Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Era Depression - photos of Greek crisis


                 At entrance of the exhibition Athens-Piraeus upside-down

                                                                        Photo by HF 7.11.2014


When the exhibition 'Depression Era' opened at Benaki Museum on Piraeus Street on Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014, the first impression was a surprise. Many more people had come than expected but then this might have something to do with the topic and the large number of photographers involved.

Most of the people who attended the opening were dressed all in black although one can presume that they had not come to a funeral. Rather wearing black clothes is customary especially during the colder and darker months of the year. Likewise such a sight evokes memories of an old woman in the countryside. Although it can be during the hot summer months, she too is dressed all in black while making 'ancient movements', so the poet Ritsos, when fetching water from the well.

The reference to someone living in the countryside, in what appears to urban dweller to be in primitive conditions, that is intended. Crisis implies slipping back into poverty from where many Greeks had come and tried to escape from since the times of their grandparents or even earlier. They fled not only into the city like Athens but went on a journey (Marie Iliou's film). They did so in search of better opportunities to do something with their skills and lead consequently a better life. Interestingly enough as Greece was approaching the Olympic Games held in Athens 2004, many of them had started to come back, in the belief the country had finally left the doldrums of no changes and being stuck permanently in poverty. But then the crisis set in.

Unofficially Greece has been in crisis since Dec. 6th 2008, that is when Alexandros was shot and killed in Exarchia, and officially since the end of 2009. At that time it became clear the state deficit was unsustainable and Greece needed a bailout under the auspices of the Troika. The latter includes the International Monetary Fund known for enforcing a strict austerity policy.

The crisis made evident that poverty was not to be found this time in the countryside but in the city itself. With that something else entered the collective self consciousness. For want of a better word, it is a new 'unknown' about the future.

All the more a huge interest was sparked, so it seems, when a photo exhibition comes along at the end of 2014 and seeks to cover this period of crisis by subsuming everything under the significant term of 'Depression Era'.

Depression Era

 "Depression Era seeks to stand outside the media montage and white noise of current public discourse by creating its own mosaic of images and texts. Its aims to actions, the design of spaces, digital platforms and interfaces, and publications that dynamically explore this mosaic. At the same time, it organizes educational inititatives and an open call to young artists looking to eventually create an artistic archive of the crisis and through it, a new digital and physical Commons, an ‘anti-screen’ and ‘sidewalk museum’ as gestures and intervations projecting an alternative, informal record of contemporary history to our republic and public space. This opening aims to nurture new projects and allow for the expression of a new identity, in time, beyond the Depression Era."

Source: http://www.depressionera.gr/

The declaration by this collectivity of photographers spells out their intentions. Formulated as a methodology to go forward, they do not reveal so much a concept as they present fore mostly a mix of terms taken from the current movement in Athens. The term 'commons' is one of the outstanding ones. Naturally it is to be expected that reference is made to a world having become digital, interactive, indeed virtual. Thus it is of interest that they do not prescribe to urban screens as modern message carriers in the urban realm. Rather by embracing an 'anti-screen' and 'sidewalk museum' approach, they wish to project through their photographed images an alternative to the current world. The latter has come under the spell of one key word: 'crisis'. In their wish to go beyond that, they understand themselves as informal recorders of contemporary history.

Their attempt to stand outside the usual media montage of imagine and text is needed, if the Greek crisis is to be seen realistically but with compassion. Usually the media conveys breaking news about events in Greece to highlight the crisis. Since the image alone will not do, a written text reinforces some elements in the image. The meaning can be blown-up and manipulated by adding highly suggestive titles. Altogether these typical images of the media can easily distort the truth about the situation in Greece. For they ride the waves of expectations and what people wish to believe once the term 'crisis' is evoked. Without them reading something into this way of conveying messages, it would be but half the truth.

For example, the Economist brought at the beginning of the crisis an image of demonstrators facing the police. In the picture can be seen one famous dog. He was strangely enough to be found in the front line of every demonstrations, but this only the locals know. When displaying this on its front page, the Economist added the highly suggestive question: "Coming to a city near you?" Such a combination of image and text was meant then to scare the rest of Europe into thinking the Greek crisis is about to spill over, if the fire is not put out immediately.

Scaremongering is the more apt term to describe what is intended with an image meant to underline the risk of contagion. The latter is another word for a possible crisis of the Euro, if the Greek state would default and be forced to depart from the European Union.

A climate of anxiety peaked towards the end of 2011 when the EU Council granted another bail-out for Greece. The then Prime Minister of Greece, Yiorgos Papandreou, returned to Athens and called for a referendum on what had just been decided in Brussels. Immediately there was an outcry by the EU Council members. They claimed that this was not possible, namely to ask the people. Consequently Papandreou had to re-track and take his hat. He was replaced by a non-elected technocrat who pushed through so called reforms, in reality demands of the Troika. He managed power till elections were held in Greece, first inclusively in May 2012, then again on June 17 2012. The election result ushered in a coalition government under PM Samaras but also 18 members of the Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) party. The latter is known for use of an extreme language of hatred directed especially against migrants.

Economist, 8 - 14 May 2010

     Dominant discourse

      Creative industries, innovation, growth

      are terms used to describe

      possible solutions to the crisis.


      These terms influence public discourse.

      Yet a huge discrepancy exists between

      the abstract terms used by experts and

      what people can comprehend, indeed

      make sense of when told the trillions

      owed or which have been lost due to

      speculations. Above all banks play

      play a huge role in the crisis while

      culture has to prove it has value

      for the economy.

Public discourse/ media images

The philosopher Habermas sees the public discourse having lost openness. There prevails a "pathology of communication" which negates publicness.

Once the crisis broke out in Greece, public debates took place in the assembly on Syntagma Square. Unfortunately it lasted only until end of July 2011. Thereafter public discourse was again dominated by the political parties while the government was obliged to follow the dictates of the Troika. Whether in government or in opposition, a common reference had become the 'Memorandum of Understanding'.


Greek Parliament at Syntagma Square

Mosaic / matrix

In view of the crisis being both a complex political process and a social-economic down scaling of everything, one does wonder what kind of mosaic or matrix can be created out of the images provided by the 36 photographers?

A mosaic has been used as metaphor to describe how Canada tends to integrate its diverse immigrants. Each ethnic group retains its own identity while embracing an overall identity based on a federal notion of Canada being a sum of many nations. The mosaic featured as well in Ravenna's bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2019 but lost out to Matera in Southern Italy. In any mosaic the parts play only a role in relation to a whole which may or not be pre-determined. Famous is the saying 'the whole is more than its parts'! It remains to be seen whether or not the mosaic created by the photographers will facilitate a better understanding of the crisis.

Any mosaic follows its own pattern. Relationships between the parts come into existence where intricate connections can be made out to the whole. The latter determines the meaning of the parts. Interestingly enough, in the aftermath to 911 in New York, it was repeatedly said although important clues had been collected, no one had put the pieces together to have the big picture, so that the attack on the world towers could not be averted. A refutation of this claim was made long before by the philosopher Adorno who stated simply: "the whole is not the truth". 

