Posts Tagged 'fysakis'

Photographers create ‘unofficial history’ of Greek crisis

By Harry van Versendaal

“Depression Era,” a show of 250 photographs that opens Wednesday at the Pireos Street annex of the Benaki Museum, documents the far-reaching impact of Greece’s brutal economic crisis on the country’s urban and social fabric.

The works presented in the exhibition, which also features a few video installations and a big collage comprising cutouts from print media related to the crisis, are by the Depression Era Project, a collective of more than 35 local photographers, writers, curators, designers and researchers. The photos were shot over the past four years.

The show, which runs through January 11, includes works by Panos Kokkinias, Spyros Staveris, Pavlos Fysakis, Dimitris Michalakis, Eirini Vourloumis and Yiannis Theodoropoulos, and has been curated by Petros Babasikas, Pavlos Fysakis, Yorgos Prinos, Dimitris Tsoumplekas and Pasqua Vorgia.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, organizers said that the project aims to document the social, historical and economic transformation currently under way in the debt-wracked nation as a way of creating an “unofficial history” of recent developments. Among the objectives set out by the collective is to question the mainstream belief in progress and human improvement.

While personal styles may differ, a sense of gloom, defeat and discontinuity runs through most of the 250 images on the walls of the Benaki. A nondescript dystopian cityscape, a half-finished home, a central Athens street scarred by a rowdy protest rally, a suburban villa behind a closed metal gate, contrasted against occasional flashbacks to the 2004 Olympic euphoria and the days of irrational exuberance.

“The project was inspired by the need to forge a new narrative amid all the noise created by the Greek crisis,” Fysakis, who masterminded the project, told journalists.

Parts of the project have already been showcased at the Bozar Center for Fine Arts in Brussels, at the Mois de la Photo in Paris, the PhotoBiennale of the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography, and the Ebros theater squat in Athens.

The Depression Era collective and the KOLEKTIV8 nonprofit group which supports it were founded in 2011. The current project is funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

Benaki Museum, 138 Pireos, tel 210 345 3111. Wednesday’s opening starts at 8 p.m. Regular visiting hours are Thursdays & Sundays 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and Fridays & Saturdays 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.

For more information, visit depressionera.gr.

Advertisements

Seeing is believing

Photo by Joseph Galanakis

By Harry van Versendaal

When Thimios Gourgouris first caught the news of furious rioting in downtown Athens in December 2008, he reached for his Nikon camera. As the Greek capital surrendered to an orgy of violence and looting sparked by the fatal shooting of a teenager by police, the curious young man from the suburbs took to the debris-strewn streets to document the mayhem.

Three years later, the number of people like Gourgouris have skyrocketed. As public rallies against the Socialist government’s austerity measures — sanctioned by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, the debt-choked country’s foreign creditors — keep coming, more people seem to have set aside the traditional flag and banner for a more versatile medium: the digital camera. Just type “Greek protests 2011” into Google Images and you’ll get more than 5 million results.

This burst of interest in user-generated content is propelled by more than one reason. But, like elsewhere around the world, it is principally born out of public skepticism toward conventional media.

“I want to see with my own eyes what is happening out there. I stopped relying just on the stuff I was being fed by television,” Gourgouris, a tall man with a dark beard and expressive eyes, said in a recent interview.

Greece’s mainstream media have not escaped unscathed from popular criticism of the country’s institutions. Television channels and newspapers — traditionally associated with the nation’s political parties — are seen as pandering to political and business interests.

“I only trust what I see,” Gourgouris said.

Born in 1980, Gourgouris has never belonged to a political party. A former graphic designer who now works as a commercial representative in Elefsina, a small town west of Athens, he dreams of one day becoming a war photographer. The streets around Syntagma Square make good training ground, he jokes. When venturing into the urban scuffles, he wears gloves, body armor and a green Brainsaver helmet equipped with a built-in camera. “Last time a piece of marble hit me on the right shoulder,” he said.

Gourgouris makes a point of sharing all of his pictures on Flickr, the image- and video-hosting website. All his photographs are free to download in high resolution. One of his shots from the latest riots shows a riot policeman trying to snatch an SLR camera from a man standing in Syntagma Square. A woman reacts to the scene while trying to protect a fellow demonstrator who appears to be in a state of shock.

“If I had to keep a single image from the protest, it would have to be that one,” he said.

