Photographer’s focus on immigrants in Greece

A picture might be worth a thousand words, but sometimes the combination of photos and commentary is worth much more. Internationally renowned Magnum photographer Jim Goldberg, who has been visiting this country to photograph immigrants and refugees living in Greece, asked them to jot down some comments on his photographs. The results went on show recently at Barcelona’s Antonio de Barnola Gallery. Greece’s geographical position has made it the destination of immigrants from Asia and Africa. In such a small country, people are suspicious of or, at best, reserved toward anyone who wants to cross the boundary they have raised against anything they regard as a threat. «The best way to approach (immigrants)… is to look them in the eye and try to explain simply what you want to do,» said Goldberg. He takes pictures with his Polaroid camera while talking to them. When the image appears, his subjects are invited to write whatever they want on them, co-creating the image. Goldberg eliminates the distance between the subject and the impersonal, detached creator. The time has long passed, he said, since the objective purpose of a shoot was the issue. The aesthetic result of the interaction has the added value of spontaneity, freshness and inventiveness. The photos become a kind of personal «ID card,» visible proof that these people were here. The idea of combining image and text was an idea that Goldberg first came up with as early as 1977 when he began work on the book «Rich and Poor,» his comment on the American dream. On the one hand were the «rejects» who had no place in the idealized consumer society, on the other were representatives of the upper-middle class. Goldberg’s view of the situation in Greece is that the word «tough» in no way describes what immigrants experience here. «Greece is a natural destination for people setting out from countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans,» he said. Usually, after going through great hardship to get here, they begin to realize that things aren’t quite as they expected. Naturally this is a problem faced by immigrants and refugees everywhere. «It is an international issue.The situation for many of these people is a direct consequence of the failed policies of both the American and European governments,» he said. His limited Greek vocabulary was the only obstacle he encountered in his contacts with his subjects, and he frequently resorted to an interpreter in order to delve further into their histories. He is planning to publish a book of selected images from this project. This article first appeared in the December 18 edition of K, Kathimerini’s color supplement.