In other words, if photography is to avoid depicting false interpretations (in German 'Deutungen') of the crisis in Greece, fixation upon the whole will not do. But how to appraise each image as to own merits. One way is to see if the whole crisis articulates itself through the parts and likewise if the mosaic leaves sufficient space so that details can speak for themselves.

Practically it would mean the photographers have not as of yet reached a final opinion about the crisis. Their intention to initiate an open ended kind of research process seems to confirm this.

Creating meaningful images of the crisis by means of photos is a special art coming close to 'war photography'. If the images are to capture a specific moment of the crisis, the topic has to be approached both systematically and informally. While the former reflects a theoretical approach, the latter depends on how things are brought together not only by chance, but as a result of common actions.

As to the overall quality of the exhibition, it is not clear what difference it made that these photographers did not need to work alone but could tackle together with the others such a difficult subject matter as posed by the crisis in Greece. Whether collectives can really do excellent work together, that is another discussion. Since the 'crisis' can easily over demand the individual photographer, a helpful reminder might be what Vincent Van Gogh had in mind when he wished to create the atelier of the South, in order to bring together many artists. He saw that there are many subjects worthy to be painted, but which could never be achieved by one painter alone. It would mean each photographer is aware of his or her own limits and seeks in relation to others such energy as to bring about a truly great work of art.

An imaginary matrix reveals what this collectivity of photographers shall look out for when it encounters the crisis in Greece through the lens.


 Time line 2011 - 2014

Photos for memory work

 Onward looking


   Photos of the 


"of our republic and public space"

'Anti screen' and sidewalk museum

 Design of spaces



 A new and physical commons

 Digital platforms and interfaces

Informal way of recording contemporary history

Interventions / projections




The collective aims to photograph Greece in crisis over time. They started in 2011 with the intention to set up an archive for collecting not only photographic but other materials to document the transformations which are taking place due to austerity measures being applied. As this amounts to quite a challenge, it matters how the archive shall be set up. Access to the archive is provided by the terms set to define the approaches taken to the crisis. They range from 'gestures' to an informal way of recording contemporary history.

Upon this systematic, equally informal approach depends if the images gained through such a collective process shall transmit not only 'information bits' about the ongoing crisis, but narrate memories thereof in such a way, that future generations can comprehend what took place in Greece from 2011 until 2014. Since the photos will have to undertake what is best described as a performance task within the matrix, they need to go beyond being a mere testimony or just an integral part of a documentary presentation.

Most reflections amount to asking what can be the role of the professional photographer in an age of digital photography but add crisis and immediately other dimensions are evoked? In part, it explains why the photographers accompany their photos with explanatory texts. Once these are taking together, they do not constitute one single corpus of explanation. Rather they show different thematic links to the crisis and which they may have developed at the outset in 2011 to set their collective value premise. On their website, they state that they strive to create a specific link between action and aesthetics.

As a result of this attempted link, the 'political' is suspended. Instead, the photographers wish to show how everything has become a part of the historical transformation they believe Athens and Greece are undergoing and, therefore, they reach out to encompass not just a specific period of time, but express what they feel to be an era in the making.

When describing their methods and subjects of interest, it can be noticed that they try to distance themselves a bit from the current digital culture. That is understandable nowadays, given the countless photos being taken whether with a mobile camera or a professional digital camera by practically anyone, amateur or professional photographer. They try to distinguish themselves from the usual images being circulated on the Internet via Facebook or Skype as well as youtube. Consequently most of the images in the exhibition display a classical reserve towards the crisis as a whole and to the particular subject matter being photographed. Clearly they would not like to be identified with documentary photography. How they differ from war photographers, that is the interesting question in need to be appraised further especially since the crisis is named alternately an 'economic war'.

The project was started by 27 men and one woman in 2011. They are linked to the NGO KOLEKTIV8. By the time this exhibition came around, the group had become a bit larger. It consists now of 36 members and includes several more women than at the start.

Members of the Depression Era collective – and the not-for-profit organisation KOLEKTIV8 which supports it – are.

Theofanis Avraam / Petros Babasikas / Georges Charisis / Georges Drivas / Pavlos Fysakis / Marina Gioti / Giorgos Gripeos / Yiannis Hadjiaslanis/ Zoe Hatziyannaki / Harry Kakoulidis / Christos Kapatos / Kostas Kapsianis / Panos Kiamos / Petros Koublis / Nikandre Koukoulioti / Tassos Langis / Maria Louka / Maria Mavropoulou / Dimitris Michalakis / Giorgos Moutafis / Yorgos Prinos / Christina Psarra / Dimitris Rapakousis / Georges Salameh / Spyros Staveris / Olga Stefatou / Angela Svoronou / Vaggelis Tatsis / Yiannis Theodoropoulos / Marinos Tsagkarakis / Dimitris Tsoumplekas / Lukas Vasilikos / Pasqua Vorgia / Chrissoula Voulgari / Eirini Vourloumis / Nikos Xydakis


 The exhibition is being held in the Benaki Museum from 06/11/2014 until 11/01/2015


The Niarchos Foundation gave the financial backing for this project.

As to the exhibition itself, it is the outcome of a social experimentation. Whether or not it will open up the way to another kind of discourse about the changing role of images, that is too early to tell. Right now the photographers are more concerned if they did really manage to bring together digital images in a mosaic as a photographic way of telling the story about the Greek crisis. To lend all of it some dynamics of interaction, they seek to publicize accompanying texts.

                                                               Image + Text

                                                          Greek crisis told in so many images and words




Photos of and texts about the crisis

Photos of the crisis can be most revealing in many ways. Especially when they try to distinguish themselves from photo journalists, it matters how they make use of the crisis. By comparison, the media tends to cover events in Greece by projecting such images which correlate almost immediately the crisis to street violence and disruption. Hence the photographers need to refute such a language, otherwise they risk to go themselves conform with the system.

Always certain pressures are exerted by the system, and this independent of any crisis. Repression in varied forms continues until it comes to protest and even violent back lashes. This is especially the case when entering a crisis since the people cannot take all the cuts in wages and threats to their well being. It matters that this downside of the crisis, and not only street protests, is shown. People have to face another kind of violence when forced to accept alterations in their living conditions. Brecht made that point by evicting someone if he can no longer afford the rent, and therefore taking away his home, it is like hitting someone with an axe!

Since the crisis in Greece has started to unfold, there have many such evictions, the most dramatic being the sudden closure of ERT in 2013. It was a severe intervention into what upheld until then Greek identity, collectively and culturally speaking. The public broadcaster for television and radio became a victim of spending cuts. Having come under pressure by the Troika to reform what was called an over bloated civil service, Prime Minister Samaras had to come up suddenly with some convincing numbers of civil servants who would be put out of work. With one stroke 2000 lost their job. The intervention was justified by use of a popular argument based on social jealousy and lack of recognition. PM Samaras picked up that argument up and used it to justify his lone decision, insofar those working there were both inefficient (low ratings in number of viewers) and over paid. Since the crisis necessitates cut backs in the state budget, this was a good opportunity to show some boldness, may have been thought by Samaras. The move has hardly been understood so far in all its deeper cultural and social implications. It altered not only the relationship of the population in Greece to the till then existing public structure of news and reporting, but Samaras did away with it completely. Instead the freed space was handed over to private TV stations. By removing a sphere in which public opinion could be expressed, Greek society was subjugated to an even greater one sidedness in journalism and low level of public discourse. Such an alteration in how cultural identity has been articulated in Greece until now, and this throughout German occupation or the military Junta, makes one wonder why it was not picked up by the photographers.