Protest 3.0

Around the globe, protests are reshaped by technology. Ever-cheaper digital gadgets and the Internet are transforming the means and the motives of the people involved in ways we are only starting to witness.

Last spring, the twitterati hailed the “social media revolutions” in Tunisia and Egypt as protesters made extensive use of social networks to bring down their despotic presidents. Facebook and Twitter played a key role in fomenting public unrest following Iran’s disputed election in 2009. Like Iran, Libya showed the same media are available to the autarchic regimes.

Greece is not immune to social and technological forces. In May, thousands of people responded to a Facebook call by the so-called Indignant movement to join an anti-austerity rally at Syntagma and other public squares across the country. Demonstrators, who have since camped in front of the Greek Parliament, use laptops to organize and promote their campaign through the Net.

When individuals’ behavior changes, mass protests also change. Gourgouris says that whenever he sees the police arresting a demonstrator, he feels that by running to the scene an officer will think twice before exerting unnecessary physical force.

“When everybody is filming with their cell phones, you’re not going to beat the hell out of that person,” he said.

Switching places

Technology is also transforming the news business, as ordinary folk get involved in the gathering, filtering and dissemination of information.

“It’s evolution,” said Pavlos Fysakis, a professional photographer in his early 40s. He says that this type of guerrilla journalism may not guarantee quality, but it is certainly a force for pluralism.

“The news now belongs to everyone. It comes from many different sources, and it is open to many different interpretations,” said Fysakis, who is one of the 14 photojournalists to have worked on The Prism GR2010 multimedia project, a collective documentation of Greece during last winter that is available on the Internet.

If there is one problem will all this input, Fysakis says, it has to do with the diminishing shock factor. With all the imagery out there, he warns, audiences as well as photographers risk getting a bit too accustomed to graphic images.

“Violence is demystified. We almost think it’s normal to see a cop beating up a person on the street. The image is everywhere, as if [the event] is occurring all the time,” Fysakis said.

User-generated footage of the June 29 demonstrations depicted riot police firing huge amounts of tear gas and physically abusing protesters, including elderly men and women.

The apparently excessive use of force by police is the subject of a parliamentary investigation. Meanwhile, a prosecutor has brought charges against the police for excessive use of chemicals and for causing bodily harm to citizens. Amnesty International has also condemned the police tactics.

Exposed

For Liza Tsaliki, a communications and media expert at the University of Athens, crowdsourced content “is laden with democratic potential.”

“Civilian footage of the riots has widened our perspective and understanding of what actually happened,” she said of the June demonstrations.

A few hours after the protests, the Internet was churning with footage apparently showing riot squad officers escorting three men who had covered their faces and appeared to be wielding iron bars, prompting suggestions that the police had either placed provocateurs within the protesting crowds or that the force was offering protection to extreme right-wing protesters who were battling leftists.

However, an official reaction (a statement by the minister for citizens’ protection that left a lot to be desired) only came after television channels had aired the controversial video.

Trust them not

To be sure, citizen journalism is far from perfect. A lot of the rigor and accuracy associated with traditional news organizations inevitably flies out the window. Ordinary people cannot perform, or are insensitive to, the (meticulous but costly and time-consuming) fact-based reporting, cross-checking, sourcing and editing of newsrooms proper.

A survey conducted in the UK a few years ago found that 99 percent of people do not trust content on blogs and forums uploaded by their friends and the rest of the public.

Lack of verification and eponymity is not the only problem, as input from non-journalists is not necessarily synonymous with objectivity.

Writing in Kathimerini about the controversial video, liberal commentator Paschos Mandravelis criticized social media users for unquestioningly embracing what seems to confirm the views they already hold.

“The T-shirt he was wearing to cover his face, which is usually offered by every protester as a sign of innocence (‘I was wearing it to protect myself from the tear gas’) was, in this case, used as a sign of guilt (‘It’s obvious. These are the hooded troublemakers’),” Mandravelis wrote.

Tsaliki agrees that not everything captured by amateur journalists is necessarily benign.

“Even in these latter cases, a certain alternative reality can be constructed under the guise of the non-mediated experience,” Tsaliki said.

“All you need is a certain choreography, some volunteers and a smartphone,” she said.

But the speed and diversity of social media is hard to beat. After all, it was a Pakistani Twitterer grumbling about the noise from a helicopter that gave the world live coverage of the American raid that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden in May.

