By VICKI J. YIANNIAS – The Nobel-Prize-winning Greek poet George Seferis once said “everywhere I go, Greece wounds me.” For those who have experienced the feeling of loss brought about by absence from Greece, and for those who wish to visit, many of the photographs in the Onassis Cultural Center’s Olympic Atrium exhibition “Periplus: Magnum Photographers In Contemporary Greece”, and the quotes of Greece’s lyric poets, philosophers, and playwrights accompany that accompany them will stir the emotions.
“Periplus: Magnum Photographers In Contemporary Greece”, is part of the ongoing “Contemporary Art at the Atrium” program of contemporary art presentations in the Atrium of the Olympic Tower. The exhibition title “Periplus” is a tribute to Pausanias, the 2nd century historian who famously recounted his journey to the ten regions of ancient Greece in his work “Periegesis Hellados” (Description of Greece). The photographers of “Periplus” visited all of these ancient regions and more.
The show went up on May 5 (it will be on view until June 4), however, Ambassador Loukas S. Tsilas, Executive Director of the Onassis Cultural Center, took the opportunity to reintroduce the exhibition at the reception following the dramatic reading performance on the evening of May 18.
He began by thanking Mr. Stelios Papadimitriou, president of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA), and the Hellenic Culture Organization — Cultural Olympiad of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture for co-organizing the exhibition and making it possible. The Cultural Olympiad is a new institution that was established when Athens Olympics took over the organization of the 2004 Olympics.
He went on to explain the meaning of the word “Periplus” to the large number of people in the audience who do not speak Greek. “Periplus’ means ’sailing around’ in the metaphorical and in the literary sense, something that anyone would wish to do in Greece, especially today, in the year that is going to see the Olympic Games taking place in the country of their birth. Eight wonderful, internationally renown photographers from Magnum Photos, a very well known international organization known for the quality of its art, sent eight photographers to Greece to ”sail around” in the metaphorical sense.” Each one of the photographers, all of them worthy of fame, saw Greece in his own eyes,” said Tsilas, “each one seeing something totally different from the other, and it is all here for you to enjoy”.
Great names and young talents in the field of documentary photography comprise the Magnum Photos cooperative, which encourages its photographers to be, in their method and approach, keen and sensitive witnesses. The “Periplus” photographs are “keen and sensitive” presentations of the universal legacy of Hellenic culture.
Sylviane de Decker Heftler, Curator of “Periplus”, writes that the exhibition
offered Magnum photographers a chance to “come to grips with the various territories of Greece, in twelve itineraries…and like an echo of antiquity, the writings of Greece’s lyric poets, philosophers, and playwrights accompany the authors in this initiatory labyrinth…”
The exhibition now in the Atrium is an abbreviated, eight-photographer version of what will be a twelve-photographer, 160 photograph exhibit “Periplus: Twelve Magnum Photographers In Contemporary Greece,” which will open at the new Benaki Museum in Athens on June 15, just in time to enrich the Olympic experience.
The photographers in the Atrium show are Josef Koudelka, Lise Sarfati,
Patrick Zachmann, Nikos Economopoulos, Constantine Manos, Alex Webb,
Carl De Keyzer, and Mark Power.
Josef Koudelka’s journey took him to the great Greek archaeological sites.
One of his photographs is stark black and white close-up of fallen columns at Delphi stretching across a backdrop of mountains, is a follow-up on his concept of the “theatre of time.”
Lise Sarfati chose an arid, mountainous region, a poor, rural world, in a private and timeless Greece which does not want to vanish. One of her photographs is a touching view of a room of an abandoned house, with a table in the foreground whose red and white polka dot oilcloth cover is slipping off and a darkened doorway suggests the departure of those who once lived there.
Patrick Zachmann records Greece’s nightlife with a stealthy vision. One photograph is a glimpse into a bar — a lighted scene of brilliant colors on an almost black ground — interior and exterior boundaries are not clear –with the pin-prick lights of the city beyond. In another, a lone person dressed in white, his head drooping as if in sleep, sits in the artificial light of an empty bus station.
Nikos Economopoulos questions the lasting permanence of traditional social and religious rites, a logical sequel to his earlier work on the continuation of the tradition of storytellers in the Aegean islands. In a palpable summer atmosphere, a number of gypsies with their white shirt sleeves rolled up are playing zourna instruments, which form a vibrant arc-shape, with olive trees behind them.
Constantine Manos, a “professional pedestrian”, has criss-crossed the streets of Athens, showing the city as a kaleidoscope of colours and forms.
In one brightly colored photograph, a girl wearing a bright pink top is making a telephone call in a bright yellow booth; in front of a bright cobalt-blue wall, a construction working wearing lime green carries a long pipe in the background.
Alex Webb has followed a sea route, stopping off in the ports and harbours of northern Greece. In one photograph, two passengers on a ferry at sea, are totally oblivious of each other, one listening with earphones to a radio, and the other with his back to the camera looking out at sea.
Carl de Keyzer has produced an inventory of Greek snapshots, forming a thoroughly organized jumble and cacophony. The photographer’s camera, catches a caramel and white colored as it leaps off a white geometric stucco wall.
Mark Power has recorded the progress of major works for the Olympic Games, showing the city in the throes of change, like a witness’s walk towards modern times. The Attiki Odos ring highway stretches below a village with rust-colored tiled roofs under a cloudy sky.
The four additional photographers whose work is not in this abbreviated version, but will appear in the twelve photographer, 160-photograph exhibit at the Benaki Museum are Bruce Gilden, Jim Goldberg, Richard Kalvar, and Miguel Rio Branco.
Julien Frydman, Director of Corporate Development of Magnum Photos in Paris, who presented an introduction to the exhibition, explained that the Atrium exhibition” is the first is the first preview of a larger exhibition that will happen in June at the new Benaki Museum in Athens. There you will see 12 photographers sailing around Greece and sharing with you their vision…this is not a portrait of Greece, this is simply an introduction, an interpretation and an invitation to the discover facets, different colors, different moods atmosphere of this country, and I simply invite you to join Greece, to join us this summer, you will have a chance to see the larger show.”
A gorgeous, large-size book, “Periplus: 12 Magnum Photographers In Contemporary Greece” accompanies the exhibition. Bound to be a collector’s item the book is a feast of double-page photographs with separate-page quotes of Greece’s lyric poets, philosophers, and playwrights that accompany them. There is an introduction by Manuella Pavlidou, the Managing Director of the Hellenic Culture organization — Cultural Olympiad, and Sylviane de Decker Heftler, curator of “Periplus.”
The Olympic Tower Atrium is open to the public daily 9:00 A.M.-8:00 P.M.
Admission is free. The Hellenic museums Shop, which sells high-quality artefacts related to Greek culture, past and present, is also located in the Olympic Tower Atrium, making the Atrium a nexus for Greek culture in the United States.