Moreover there is something else to be observed during a crisis, namely what happens to the imagination. As Jan Brüggemeier sums up the conference “Arts and Community in Uncertain Times:  Cooperation and Commoning to Secure Other Futures,” the 'logic of austerity' drives the imagination into such a tight corner, that all those voices which could question the system are silenced. Instead the dominance of fear shall make itself be felt.

Here artistic work has to make a difference to the prevailing propaganda and typical arguments used during a crisis. For this to happen, the photographers must find their own language, in order to address the problems linked to the Greek crisis in novel terms. For instance, it matters how people conduct themselves in critical situations e.g. do they panic or do they begin to work out some solutions? To show what does make a difference in the end, the photographers need to face multiple challenges. For one, how to portray poverty coming into existence in Greece due to the crisis, but avoid both typical images and the overt claim as if this was only the case in Greece? Then, will the images allow the imagination of the viewer to be stirred beyond the crisis mode? Definitely, the photographers must avoid use of such terms which reinforce merely a conformity to a system of repression. Instead, it would be crucial that they offer some critical thoughts and therefore do not let fear dominate to complement the repression. Thirdly, it matters whether reference is made to an economic recession or to an 'Depression Era'. The latter is far more extended and a deeper phenomenon since it would affect many generations rather than be an economic phase to pass through. The crisis reflects itself in a specific time mode, and that should be captured by the photographers if they wish to make sense of what has been happening in Greece from 2011 onwards.

There is still another question in need to be answered, for what is the difference between street protest and street violence? The latter term is used too often quite loosely and automatically attributed to the demonstrators. Yet there is the violence of the police and of a state geared up to repress people by passing legislation which undoes all the progressive elements attained over many years to protect the environment and to improve the conditions of people working and living in society. What explains the difference is not merely who has the power to define who exerts violence, who not, but also that police violence is sanctioned by the state. Linked to that are serious implications. For those who protest can be pushed very quickly into the 'criminal' corner. Arrests are then made and even worse persons end up getting hurt once anger unloads openly in the streets. Not charged are those who squandered and even stole money from a state which had made the society look the other way when this theft took place. It all terminates in a single, equally outright refutation of honesty. Instead cheating on the state is in reality undermining civic society. Readily is used the excuse that tax evasion is something done by everyone. Hence the crisis is not merely the result of applying the wrong policy tools, for a wise political response could never be developed due to by a common submission to practices which are not economical or justifiable in a moral sense. Instead system conformity amounts to a 'corruption of the mind' which has elevated 'looking the other way' to be a prime social norm.

What triggers off the transformation of protest into violence, no one can be sure. It should be remembered that politics is also the art of provocation. Still, at the beginning of the crisis in Greece everyone was taken by a double surprise: the size of the state budget on the one hand was matched by how large a movement the Anarchists had become. Caught in between, there were many ready to use violent means to fight back e.g. even put on fire the local police station as was the case in Exarchia two months before Alexandros was killed in 2008 and which is ever since heavily guarded. The readiness to violence is an inherent trait in Greek society due to what the Extreme Right ends up believing, namely that the state is not doing enough and therefore they have to take 'violence' into their own hands. Likewise the Extreme Left takes upon itself to punish any 'Capitalist swine'. A careful monitoring of the situation would allow capturing images which show this readiness to violence whenever there flies a spark into dried wood. All of it may be attributed to a split or one sided personality which seems to go conform with the system to the point of self-denila and then suddenly explodes out of disgust over the ongoing practice of 'mendacity': making use of the public lie. In the end, there is no public trust and to which can be added what Habermas observes, namely “where there is no theory, there is violence.” It means as well a refutation of any mediation between perpetrator and victim, who are in the end one and the same person. What seems not possible to reconcile is an ontological mind set dependent upon a formal write-up of Rights, but which is not believed in since everything done informally is the ad hoc practice within the sphere of permanent illegality. No one can challenge the other. It offers an sanctuary in exile.

Almost regularly a 'black block' shows up almost unannounced by every major demonstration which everyone predicts is going to end up in violent clashes with the police. It is a ritual in which both sides seem to engage themselves in. On the side of the demonstrators, there are many who believe among the 'black block' there are as well policemen who work under cover. Provocation is certainly one aspect of the political game being played out in the streets. Once things flare up, it is a good distraction from everything else and justifies in turn introducing even harsher measures. They can easily end up in an outright state repression of any protest.

The result of squashing any kind of opposition can also land everyone in a depression. When people can no longer actively engage themselves to alter their conditions of life, it means that the freedom to shape their own future has been taken away from them. Decisions are made for them somewhere else. Most of the time, they are made in the upper echelons of power, within the realms of the government. It includes the European Commission, Troika but linked to them are also all the institutional arrangements to handle money not in a simple, but over complicated way. This then is the art of the banking world to make money out of money, or out of nothing but endless speculations. 


            Demonstration in February 2012

Of interest is, therefore, if the photographers of the collective deviate from typical images, in order to tell the story of the Greek crisis in open terms. Some samples can be given when reviewing what is being shown in the exhibition.

In the case of photos by Dimitris Michalakis, he shows a street which is plastered with marble pieces. It is a classical photo taken at night. No one can be seen in Vasilis Sofias street running past Parliament. The photo looks in the direction of Syntagma Square.

About those marble pieces, they have been torn or hacked out of the entrance to the Metro. This was really a first. Till then, the Metro had been free of any kind of vandalization. This strange phenomenon in an age of finding graffiti everywhere can be explained. Once the Metro was opened before the Olympic Games came around in 2004, everyone adopted this system as belonging to all. It was a common ground. The transport system gave the Greeks not only a sense of belonging to a modern age of communication but as well civic pride. For long the decision to construct one had been delayed due to endless hackling amongst political rank and file. Involved in the political game were also those construction companies and others when it comes to procurement of public works. It was finally build at the insistence of the European Commission. The overall management was put in the hands of an American team of experts. The chief architect Doug Tilden was apprehensive if the people would adopt such a neutral technical system and transform it into their own. Surprisingly the people call ever since the opening Metro as the train which runs through 'museums.' Many stations exhibit archaeological items which were found at that location when the tunnels and stations were build. 

Came the demonstration and escalation of street violence, it was a novelty, equally surprising, that the Metro as common public good was no longer respected, at least not on the outside, at the entrance. Marble pieces were hacked out of their wall fittings and used as projectiles against the police. What made it worse is that easily such a marble piece could have killed anyone, if hit directly on the head. By a miracle no one was seriously hurt despite one demonstration after another sweeping through the streets leading to Syntagma.