Before that, it was some blurry footage of Alexandros Grigoropoulos’s murder in Exarchia, captured with a phone camera by a resident standing on a nearby balcony, that fanned Greece’s 2008 riots.

Traditional media have tried to take advantage of the trend, launching citizen journalism platforms of their own — CNN’s “iReport” or Al Jazeera’s “Sharek,” for example. And as suggested by Al Jazeera’s mining of the social media during the Middle East uprisings, the use of citizen-produced material can help commercial networks come across as the “voice of the people.”

“They overtly take the side of the protesters against these regimes. And their use of social media and citizen generated content gives them the ammunition and credibility in that campaign,” blogged Charlie Beckett, founding director of Polis, a journalism and society think-tank at the London School of Economics.

Preaching to the converted?

The Internet has changed the way people organize themselves and protest, but has it really helped expand the reservoirs of activists on the ground? Experts are divided on the issue.

For one thing, cyber-pessimists are right that support-a-cause-with-a-click attitudes produce great numbers but little commitment. Web-powered activism, Tsaliki adds, is still a lot about preaching to the converted.

“The Internet will chiefly serve those activists and groups that are already active, thus reinforcing existing patterns of political participation in society,” she said.

But Gourgouris is confident that simply by recording and sharing the message of a demonstration, you are increasing its impact.

“The world isn’t beautiful. I record the ugliness so I can put it out there and — to the extent that I can — fix it. I am trying to raise awareness. I am saying, ‘Here’s the violence of the people behind masks’,” he said.

As always, some people out there prefer more direct forms of engagement. As photographers zigzagged through the infuriated crowds at a recent demo, one hooded youth shouted at them to “put down the cameras and grab a stone.”

Out of space

By Harry van Versendaal

The Photography Museum of Thessaloniki, the country’s only museum dedicated to the craft, is currently organizing the 21st International Photography Meeting, now known as the PhotoBiennale, which is scheduled to run through September.

Having grown in size and prestige over the past few years, the PhotoBiennale has also become more outward-looking, forging ties with foreign institutions and festivals while introducing a number of welcome initiatives, such as master classes and portfolio reviews.

The event, which this is year dedicated to the theme of “place,” spans over 58 group and solo exhibitions and slideshow projections by 188 photographers from 25 countries. You can browse through them at some 35 galleries and exhibition centers in Thessaloniki. Organizers plan to showcase some of the work in other Greek towns later in the year.

This year’s highlights include Nikos Markou’s “Topos: Nuances of Space,” a collection of multilayered and often ambiguous pictures of urban and natural landscapes that depict man’s impact on nature – only subtly so. Markou’s work, which you will find at the museum’s beautiful brick-and-steel premises on the waterfront (Warehouse A, Thessaloniki port complex), is complemented by Inge Rambow’s “Niemandsland.” The stunning images of industrial sites turned wastelands shot by the 70-year-old German highlight the devastating effect of humankind on their natural environment.

Both exhibitions run through August 31.

Drive up to the Byzantine Castle and Seven Towers Prison (“Yenti Koule”) on the upper side of town to see “Execution Squares” by Damascus-born Hrair Sarkissian. The apparent innocuousness of these empty Syrian squares can be misleading for, as the title suggests, they serve as public execution grounds for criminals sentenced to death. Shows at the Seven Towers Prison wrap up on June 28.

The launch of the PhotoBiennale is an achievement in itself, organizers said, as the museum had to brave severe budget cuts and organizational snags. The Photography Museum of Thessaloniki, which has come under pressure to merge with the larger but troubled State Museum of Contemporary Art, has turned to the European Union for subsidies.

Fresh funding will be crucial for organizing the follow-up to this event, scheduled for 2012, which is set to complete the time/place/discourse trilogy.

More at Mylos

Mylos (56 Andreou Georgiou), at the western end of town, this year hosts a number of exhibitions including Pavlos Fysakis’s melancholy “Land Ends” project. The work, a product of the photographer’s extensive wandering at the four edges of Europe – Norway, Greece, Portugal and Russia – explores quasi-existential questions about the concept of borders and the nature of European identity.

“Homeland” by Turkey’s Serkan Taycan is in similar vein, being a semiautobiographical work, bringing together images of contemporary Turkey and snapshots from the largely impoverished region of eastern Anatolia, where the photographer grew up.

