An elegant, well-attended reception for the official opening of the exhibition GREEK/AMERICAN, An Exhibition of Photographs by Constantine Manos, in the Olympic Towers Atrium on Wednesday evening, June 20, marked the end of the spring season of the Onassis Cultural Center.
On view through June 30, the exhibition is within the framework of the Magnum Festival, ʼ07, Celebrating 60 Years of Documentary and is comprised of two separate portfolios titled The Greek Villages in the 1960ʼs, A Greek Portfolio, and A Personal Odyssey in the U.S.A., American Colors.
Constantine Manos is a member of the cooperative photo agency Magnum International, which has offices in London, Paris, Tokyo and New York, and was founded in 1947 by Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Capa and others.
In addition to Dr. John Brademas, President Emeritus of New York University, Ms. Alice Marie Svobodova, Consulate General of the Czech Republic in New York, Representatives of the Greek Consul of New York, and Mr. Alessandro Mattarini, president of Roberto Cavalli in the US, and Mr. John Demos, photographer and founder of Apeiron Photos, Greece, to mention some of the guests, were Magnum photographers Burt Glinn and Josef Koudelka.
Ambassador Loukas Tsilas, Executive Director of the Onassis Cultural Center, spoke with The Greek News about the unique characteristics of photography, and the work of Constantine Manos, whom he named as a highly awarded, internationally famous photographer and one of the major photographers of Magnum International.
“Photography is an art that seizes the moment; it catches even the wing of a fly as it flutters, it captures the wink of an eye. What we are showing here is a small collection of Manosʼs photographs, but they are photographs from two of his significant portfolios. One collection shows Greece as it was fifty years ago, a credit to Greece…. much beauty, and much drama. And the second group, refreshing moments from American life, a life full of freshness and spontaneity. We are very happy that the audience here is very admiring and very receptive.”
Ambassador Tsilas expressed satisfaction at the success of the exhibit as well as for the Onassis Cultural Centerʼs season that is now at an end and enthusiasm for the upcoming season. “We will continue, in the fall, with concerts, a panel discussion on the New Acropolis Museum, dramatic readings from the Classics, and a major exhibit about Minoan culture.
He noted that the first event, on September 15, would be a university-level international symposium on the Greek language led by Professor George Babiniotis, and with the participation of linguists from North and South America.
Mr. Manos shared his strong feelings about his work with The Greek News, saying, “These photographs are in my soul. I was very young; this was my first real big, serious effort. I had done other things — I had just finished a book on the Boston Symphony, my first book, and then I managed to raise a little money, went to Germany and bought a little Volkswagen and drove to Athens. I had shipped my big trunk ahead with my darkroom equipment, my classical LPʼs, and I set up a darkroom,” he said, “I love these photographs; I know them intimately.”
Interestingly, the photographs were shot exactly as they appear and they are his product and his alone. “None of these photographs is cropped…theyʼre full-frame. I developed the film; I made the prints myself. No one has ever touched the negatives but me — I always make my own prints of these photographs — so theyʼre very, very special, and theyʼre very, very personal.” The photographs of Greece are what launched Manosʼs career, he said and were the reason he was invited to join Magnum Photos.
But there was far more to the experience. “It was a wonderful experience for me as a young man to be able to be in Greece and have the freedom. But it was also a search for a search for a certain way of seeing; a search for a very special kind of people. I really came to admire the dignity and the poetry of these people, people who live in very simple, primitive villages, and who had survived a terrible civil war.” Manos only photographed, he said, in villages that had no electricity. “It was a rule of thumb!”
Both of Mr. Manosʼs parents were from Turkey, he said, from near the Sea of Marmara, and were forced to leave in the great population exchange. In 1972, fifty years after they left, he went back to Greece with a friend to memorialize that anniversary and brought back tokens of emotion. “I brought back wine, and some soil, and all the choriani came to our house and I showed slides of the chorio and the school, and the beach…. Iʼm very Greek, but Iʼm also Iʼm very American.”
Sometimes, like so many Greek Americans with immigrant parents, Manos feels an identity conflict. “I was asked by a reporter in Athens once, ʽHow does America seem to you?ʼ And I answered, ʽAmerica is a salad that hasnʼt been tossed.ʼ That just came out spontaneously; thatʼs the way I feel about it. Iʼm intrigued with America; Iʼm still photographing here…. I want to photograph here.”
Asked whether he plans to photograph in Greece again, Mr. Manos said that it is a possibility, but if he does, his subject matter will not be villagers and village life. “I wonʼt go looking for the chorio, because I think that the chorio is not there anymore, you know.”
His interest would be modern. “Contemporary Greeks are intriguing, interesting people. I found especially the young people of Athens very glamorous, sophisticated, and charming.”
Mr. Manos explained that he, like all the Magnum photographers is a partner in the agency, which has all of his stock — his archives — and sells his pictures. Although he may occasionally get assignments from Magnum, Manos now does more work for himself than through Magnum. He is currently working on a book of approximately 100 photographs, which will include the American photographs and be titled A Personal Odyssey in the U.S.A., American Colors.
The Greek photographs in the exhibition are included in the large format book The Greek Villages in the 1960ʼs, A Greek Portfolio.