Protest of the youth came after the death of Alexandros on December 6th 2008 spred like wild fire throughout the city. The youth exploded. Not only in Athens, but in all Greek cities they went literally wild. It seemed as if they were desperate to show their utmost anger at a system which had not merely taken this boy's life but questioned their innocence. That was too much for them to take. They had perceived while growing up that the entire society was corrupt to the bone.

Dimitris Michalakis

 Photo by Hatto Fischer 4 February 2012


"Since 2009 Greece has faced the consequences of a severe economic crisis. Consecutive austerity packages, following Greece’s bail-out agreement with the EU and the IMF have been tearing apart the social fabric, placing extreme pressure upon the middle class and spreading misery across society. 20% of Greek population lives below the official poverty line and youth unemployment (15-24) is 50%. Total number of unemployed exceeds 1 million. At the same time the recession is getting deeper, reaching -7% in 2011, and there are estimated for a -4% recession in 2012. It is the 5th consecutive year of recession, creating a situation that Greek society had not experienced since WWII. All these along with the reluctance of banks to offer new loans, have led many small and medium businesses to despair. 180,000 firms, particularly small and medium, are expected to close on 2012. The only businesses actually flourishing are shops buying gold, since thousands of ordinary citizens have no other option but to sell jewelry and family relics, at very low prices, in order to pay for increasingly high taxation. Drastic cuts in public spending have dismantled welfare state institutions and have led to the marginalization of those social strata that are most vulnerable. Many people have no insurance or health coverage seek the help of NGOs. There has been an increase of 25% in the number of homeless people. Thousands of people, from long-term unemployed to shopkeepers who have lost their shops depend on soup kitchens to survive. The Archdiocese of Athens distributes 10,000 meals every day. Because there have been cases of children fainting in classrooms because of malnutrition, the Federation of Teachers has demanded soup kitchens within schools. Under such conditions, the streets of Athens and other major Greek cities are filled with anger. Some of the biggest rallies in recent Greek history and some of the most intense cases of industrial action and struggle have taken place in the past two years, including impressive forms of action by the working class of the industrial sector. (work in progress)
Dimitris Michalakis

A comparison between the two photos may reveal some interesting aspects. While the photo of Dimitris Michalakis uses the marcation on the street to point in a subtle way in a certain direction, the overall atmosphere captured takes on a classical touch of black and white photo. It is of high aesthetical quality.

Yet critically said such a photo all by itself, and devoid of any people, risks to fulfil the idea of an editor who wishes to taint the demonstrators by letting the image of street violence speak for itself.

By contrast the other photo taken when looking towards Syntagma with Parliament to the left shows people coming and going. Others wait to see what further developments shall alter the final outcome. Reflected in their behaviour is the kind of indecision which needs further going explanations. After all, no one seems to know how to go beyond street protest and start working out some solutions which are agreeable to all.

Once Dimitris Michalakis adds a text, he does emphasize all the losses people have to suffer. He uses that to explain why anger has spilled out into the streets.

A sober look at street protest does make out rituals from being played out in the streets. It boilds down very often to theatrical, at other times quite serious skirmishes between police and demonstrators. It happens equally in Istanbul as in Cairo. Still, which images allows a questioning of such testimonies, so that political reflections go further than simple demands. For Dimitris Michalakis the base line is 2011, the time when the collective took up this initiative to bring photos of the crisis together.

As with all pictures of events, but in particular those which turn out in retrospect to have a sense of historical proportions, the before and after needs to be told. Otherwise an image all by itself can be highly misleading and risks to become thanks to the media a typical icon. Most often it is done in a manipulative way. By blending out the peaceful demonstrators, best done by showing only something representative of street violence, there is shoved underneath the image an added note 'as if everything which took place was violent'. This leads automatically to a condemnation of what the protesters wanted to achieve. They went into the streets to protest against 'injustice' inflicted not only upon them, but upon many. The media makes usually sure that the majority does not understand that.

There is another aspect to all of this. While covering visible violence in the street, there goes unnoticed what is happening at the same time. These are the decisions made behind closed doors but also what needs to be done every day to sustain life! By the media turning all attention on events unfolding in the street, it blends out what really contributes to life continuing. Revealing is here the term 'news', which Kant described as a collision between the expected and unexpected. Judgements are passed as to what is newsworthy. By comparison, a lot can be learned as to which moments the photographers have seized upon to high light certain elements of the crisis.

A bit further removed from the marbles in the street, there was made a very subtle point in the exhibition by Maria Mavropoulou. One of her photos depicts just a window with a hole. Presumably it was made by a stone thrown by one of the demonstrators. The hole is what remains as evidence. By giving her photos the title 'still life', she transforms it. It puts the image in the realms of Cezanne who contrasted what is alive with what is dead when painting his still life of oranges and applies both inside and outside a glass. The title 'still life' underlines as well it is not meant to be a documentary photo. As such it affirms a trend towards treating the crisis more out of an angle of aesthetics rather than action as exemplified by most of the photos being exhibited.

One prime characteristic of the crisis is shown by almost all the photos in the exhibition, namely the kind of emptiness a crisis produces or else leaves behind like a tornado after having ripped through a landscape. There are shown by

 Maria Gioti

 Unused spaces

             such as a drive-in cinema, a relict of the past, now empty

 Kostas Kapsianis

 A silent building

             seen from a distance, through a fence, no sign of life

 Ynnis Hadijaslanis

 Nothing on the other side

            while standing in front of a barricaded entrance

 Christos Kapatos

 Hand written page

           with 'tipota' (nothing) standing out as a single word in the text



By dealing with emptiness or empty spaces as sign of the crisis per say, the photographers seem to follow a strong wish to come to terms with an absence of life. For instance, Eirini Vourloumis seeks to capture the void of a staircase while allowing the viewer to look through glass windows into an inner court yard. There is no person around, no sign of life at all, safe for a lonely plant hardly thriving.

Presumably this focus on emptiness can be made out as one of the main themes of the entire exhibition. The eye can wander from a city being depicted upside down (the Athens-Piraeus panorama photo showing the metropolitan complex upside down) to a wider world in which crisis takes on the meaning of loss of interconnectivity - another word for the absence of human solidarity.

Once a city can be depicted as a place of empty spaces, it begs as well the question if the crisis can be grasped as an opportunity? An empty space can be filled with new thoughts or become a place to experience other tensions. Such a space is not as of yet occupied. It symbolizes an opportunity, or at least that is what photographer Harry Kakoulides believes. All of this may be true, if only it was not places solely into the time period of the crisis which unfolded after 2009. There existed already empty spaces before. They show years of neglect well before the crisis set in. For instance, there is the still unresolved issues as to what is to become of the old airport, never mind the many unused Olympic venues now the modern ruins of a two week sport event back in August 2004.

Old airport main terminal building unused since 2001




Unused Olympic venue after Athens 2004

Both places are referred to whenever someone wishes to point out what the Greek society has failed to do until now, namely to make a wise use of its tremendous cultural, physical, economic, institutional, political and above all human resources. If things are only consumed for the moment with no anticipation for things to come, then constant neglect of all resources will lead to a deterioration of the overall situation. The crisis comes when there are no more resources left to alter the course of destruction and even self destruction. Such despair can be covered up by a 'blame culture' to shrug off any self responsibility.


