CULTURE

Kythera island a haven for Greek photography history

The rescued archive of pioneer Kythera photographer Panayiotis Fatseas (1888-1938) has become the basis for the island’s development into a new center for photographic study. Recomposing Fatseas’s archive, long in a state of decay, is what sparked the establishment of a series of events titled «Photographic Happening in Kythera.» The first event, a conference, is scheduled for October and will focus on the history of Greek photography. «The philosophy behind these events is simple,» said photographer Yiannis Stathatos, artistic director of the new institution. «Essentially, the aim is for each event to provide a place where people interested primarily in Greek photography, old and new, can get together for discussions and exchanges of ideas. The events will develop mainly through the conference and a few exhibitions, avoiding expansion into irrelevant areas.» The gradual emergence of the island as a focal point for friends and scholars of photography began with the discovery of a wealth of material narrating the recent history of the island, southeast of the Peloponnese. About 2,000 old negative plates – the majority of which are portraits shot at Fatseas’s studio – were salvaged at the very last minute. «These portraits depict individuals standing or sitting down, couples, spouses, children on their own, mothers with their children, the elderly, as well as large families,» said Stathatos. «One of the reasons why this rich material was developed on this relatively poor and isolated island was the strong immigration wave of the people of Kythera, initially toward Asia Minor, then Egypt and later on to North America and Australia.» Prewar immigrants rarely took their families with them, Stathatos explained, and only returned once every three or four years, eager to have many family portraits taken. Besides portraits, Fatseas also took numerous photographs of the island’s landscapes, as well as scenes from daily lives. Born and raised in Kythera, Fatseas died at the age of 50. When he was 22 he emigrated to the United States, only to return home two years later. On his trip from the US, Fatseas brought back a camera, one of the first such devices to appear on the island, and due to popular demand opened his studio at Livadi, in 1920. His first-born son, Michalis, inherited his father’s passion for photography. The old, nearly forgotten Fatseas archive revives a whole era and the history of a small society in the interwar period. At the same time, it offers valuable information on how to rescue and ultimately put such precious material to good use. Similar archives remain unused and in danger of being destroyed in various parts of the country. «Ultimately, the aim is to process and store every single negative digitally. In order to do this though, the Kythera Cultural Society is looking for sponsors,» said Stathatos. «Meanwhile, we confided a number of clean negative plates to Aimilios Morgianidis, an experienced photographer and technician who regularly collaborates with the Benaki Museum,» added Stathatos. «As a result, we owe him the first, stunning prints. My initial thought was that these prints should have been digitized possibly enhanced; in the end, however, I came to believe that they ought to go on display and be published just as they are, without any kind of intervention that would remove the traces of time.» The public will get a chance to see a first selection of Fatseas’s photos in a group show of the island’s historical photography, which will accompany the first event in October. Later on, and once the archive has been completely restored and studied, future plans include an exhibition and the publication of a monograph, possibly in collaboration with another photographic body.