Images of the future

By Harry van Versendaal

It has been a tough year for the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography, as severe budget cuts and organizational problems jeopardized this year’s PhotoBiennale and the very survival of the institution. Relieved, even proud of having pulled off the event, museum director Vangelis Ioakimidis speaks to Athens Plus.

You’ve had a hard year, with financial difficulties. What are the biggest compromises you have had to make?

We had to ask almost all the photographers to pay the cost of setting up the exhibitions, we had to use Mylos instead of the, larger, port sites, and we had to depend on a very small staff.

Are you satisfied with the outcome?

I believe the artistic result has been of a high quality and has not affected our reputation. Our problems are of an organizational and financial nature.

What are the prospects?

In June and July we will know if we will be eligible for EU subsidies; if we are, then this will improve prospects until September. Our application is ready for evaluation. In that case we might be able to enter the festival for 2012 and 2014. The museum still has problems with operating costs, which although small, are too much for us.

What about the possibility of merging with the State Museum of Contemporary Art?

We don’t even want to think about it. It would be a great blow for us.

Is “place,” this year’s theme, not too loose a concept?

Well, place is everything, just as time (the theme of the 2008 PhotoBiennale) is everything. It is everything, but it is also something.

Some of the captions seem to infuse the photographs with meaning that is not there or which was not the photographer’s intention. What is your opinion?

Yes, that’s so. That’s a difficult issue: the connection between the work of art and the words. It calls for caution.

Doesn’t that apply to the photograph itself? Has the rise of post-modernism made it hard to distinguish a treasure from rubbish. Has subjectivity been harmful?

We have tried to show different styles, and the dimension of photography, whether narrative, visual and conceptual or completely objective. At the same time, we have tried to show current trends.

Has the digital revolution done more harm than good to photography? Now nearly everyone can be a photographer.

This has always been a problem, that anyone can call himself a creative photographer – just as any journalist might think he is a creative writer. But it is both an advantage and a disadvantage. If the public are able to take their own photographs, they will be more open to photography itself.

Is there a possibility that photography will go the same way as music, where file-swapping and data overload have harmed the quality and shelf-life of music. People hear far more, pay less attention and move on quickly to the next thing. Some things become very small very quickly.

It was a blow to music because music was a whole industry. Photography, at least the way we approach it, is not. At any rate, photography is not losing its public, it is gaining it. The problem is with the creators; whether they evolve and whether the system around them helps them evolve. I have the impression that they are evolving. And I believe that Greeks too are evolving – but slowly.

So to finish more or less where we started. What role can a museum play in a crisis? Should we have other priorities instead of paying to see photographs?

In the world we live, if we don’t have feelings and senses, we can’t exist. Just as we need food, we must have something to make us continue wondering; intellectual food. It isn’t a luxury, but one of the three main elements in our existence. Just as we need our health to get around, education to learn how to think and earn a living, so we need things to inspire us. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

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