"This project is autobiographical; it is about my family. My goal is to give a contemporary view into the interior, psychological composition of the Greek family, usually invisible to the eye, yet completely redefined by the daily adversities of the financial crisis. Young people, no longer able to afford and cope with tremendous financial demands often return to their “paternal hearth”. I have been observing the patriarchal family, recording personal moments shared between its members . Thus my family becomes “naked"; its untold human weaknesses are exposed. This “nakedness” aims at honesty and self-judgement, necessary elements during these vulnerable times for Greek social reality. I invite and challenge the viewer to now consider under these terms his own family."
Loukas Vasilikos


At first glance these photos seem to hover literally on the edge of being typical family portraits. They can even remind of scenes shown in the film 'a Greek fat wedding.' Yet they deviate from usual family portraits. Loukas Vasilikos does so by seeking to reveal another part of the family story when hit by the crisis. He explains in the accompanying text that he wishes to expose them to their own vulnerabilities and thereby show what remains usually 'invisible'. It is an important point the photographer makes. Compared to the faces in the film, these portraits depict family members in their sadness and unhappiness. By showing deep sadness does exist within Greek families, and this despite their heroic defiance against all odds, it makes visible the struggle to make ends meet.  Their faces take on an melancholic look. Perhaps this is the closest that any of the photos come to the term 'depression'.

Loukas Vasilikos asks as well the viewers of his photos to pose similar questions about their own family. He calls it an invitation to 'self judgement' and comes thereby the closest to what seems to be the missing in this exhibition, namely a call to become 'self critical' about how Greece ended up in such a mess.

Given typical family patterns, and stimulated by both photos and texts, the question comes to mind how can families get stuck so easily in them? Is it because families are usually bent on attaining a certain status? Often, so it seems, they do so by projecting their own image upon an outside, equally unknown social world and this without any regard for the others. Everything is done in an effort to become independent. Status is linked to having a name in society. With it goes a certain reputation, but in striving for that they seem to be often unaware that they are imitating merely the big families which run already the country. Mixed into this self projection as family with a certain reputation in society is one key dangerous component which makes much impossible: social jealousy. Due to that, families deprive those who are members of other families and as of late due to the crisis even own family members of any real recognition. It is said that the crisis has broken at least one pattern, insofar not everyone in the family receives support and protection nowadays, but that families as social institutions have become equally highly selective like the competitive firms operating in the so-called free market. They can become even ruthless when selecting who will receive both financial support and recognition to make it. The selection is not based on some worked out principle e.g. the eldest goes first, but due to all the confusion and an unknown future on a vague hope at least the most promising one will make it out of the crisis.

The photo byDimitris Michalakis of a policeman with a shield belongs definitely to what became visible during the crisis in the streets of Athens. Nevertheless care has to be taken not to let this become a standard image of crisis in Greece: riots in the street. However, the content of the image is altered since he gives the entirety of his photos the title: 'burned out'. He seems to suggest at first sight the many buildings which ended up burned out after another demonstration had swept through the streets leading to Syntagma Square.

That manifested itself above all in violent clashes with the police. It was accompanied by burning trash cans and even buildings, notably a bank and several cultural heritage buildings.


            Burned out building after one demonstration in 2012         @HF

Yet 'burned out' manifested itself in still another way. People became not only exhausted – a way to silence them – by protesting to no avail against loss of jobs, but by having no prospects to counter peacefully this avalanche of a crisis. Especially the youth without a future risked to exhaust itself due to being engaged in endless demonstrations but also in important deliberations in assemblies taking place in all districts of Athens. It was literally a strategy of the police to let the protest burn itself out.

Since these endless protests did not bring about a desired change in the way the government proceeded to implement austerity measures, many who had engaged themselves in the protests found themselves as well outside society, and therefore risked to be without livelihood, if not supported by their families. No wonder that many felt literally to be 'burned out'.

Some of the youth experienced a serious set-back in their health. They felt deprived of any energy and could not even move at times. It is a most strange form called 'chronic fatigue syndrome'. There is no clear diagnosis for it available and therefore like the crisis an unknown threatening the lives of the youth even more so. It leaves the person guessing what it can be which affects the body and mind in such an 'invisible' but powerful negative way.

The plight of migrants

Whatever is meant by current media montage of images depicting the economic crisis in Greece, this time the picture of poverty is not clear cut since urban and therefore intermingled with other images. They stem especially from the many migrants who have come from all parts of the world, but predominantly from Africa, Asia and Middle East to Greece and Athens. They seem to come and go in waves. Partly this expresses the various phases of war in many parts of the world, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, but as of late primarily in Iraq and Syria. In view of this development someone made the sensible remark that it makes no longer sense to speak about Nomads when there are so many refugees.

While some try to earn money by setting up street vendors till chased away by the police, there are suddenly present definite groups. In the past, it was the Kurds. Then the Syrians camped vis a vis the Greek parliament on the pavement of Syntagma Square. Their protest started on 19th of November 2014. All what they wanted is to be granted the freedom to move on to another EU country rather than be forced to apply for political asylum in Greece. The latter would entail three years waiting at a minimum and risk being put into one of the detention centres for migrants. On the 15th of December the police came early in the morning and took all of them away. Since then they have disappeared from public attention with hardly anyone what has become of them. Their faces reflect not only the plight back home due to Syria having been engulfed in a ruthless war, but they remind as well the countless refugees forced to flee war torn countries.


200 Syrians camping on Syntagma Square - photo taken on 6.12.2014.

In the exhibition, there can be found a special tribute to migrants by Giorgos Moutafis.


I had a Dream
 Greece is believed to host almost a million immigrants; about 10 percent of the total population, nearly half of them are undocumented migrants including a big number of unaccompanied minors. Most of them are dumped on the Aegean Sea islands by smugglers ferrying human cargo or try to enter through Evros and the homonym river that separates the two countries and has turned likewise the Aegean Sea to an aquatic grave for hundreds of immigrants.
In summer 2012, the country's minister of Public Order compared the influx of migrants to the invasion of the Dorians 4,000 years ago, while the Prime – Minister called for a re-occupation of the cities. At the same time a terrifying xenophobic and anti-immigrant sentiment is shared in Greek society.
During the last couple of years, an increasing number of refugees and migrants constantly attempt to leave Greece in any possible way for other EU countries or return to their homeland due to unemployment and shrinking of economy.
Adam, father of five, “had the dream” to set his life in Greece. He hoped to find a job and support his family back in Sudan. He was expecting to face harsh conditions but not leaving in an occupied building without even access to running water. Moreover he never expected that he would leave Greece because of unemployment.
Adam did not choose to leave Sudan; he was forced to do it because of a civil war.  Now, he was forced to leave Greece because of an economic war. 
Giorgos Moutafis


Photos like these can convey a powerful message. Giorgos Moutafis calls appropiately his series of photos "I had a dream." It links indirectly to the many Greeks who have lost as well their dreams. Directly he wishes to relate the war in Syria to what they found in Greece, namely an 'economic war'. The latter term has been used by especially the younger generation to designate the situation in Greece. Whether or not it amounts to an overstatement since put in relation to First and Second World War, they feel like being exposed to an economic war. Once dreams are dashed, there is not much worthwhile in life left to live for. People feel then of having come to the end of the rope.   

