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PRIVATE 24 | The Evolution of Contemporary Greek Photography

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In the past two decades Greek art photography has grown enormously, deriving stimuli both from the international photography scene, with which it now keeps pace, as well as from the fast development of Greek society. This growth coincided with and was affected by a broader turn of the Greek society towards the technological image in the second part of the ’80s, mostly through the appearance of private TV channels and a literal explosion of illustrated magazines. A notable change from post-war photography is that documentary photography and the photogenic Greece of classical ruins and mediterranean light do not dominate as exclusively as before. Art photography in Greece possesses now breadth and depth, assembling a multitude of approaches that include social documentary and street photography, staged and conceptual photography, experimental and digital techniques, video and installations comprising photography. The conclusion drawn, supported by the large Image and Icon exhibition 1997, which explored the major photographic trends in Greece during the period 1975-1995, is that no particular “greek” idiom emerged as a distinctive, collective style, despite the strong personal style that many photographers achieved or the fact that they address local social and historical issues. This issue of PRIVATE presents a small sample of contemporary Greek photography from 1995 onwards.

Starting with the contemporary evolution of the straight photography tradition, one follows the steps of Nikos Economopoulos through the streets of Greece and the greater Balkan area, drawing out scenes of people improvising the peaceful or troubled drama of life, their life. Ilias Bourgiotis has worked in the same tradition, in and out of the national borders, emphasizing the significance of the ephemeral with a special care for form. Extending his gaze over the Greek sea, Takis Roidakis avoids the epically picturesque and plunges into the ritual of everyday life. Similarly Yiangos Athanassopoulos, from a distance and with formalist elaboration, explores the human presence by the seaside in moments of play and contemplation. On his part, Thodoris Hourmouziades discovers the unique, crystalline landscape of the salt pan and the salt-hills traversed by the rails of transport wagons. In stark contrast with the countryside experience, Costas Ordolis focuses on the tension and often decadent eccentricity of the capital, Athens. On the same rhetoric of straight photography, Savvas Lazaridis focuses on social documentary. In the series Kurds, he enters the refugee world of minimal means at the abandoned railway wagons, a regime of torturous impermanence, where all wait for a new life to begin in the new country chosen as home.

Greek reality is approached in an austere but poetic way by Paris Petrides, who assorts a mosaic of images in which deserted sections of national roads, TV audiences watching stock market news and cruise ships that fade into a leaden horizon, all play an equal role. Simos Saltiel works mainly in interior spaces, where the absence of man is indicated by the faint aura woven through the arrangement of objects within the space and the careful use of light. Dimitris Yeros shuns the superficial exoticism of Egypt, taking pictures that often function on several levels at once: as portraits in the foreground that extend to an artistic inventory of the multifarious urban landscape of Egypt.

A group of works deals with portraits. Nikos Koukis is documenting with frontal portraits the fragile race of itinerant workers who absorb the rumble of the city: chestnut sellers, lottery-ticket sellers, shoeblacks and road sweepers. Yiorgos Kartsangelos arranges portraits of inmates at the State Mental Hospital of Thessaloniki, attempting to capture unique characters in the institutionalized environment. Yiannis Marapas selects the large format psychological portrait, endeavouring to outline distinctive personalities. His characters emerge from a black background of critical existential significance. Eleni Mouzakiti traces the aura of actors backstage and in their dressing rooms, where drama makes its presence intensely felt in the glances cast, gestures made, in the body’s stance and movements. Athina Chroni is turning inwards, attempting self-portraits. Her static or moving image in practically bare, interior spaces, speaks disarmingly and without drama of the loneliness and ephemerality of the human being.

Assuming a different style, the diptychs of Melinna Kaminari attempt a balance between summertime seaside relaxation and the vagueness of modern everyday life, touching on human efforts to maintain equilibrium in a suspended, uncertain universe. The diptychs of Aris Georgiou contrast the microcosm of his private phonebook, full of smudges, hand-written notes and worn pages, with photographs of people whose details are entered there.

In a group of landscape works, Eleni Maligoura penetrates the holy mysticism and dominance of Delphi. Shunning the stereotypical approach, she uses the everchanging skies and the ancient ruins to revive a landscape whose spiritual essence remains intact. Alexandros Avramides’ pinhole photographs in Ogygia lend a mythical aura to the isolated, rocky landscape of the island cloaked by the Homeric shadow of Ulysses’ wanderings. Impromptu pinhole photography also inspired Stelios Efstathopoulos in composing a world of diffuse half-shadow, perhaps likened to the uncertain gaze of a child perceiving the world of adults as a strange merry-go-round of fluctuating luminosity.

Another group of photographic works encompasses digital processing. Epaminondas Schizas’ gaze unites in an elaborate digital collage the above and under-water worlds of Attica beaches, allowing for an overview of coastal landscape that ranges from discontinuous visual forms to parody of triviality. Returning to the model of archetypal consciousness, Takis Zerdevas builds motifs that form environments and installations concerned with the gestures and stances of the body as a pre-linguistic stage of communication. Dimitris Tsoublekas uses caustic compositions to point the exaggerated use of computer imaging and undermine the stereotypes of Athenian environment by bringing forward the contradictions between nature, history and civilisation. Viktor koen creates digital compositions of metaphysical portraits coming from the imaginary world of Tlön, based on the homonymous text by Borges, commenting on the frequently dystopian world of contemporary science and technology.
(Hercules Papaioannou, director of the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography, dec. 2002)

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