Through the lens in Salonika
THESSALONIKI – Each year around this time, Thessaloniki is transformed into a lively center for photography. PhotoBiennale, the name of the photography festival which opened just recently and is organized by the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography, is a richly varied, international event that includes exhibitions (over 40 this year), lectures, a conference, portfolio reviews (photographers meet with distinguished international figures in the field to discuss their work), workshops, awards and a series of other parallel events. Based on the Photosynkyria photography event that was established 19 years ago, the festival was renamed PhotoBiennale in 2007 and has now become a biannual event. Its main theme and the subject of most exhibitions is – as was last year’s event – «Time.» The themes of «Place» and «Word» will follow for the 2010 and 2012 events, respectively. Held at roughly the same time as two other important European photo festivals – Fotografia in Rome and the PhotoEspana in Madrid – the PhotoBiennale has a definitive international character. In its first days, curators from all over the world, photographers and specialists arrive in Thessaloniki to participate in the event. Many of them have been invited to participate as portfolio reviewers, a section of the festival that began last year and has proved to be both most successful and constructive. «Time is not Now,» a large exhibition on the work of the distinguished American photographer Duane Michals, which is curated by Enrica Vigano, and is being held at the main premises of the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography, is a main feature of this year’s PhotoBiennale. In the 1960s, Michals was the first to work in a style of sequential photography; most of his works consist of successive images that add up to unfold an event. Surrealism, fantasy, allusion and an interest in metaphysics are prevalent characteristics of his work. So is the juxtaposition of an image with texts written by the artist and presented in his own handwriting. All of his images address and evoke some sense of time, they delve into past memories, attempt to define the present or to explore the notion of future time. Michals, who attended the PhotoBiennale, gave an inspiring, fully attended lecture on his work that was filled with humor and insight. «Three Generations of Italian Artists Facing Time,» an exhibition curated by Gigliola Foschi and Nina Kassianou, is among the most interesting exhibitions at the event. Mimmo Jodice’s mystical, black-and-white photographs of ancient sculptures or Claudia Pozzoli’s black surfaces that look like close-ups of rocky landscapes or shapes found in nature are among the works of a presentation which seems to be about «suspended time.» «The Role of Photography,» curated by Angeles Bejerano and Fernanda Llobet, concentrates on Spanish photography, particularly a selection of works published in Afal, Nueva Lente and Photovision. Exhibitions that focus on important names in the history of photography are another important part of the biennale. «In Memory of Time,» a photography exhibition that is curated by Gabriel Bauret, takes the viewer on a journey to early-20th-century France, particularly the life of its haute bourgeoisie, through the images of the famous photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue. Among the most compelling exhibitions that focus on the work of a single contemporary artist, are «Unfulfilled Time,» which presents the work of the contemporary Russian photographer Alexey Titarenko and «Glances of the City,» a selection of the images that Aris Georgiou (architect, photographer and founder of Photosynkyria) took of Thessaloniki – his hometown – from the early 1960s to the late 90s. The images are documentations of now extinct parts of the city. The element of a bygone era is also present in the images that Titarenko takes of St Petersburg. Gilles Ehrmann’s photographs of Greek rural life during the 60s make up another interesting exhibition that evokes the past. Time as explored through photographic portraits is the subject of a group exhibition curated by Vangelis Ioakimidis, director of the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography. Among the host of parallel events was a most interesting lecture that Professor at Syracuse University Mary Warner Marien gave on the notion of contemporary documentary photography. The PhotoBiennale was also an occasion for the presentation of two new publications: «New Greek Photography,» written by Costas Ioannidis and published by Futura as well as the Greek publication (by Plethron editions) of Liz Well’s «Photography: A Critical Introduction» translated by Penelope Petsini. Master classes included a presentation by Claudio Hils of his work in documentary photography. Greek photographer Charis Kakarouchas also organized a workshop for photographers. To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography has also organized a series of photography exhibitions in nine Greek cities. Other exhibitions produced by the museum are currently taking place in Kiev, Munich, Beirut and Sofia. They are all part of an important, speedily growing and diversified photographic event held in Thessaloniki and organized by a museum – the only one in the country to focus exclusively on photography – committed to the study and presentation of photographic work. PhotoBiennale takes place at 40 of the city’s venues. Info: Thessaloniki Photography Museum (2310.566.716, www.PhotoBiennale.gr).