Images beyond the crisis - future prospects

The organisers declared that they persue with the opening a specific purpose. Not surprisingly and even understandable is their wish to go beyond just showing clear images of the "Depression Era". They want to articulate a new identity. Hence the exhibition is like an open experiment. Already they have issued an invitation to young photographers to submit their works. They recognize the need to come to terms with the crisis, for there is no certain future. Out of this reason they turn to the 'commons'. As to their wish to create in their own words 'Ark like images', this can be taken as a way to seek salvation through photography, in order to withstand as well the flood of images enemating from a deep 'mental' crisis.

This may be a hopeful wish, but is no easy task. Before anything else, there is a need to clarify if articulation of a new identity is possible offering such images which claim to have gone beyond the crisis. At risk is to go on without having really understood the nature of the crisis. If this photographic effort is not linked as well to an agenda which is set jointly with other artists and cultural actors, the need to give the cultural sector a voice shall be by-passed as well. Since that is only possible by conjoining public space with public truth, further clarification is needed as to what they understand under the term 'commons'. Otherwise photography can easily end up being just another form of escapism.

It is simply not enough to express a wish to get over the crisis. That might give rise to new utopian dreams. However, this critical remark is made especially because the crisis is far from over. Rather the opposite is the case. Ever more people find themselves trapped in various degrees of poverty, never mind in a much weaker position due to a damaged psyche and loss of self-esteem.

Coming to terms with the crisis is just the beginning of many more tasks. The imagination has also to be freed. Right now the logic of austerity drives people ever more into a tight corner. They find less and less space to escape to. Cut off from any opportunities which would give them some recognition, they will also tend not to participate in any collective decision making process. That is only made possible by letting them enter an imaginative process which like an invisible river can find its own way.

Above all, they are far more burdened nowadays by loss of relationships and no chances to qualify themselves for a substantial job. Many are burdened as well by outstanding debts which they owe either as loans to the banks or else to the state in the form of taxes in need to be paid still. But were to find the money from that, when all possible sources of income are depleted?

No wonder then, when one specific word is making the round amongst economists, bankers and politicians trying to fix the economy: 'bad performing' loans. However, use of such a term does make one wonder just how good is still the Greek state performing, never mind the economy or even Europe altogether?

No one seems to be sure what to expect in near future.

The organisers do recognize that the crisis is not limited to Greece. It is a part of Europe and due to the economy having gone global the condition of the world in the 21st century. Policies and decisions made in Europe in response to the crisis in Greece have also to be understood before everything is reduced by a 'blame culture' to being solely the fault of Merkel. Alone this feature of stereotypical images being evoked during a period of crisis says something about the tendency towards false generalizations.

If Franco Bianchini can say artists are needed to counter 'populist simplifications', then getting out the crisis has to mean making possible a much more differentiated analysis of the current situation everyone finds him- or herself in, so that people do not become victims of yet another demagogic or dictatorial solution. (1)

As to the rule of fear, recognition has to given not only Greek, but many in Europe and in particular those living in Germany are petrified by the prospect that the Euro might collapse. Germans have experienced twice a devaluation of their currency. They do not wish to make for a third time a similar experience. If fear is a bad advisor, then a true task would be to help to overcome it. The people who painted images in caves did so to overcome their fear of the outer world.

Most of the time it is fear which drives not only people but as well governments into the wrong arms of those who have set up business to make money with money: the banks. No wonder that through the crisis they have consolidated their power and safeguarded themselves from any possible failure. Clever as they are, they tend to operate by expansion and mergers until they have become so large, that "they are too big to fail." Literally it means governments and states can no longer let them fail. For everyone and everything seems to depend upon them. Thus they can count on the bail-out by the state before it is too late for them.

In the end, it is always the tax payers who have to pay for their mistakes. Therefore no one should wonder when banks are repeatedly the object of angry stone throwers. In Athens some of their branches never open again after demonstrations have swept through. Still months later people pass by their barricaded windows and seem to have forgotten that there was once a banking service available. And soon often enough these former bank branches are replaced by yet another coffee shop or semi backery serving snacks at the same time. People try to find a different business to survive on. Yet how can a just solution be found when everything has become an outcome of an uneven matter of risk taking in relation to how these risks are covered?

In the overall economy, it is only the macro projects which have a chance to secure funds from banks since collatoral credit from states like China stand behind them. That is a powerful means to claim resources e.g. Cosco and the Container harbour in Piraeus. As a result new structures begin to dominate not only economic life, but further going decisions are made in reference to these new kinds of investments e.g. for transport hubs, airports, fast trains etc. It leads to a complete distortion of the economies of scale put in place. Instead of people participating in decision making processes they are reduced to mere waiting game as to what will be the outcome of these shifts in global power. The latter are the users of new systems of organisations which exploit as well any kind of information which can be solicited out of people's activities e.g. consumer behaviour.

Overseen is that this hyped up economic activity leaves in the shade or hidden around the corner many unresolved issues from displacement of people to growing discrepancies in security and safety linked to means to survive. Alone if someone cannot afford health insurance, that person lives under a permanent threat if taken ill or involved in a serious accident, to be unable to afford the proper health care. That insecurity and uncertainty is exactly what Obamacare in the United States tries to dispell or what Michael Moore made out in 'Bowling for Columbine', insofar universal health care is the best gurantee that everyone feels included in society.

There is so much social injustice being inflicted since so many more go unpaid, and indeed are forced to slave like work. All this is being done to uphold the entire system more than ever before labour movement attempted to tilt the scale a bit in favour of the workers.

The penetration of the organisational logic of an exploitative system into the lives of the people is unbelievable. The destruction and waste of human resources it causes, that should have been shown in such the photo exhibition. One wonders why this was not done? Was it because the photographers still worked on an outdated assumption as to how a traditional society can still organise itself in times of a global economy going virulent, so that rustic elements are shown, but not the confrontation with the turmoil the crisis has caused in more than one way?

Definitely the crisis cannot be corrected, if it means inflicting still more injustices on the poor tax payers while the rich and the influential ones get exemptions. Despite this, the Supreme court in Greece has declared the cuts made in pensions of judges, military people and health workers are illegal and orders them to be taken back. Such a decision was made without the judges knowing or even responsible on how this is going to be paid for. Moreover it shows that social justice does not exist as a term within the justice system based all too often on one sided definitions when it comes to identifying who would be inflicting damage upon state, economy and society. It is an example of decisions taken in accordance with certain interest groups able to impose their conditions upon the rest of society, and due to a lack of practical wisdom and an ethical vision of social justice, the decision means on top of it that the rest of pensioners faces not already steep but even further cuts to make up for the loss of money the Greek state as not to face.

