ventouris does not see photography as art and does not consider himself an artist. «Photography only becomes art under certain circumstances. Many people take up photography because they find it charming and glamorous and like to call themselves artists. But just as being able to form a sentence does not make you a writer, going around with a camera does not make you a photographer either.»