Photo tribute to Thessaloniki French Institute

At the beginning of the 20th century, Thessaloniki was the biggest port of the Ottoman Empire, a thriving city with an ethnically mixed population of Muslims, Jews, Turks, Greeks and Bulgarians. For the French Mission Laique, a non-profit association whose aim was to spread the teaching of the French language abroad, the city’s multicultural life made Thessaloniki an ideal destination. Pierre Deschamps, founder of Mission Laique, in 1902 had taught in Madagascar and through that experience had learned that for education to be effective, cultural differences had to be respected. In 1906 Maurice Kuhn, general secretary to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was sent to Thessaloniki to explore education in the city’s non-religious schools. That same year, the Lycee Francais was established with Kuhn as its director. The institution, which was born out of the merging of the city’s three Catholic French schools, marked the birth of the institution that is today known as the French Institute, an educational establishment that has played a pivotal role in the cultural life of the country. It is in honor of this establishment that the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography has held the exhibition «Salonique! Ca va?» and published a catalog with photographs that document moments from the 100-year life of this important institution. The photographs that span the early days of the Lycee Francais, through its temporary closure during the German occupation and the school’s reopening under a different name (the French Institute in Thessaloniki) in the postwar period are a moving journey back in time. On the occasion of this tribute, photographers Cathy Cunliffe and Lia Nalbantidou each created a photo-essay with images that continue the influence of this institution in the present day. In Cunliffe’s images people wearing masks are photographed in the institute’s classrooms. Lia Nalbantidou has photographed French residents in Thessaloniki and people associated with the life of this important, cultural and educational institution.

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