It seems that the Greek state has entered a vicious cycle without end and no one knows for sure how all shall be paid. This critical situation is reached when those still paying taxes find most of their income sources have dried up. There has to come the realization not everything being done, individually speaking, is rational, when seen that everyone else is doing the same and therefore altogether it amounts to an irrational development. Rather than improving living conditions, everyone threatens the other with his or her own unreasonable demands. It would be good if photos could show like Alterdörfer did with his painting of the Alexander Battle during which Darius is defeated how this mix of rational and irrational behaviour can entail a historical fallacy. That is the case when everyone follows just the logic of austerity while trying to get out of it at the same time.

The human dilemma for artists and photographers

Naturally repeatedly photographers make the experience only a certain kind of photos appeal to this kind of society and hence are bought at unimaginable prices. Yet art is also about the aesthetics of resistance (Peter Weiss). It goes hand in hand with showing how people suffer due a personal and social inability to uphold any common human decency and yet manage to solicit a beautiful smile by making an aesthetical experience of beauty as existing everywhere, anytime. That was also the appeal of the Blues, or as Sartre put it at that time, Jazz expresses best universal pain for despite urban poverty it does provoke a profound human understanding of life on this earth.

Most telling in this regard is what artists in Ionnani formulated when doing street theatre in 2013. They realized that once people are on edge, easily disturbed and sidelined, their social bondage weakens and participation in social life is reduced to nearly zero if not countered by artistic means. In facing this particular challenge in the city of Ioannina, they formulated the problem everyone is up against as a paradox: "while the Internet has made the world into our neighborhood, the real neighborhood has become less real." (1) Even more so, it means what could connect people in a real sense, is discarded, if not put to shame as if it has no value for social life. Signs thereof are likewise evident in the streets of Athens. 

Bed with colourful sleeping bag on Stadiou Street 3 December 2014                              

Despair - Athinas Street near Omonia 2.12.2014


Sleeper at midday on Omonia Square 2.12.2014

Human plight lets a person sleep almost anywhere, even if at the edge of a major road.


Same person, different angle - sleeper on Omonia square

Photos by Hatto Fischer


There has started as well a new wave of immigration. Especially the well qualified or younger ones depart from Greece to seek jobs in Berlin or London. This is largely due to the dire situation marked by unemployment, but is also prompted by dim propects to find a well paid job. There is talk about a lost generation with regards to the current youth and about an ongoing brain drain as the best qualified just leave. But there are also those who do make the political decision to stay with the aim to alter conditions.

Interest in the exhibition

It can be assumed that those who came to the opening of the photo exhibition were surely curious to see what aspects of the crisis thereof would be reflected in the photos exhibited. More definitely, they came to see what escaped their attention while being hard pressed to find some solution!

Still other interests exist in what happens in Athens and other Greek cities. In part this signaled by the decision of the Niarchos Foundation to finance the exhibition. Hence the wording in the declaration of the organisers is 'our republic', meaning Greece, in order to satisfy the funding criterion.

Likewise there are ever more interested parties who are now coming to Greece to find out more. Already Documenta 14 has announced its forthcoming theme shall be 'learning out of Athens.' That means people outside of Greece have become curious to see if any solutions are beginning to emerge out of the crisis like new plants suddenly growing in the desert sand. This interest pertains to photographers if they succeed to show not only what it is like to be living in an era of depression, but if they have discovered a way out of the crisis.

This growing interest can be explained by the fact that the crisis is by now more restricted to Greece alone, but far more widespread throughout Europe. Even though it had started in Greece in 2009, many more face prospects of cuts in their budgets, if not loss of certainty in having or or not a stable income. Yet if not careful, one crucial question shall go unnoticed by focusing solely on what has been learned out of the crisis. As one artist puts it, once nothing what one created can be sold in a gallery and work is being done only for the storage space, one can ask what damage the crisis will have done to the creativity of artists in the long term? Noticable is already a switch over from genuine art works to a selling pitch of 'life styles' which encompass a kind of holistic environment, design of the car, bed, computer screen etc. included and which makes it indistinguishable where there is still a difference between artistic production and commercializable marketing of products. The critical aspect of damage to creativity can easily be overlooked or sidelined due to an overall drive to appear successful and especially in times when the key slogans for economic growth refer constantly to 'creativity and innovation'. It seems no one realizes in what contradiction this stands to reality as there is usually in society a failure to acknowledge as to what is happening really to artists and people alike.

There does exist as well a fine dividing line between artists who try to find a creative way out of the crisis and policitians who claim that a way out of the crisis has been found already. Certainly end of October, beginning of November 2014, there was a brief flare up of optimism on part of the Greek government with Prime Minister Samaras expressing a wish but also a claim that it was possible to exit the bailout programme by the end of 2014. He did so to ward off the challenge to his way of ruling the country by the opposition party of Syriza. But by December 2014, it had become clear that he could not get either the Troika or leading EU member states to agree easily with his proposal. For them it was not all clear if Greece had emerged out of the crisis. More so, they feared instead an increase in political instability. The latter term is usual used to name the crisis when foundations of the system begin to be shaken not only by street protest, but by the debt remaining unsustainable over any extended period of time. There is still the prospect of a default of the state. That would be the case once everything has reached a critical point and the crisis would manifest itself with all further consequences being anything but clear. That would transform the foreseeable future into a bleak prospect and mean entering really into an 'era of depression.'

The traces left by the crisis to tell the story with

It was said the photos of a crisis shown in the exhibition wish not to be documentary ones. Rather as in the case Maria Mavropoulou's 'still life', showing among others a photo of just a window with a hole in it, raises the spectrum of questions but what have all the demonstrations left behind? If taken to the extreme and therefore becomes an aesthetical statement by itself, then such an orientation entails a risk. This is the case if such a trend allows to let traces of the crisis be erased before people can come to terms with why Greece ended in such a crisis. The latter constitutes a fact. All seemed surprised as if no one saw it coming. After the election victory of PASOK in late 2009, even the incoming government under Jorgios Papandreou was stunned by the deficit being far larger than originally assumed. The Karamalis government had managed to hide this from the public. The bitter truth was that all of a sudden the entire country had to face a huge, indeed unsustainable state deficit.

In retrospect, it can be said several factors contributed to this surprise or rather lack of public truth. There existed no transparency to make sure valid public knowledge was accessible to everyone. Even the official statistics turned out to be false. Even worse, no one seemed to know apparently where all the money had gone to!

To come back to that shattered window as a symbol of a crisis marked by street riots with protesters throwing stones, by itself it says little. Does it imply what Sartre said that every young generation shall try to break into the present out of desparation, especially if it feels locked out? The reason for posing this question is that already a long time ago editors in news studios would say sequence of images are needed for the image of violence - a demonstrator throwing a stone - speaks for itself. This reduction to just one image means nothing is shown what led up to this moment, or what followed. Viewers would judge things different if they had seen, for instance, that the police started first to hit the demonstrators who were peaceful till then. It may be altogether an illusion of photography to believe everything can be told by one single image.

There is after all the claim a picture says more than thousand words. Therefore, the real critical question in need to be put to the photographers who contributed to this exhibition, is if they were aware of such a risk that the images they portrayed could be equated with a propaganda purpose to make an abnormality appear to be 'normality'? If so, then people seeing these photos would draw easily the wrong conclusions and be trapped in a kind of self defeat. Rather than protest against this abnormality, they would only gauge how to make the most out of the crisis and even gain fame by transforming the crisis into a marketing tool.