New York photographer Leah Tepper Byrne documents The Children’s Village, a 150-year-old residential treatment center and alternative site to incarceration for more than 200 boys, aged 6 to 21, in upstate New York. Moving, albeit sometimes disturbing, the images in “Still Lives“ explore youths caught between isolation and healing.

A more editorial work, Nikos Pilos’s “The Invisible Wall Line” revisits Berlin 20 years after the fall of the Wall, while in “Sanalika” (the Turkish word for virtual world) Alexandros Avramidis exposes the plastic but colorful – and often hilariously tacky – aspects of a consumption-driven world.

Exhibitions at Mylos will be showcased until July 31.

For more information visit: http://www.photobiennale.gr

Living on the edge

By Harry van Versendaal

It was December 2006 when Pavlos Fysakis caught the ferry to Gavdos, a tiny island located south of its much bigger and more famous neighbor Crete, and Europe’s southernmost spot. It was the first of a number of trips Fysakis made in the course of just over two years that also brought him to the Continent’s other three edges: Nordkapp, in Norway, Portugal’s Cabo da Roca, and the Urals, Europe’s traditional eastern boundary. Armed with two analog cameras, his favorite medium-format Mamiya and a German-made Rolleiflex, Fysakis, an athletic, bespectacled man in his early forties, set out to answer a bag of quasi-existentialist questions: What is it that makes us Europeans? What is it that separates us Europeans from the people on the other side of the border? In fact, what is a border and what does it define? More or less ordinary people like Boris, Nils, Artemis, Maja and Sofie provided Fysakis with some of the answers. It’s these people whom Fysakis describes in “Land Ends,” a collection of pictures from the journey that is out now in bookstores, as “the guardians at Europe’s outer edge, which may, after all, just be its beginnings.”

Tell us a few words about the project. How did it come about? How long did it take to complete?

The thought, the concept of borders, of an end, of lands that are estranged from hope and other such issues nagged at me for years. It had begun brewing inside me also through work, as I spent quite a while on a long-term project for Kathimerini on the Greek Islands in the winter, on islands that are cut off from regular ferry service. This project – without it being about the images but more about the questions it evoked – gave rise to the idea. Also because I like to travel a lot, I began to think about borders, limits, places where one thing ends and another begins. When I eventually pinpointed the idea behind the thought process, I began thinking about Europe, about its borders and where it ends. I did a lot of research. Exploring, searching on the Internet; reading books and the history of Europe took as much time as taking the photographs did.

I began the project in 2006. I did shoots for just over two years and it took another year-and-a-half to write the texts and design the book. I traveled when I could afford it. I went to Gavdos four times, to Portugal twice and once to each of the other locations. I made eight trips in total.

What do these locations have in common?

Despite the many differences between all these places, the one thing they have in common is that they are Europeans on the fringes of the continent – you feel something connecting them, this sense of an end, of reflection, isolation. It is not just about them being forgotten, but about them having forgotten everyone else as well. “We have been forgotten here in Gavdos” is not the point. The point is that they have forgotten us and have no connection to Athens.

Is this a bad thing only?

No. It isn’t just negative. Sure, it has its negative sides. We are accustomed to approaching all these places with a negative mindset and immediately focus on the negative. But the fact that they have put some things behind them is not necessarily bad.

Isn’t this project somewhat melancholy?

Yes, it is. Photography, by its very nature, is a melancholy pursuit, as it deals with things that are past, gone. It’s like a game with memory. For most people, memories are a bit vague and you recall the ones you want. Photographers, however, hang on to them.

What equipment did you carry in your camera bag?

I only used analog cameras: a medium-format Mamiya and a Rolleiflex, and no slides, just film. As far as the lens goes, I always use a wide-angle. The entire book is shot with a 50mm wide-angle lens.

What was the selection process for the locations and subjects?

Once I knew the “what,” the “where” came naturally. It all began to take shape in my mind gradually. I have a little notebook where I jot down my ideas before and during a trip: I need a photograph here, something else there… This means that I have a pretty clear idea of what I need and what I need to avoid before I get to a location. I discover everything with time, such as, for example, the kind of light I want.

I have found a uniform light, a pervading, dull light. It is the same everywhere and it brings together all four corners of Europe. I think that it’s the sky above Europe that joins it and not what we see on the ground. I have found weather that is the same. I traveled only in winter, but during a period of winter that is exactly the same everywhere. It is the same in the south and in the west. For example, I went to Portugal during the deep winter because it is very sunny, and I went north in fall and spring [to achieve the uniform effect].

Do you recall some funny moment from this journey?

At one point in Russia, I was traveling with a friend, Dimitris Michelakis, from Ekaterinburg (Yekaterinburg) – on the border with Kazakhstan – to Vorkouta on the other end of the country, near the Arctic Circle. The weather was bad and our plane never came, so the next day we set off to take th e Trans-Siberian Railway. We went to buy tickets but there was only one left. We were running out of time and couldn’t extend our stay any longer. So we got on the train with just one seat between us and traveled 2,000 kilometers, 16 hours. We met this guy, a manager at a big factory, on the way and he took us under his wing when the ticket inspector came by.

Breaking through and catching the wave

How did you make the crossover from amateur to professional photographer?

I crossed the river in 1995 while I was still a student. I shot my first portrait; it was of a film director for Ta Nea daily, a tiny little picture.

What are the challenges for a professional photographer working in Greece?

Making a living is the biggest challenge, having any kind of job security as a freelance photographer. The conditions are far from ideal. Day in, day out, you have to prove that you are still as good as your last effort. Meanwhile, you also need to find time to do those things that are important to you.

How would you describe your style of photography?

It’s very difficult to create your own signature as a photographer, your own photographic identity. I think I have it; I think someone who sees my photographs knows they’re mine. I would define my style as street photography that has its feet firmly planted in classical photography in a more contemporary manner – overall I would say that it is a very classical style of photography.

Which Greek photographers have influenced you?

Nikos Markou and Yiannis Marapas.

Did you study under them?

Yes, Nikos was my teacher.

You come home and study your work. How do you know that one shot is good and another isn’t?

The images I take don’t have any action, so there are no surprises, there is no “oh, he moved; he fell down; I missed it.” My images have a very strict composition and structure; they are based on fundamentals that you have to have accounted for beforehand. The random – even though I believe that there is something random in every photograph – does not play such a definitive role in my work.

How significant a photograph is, however, also emerges from its narrative. What I mean is that I don’t end up with five or 10 important photographs, but with photographs that are each more important than the other, where one leads up to the other. It’s like telling a story, like putting pages with text in the right order so the words make sense. Basically, that’s the trick. I believe that sometimes an image may not appear very powerful – many people have said this to me – but they are important to me because they are part of a narrative. This is the crux as far as I’m concerned: to serve the narrative.

What is your most memorable mission?

The last trip is always the most important. I also get excited when I start thinking about the next trip.

One exciting story is about a mission to Indonesia for the magazine K, where our boat caught fire in the middle of the Indian Ocean and we nearly drowned. Generally, though, I haven’t been in dangerous situations, nor have I undertaken risky missions in war zones and the like, so I don’t have a lot of crazy stories to tell. I prefer to say that I’ve gone on unusual journeys to ordinary places.

Digital lies

Is Photoshop a friend or an enemy?

I don’t really have any strong feelings about it. I use it only so far as I find necessary. If a photograph needs a lot of work, I’ll do a lot of work on it, and vice versa. You have to be careful not to get carried away. I believe that photography happens when the film is still in the camera. The Photoshopping I do is the kind of processing that would happen in any darkroom using analog technology. But, if I do see something that really bugs me in a photograph, I will take it out. If, for example, I see a electrical cord in the image, I will remove it without a second thought.

Isn’t digital processing a bit like cheating?

I don’t think so. It’s a matter of aesthetic. Here in Greece, you often see lousy editing that kills the image. If you use Photoshop correctly, it helps you; it is a tool. It’s like placing a filter on the lens. It’s not cheating. If you put 70 filters on the lens, well, other than cheating, I’d also say its pointless.

Some argue that Photoshop is necessary in order to bring a photograph closer to what the human eye sees. Is this true?

The lens is not inferior. The lens is not there to do the same thing our eyes do. The lens belongs to the world of the graphic reality. You’re not there to record reality. It is a complete myth that the photographer captures a piece of reality and transports it. It’s just not true.

Is photography an art?

Yes. I believe that question has been amply answered. Susan Sontag said it best when she said that photography is an art, but maybe your photograph is not art.

Have you got your next project?

Yes, I do have a project – what I don’t have is money. I want to do something about religion in the Mediterranean.


Latest Tweets

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 31 other followers

Advertisements