 Shop on Skoufa

Above was mentioned the one photo depicting a hole in a window, and called by the photographer 'still life'. To this can be added another evidence thereof to be found on Skoufa street, the main street of Kolonaki district in Athens. One fashion shop has retained memories of that one day in 2011 when a whole group swept down Skoufa street and smashed every possible glass left and right. The broken window pane is now covered with another glass but the memory traces are left so that anyone passing by can see and reflect upon what these traces reveal. It is an interesting case of how even a private space can contribute to the making of a public monument. By including here this contrast to the photos in the exhibition claiming to be about the era of depression, it amounts to a simple statement as to what one would have expected to be shown. 

Indeed, the crisis has many more ramifications, street violence or violence against especially 'glass' of banks or expensive shops but one part of this story. Definitely the city itself has become even more subdivided into very distinct areas. Some are hit more severely than others by the crisis. It is made evident by the contrast to be noticed when walking down Skoufa in Kolonaki and then after Ippocratous crossing over into Exarchia territory. Kolonaki is deemed by the protesters in Exarchia as the quarter of the rich and wealthy who have contributed to the making of the Greek crisis. Consequently police in riot gear stand guard as if at a border crossing between the wealthy part of town known as the Kolonaki area and the Exarchia area known to be the home of anarchists and student protesters.

One does not have to be Marquez who would describe in his novel 'One hundred years of loneliness' what these dividing lines mean respectively for those on either sides. It is death which draws the dividing line and therefore quite different models of survival. At the very least it could be expected of a photo exhibition wishing to depict how people live in a era of depression, that these borders are made visible as a social divide. The police stand practically 24 hours in the street to follow through a containment policy seeking keep protest and potential street violence from reaching the Kolonaki area down to a minimum. In terms of security, it means a huge difference in who feels unsafe and demands protection precisely from those whose life is most vulnerable due to not having equal chances in a society skewed towards political connections played out daily in Kolonaki. The district is adjacent to the Greek parliament. 

Also a city like Athens has been surely marked especially in terms of graffiti but only very few photos displayed in the exhibition came even close to capturing what has taken place on the walls in the streets of Athens. By leaving this side of the crisis out, it leads to the question whether the photo exhibition fell victim to an underlying aesthetical principle which excluded the real political element of the crisis from being shown in its own terms. For the crisis is also about aesthetics within an urban environment which can prove to be a very harsh reality, but has also its exceptional beauty once perceived as such. This can include a party being help atop of a building overlookling Exarchia square.

When people sense no real changes are taking place, real despair sets in. Crisis in the minds of people is to see despite them making every effort to alter things, to proceed, and if not themselves, at least to see their children advance, that no change has been achieved. Naturally this perception pertains predominantly to what the political institution portrays and exhibits. Although what is being decided in Parliament may be remote from daily life, still the decisions do manifest themselves in which reality people have to live in. The question is can the photos bridge the gap between the famous and the unknown ones? The question has become even more acute since the crisis is understood as well as the widening of the gap between the rich and the poor.

Images as information bits

The photographer Photini Papahatzi would state that the decisive aspect in modern photography is the 'bit': the information load carried by a photographed image. Here a real subtle point of photography in the digital age can be reflected upon. Any digital photo can conjure up a real subject while photo shop can alter the image into something which the naked eye cannot see by itself. The difference depends on this 'bit' giving more information.

However, there has to added another constaint. By capturing ever more precisely one single or fleeting moment, and then convert this moment into a photo, not only is frozen an image thereof, but the reduction of the time span of sequence measured by before, now and then shall contribute to a reduced sense of reality as being a change over time. The image risks instead of representing an ongoing movement leaving a mark as an experience to be remembered in terms of sense impressions, to be more than mere a static reproduction of reality. It may be so much outside reality that the focal point has shifted so much that the subject matter portrayey by the photo has gone beyond the image itself. If not noticed by the photographer as a shift in visuality, he will no longer relate to the imagination but only to an ontological set defining what reality supposed to be like. It is then a semi real configuration without knowing fully what it should represent. That vagueness may be intended when it comes to defining a crisis, but it is a stark contrast to what precision any photograph in the digital age can attain. And this is not covered as of yet by the term 'virtual reality'.

The handling of information or not amounts to another kind of trailer. It says something about possible traces a photographed image leaves behind in the mind. Sonia Guggisberg is a photographer who leans ever more towards video installations. She does so in order to reintroduce into photography the sense of sequence of time. Even if only minute variations or mutations are shown, it trains the eye to be observant over time. Such photography turned into a video installation can be described best as a process of receiving and handling flows of information. This is underlined by her focusing on moments in which contrasts between mobility and immobility become evident.

Since Sonia Guggisberg attended the opening of the exhibition, it was interesting to note how she took in all the photos. Above all she seemed to just wonder how still most of the photos were for they showed hardly any movement at all. If this holds true, then the photos in the exibition 'era of depression' depict in reality what people become once in a crisis. By getting ever more information about the crisis, but in not knowing how they can escape this fore mostly mental disaster, they end being much more static. To reveal how they were and moved about before the crisis set in their lives, photos would need to show what difference there is when people have still dreams about another form of life compared to being without dreams.

However, the exhibition brought only a contrast of how people lived before in affluency, that is in the years before 2009. If shown merely superficially with the intention of depicting a mere contrast, then not focused upon is what great immobility also life ends up being if merely a matter of squandering money. They sit in convertible cars, wave to the crowd, or end up at bars while surrounded by beautiful women.

If passivity prevails altogether, at risk is that no movement can be registered at all by the photographers. Naturally it will depend what suggestive theories they have in the back of their minds when seeking to explain the crisis. By adopting, for instance, soley the position of 'we Greeks are the victim of something unexplainable', then the photographers would follow but one line of explanation. If not careful, they would end up reproducing through their photos images coming out of a 'blame culture'. It will result in one sided viewpoints and would fail by virtue of sole focus on aesthetics to confront the viewer with the need to adopt a self critical stance. The outcome would be a kind of poor harvest as to what the photos would show not only what the crisis has left behind, but also what it does reveal. Unfortunately all this was confirmed by the exhibition. Most of the photos on display show only few traces of the crisis. That is after all too poor a statement having done four years of observations through photography. Definitely is not enough to make photographic statements about incompleted constructions transforming the landscape into a semi waste land. That has been a phenonomen all over Greece even before the start of the crisis. Someone would start constructing a house, but then was stopped either by having run out of money or the construction was denounced since illegal. Likewise with those photos showing finished house estates with swimming pool but no one living there. Certainly there is an over stock of houses due to the building bubble before 2009, but how everyone suddenly craved for a third, even fourth house outside Athens, that connectivity and need amounts to a kind of vanity in need to be shown, and not just the houses left unlived just standing there.

As all of this will not be enough to tell the story about the crisis, it is hard to see how exhibition can be really associated with an 'era of depression'. The latter is played out in the lives of those people who could not take their money out of Greece and invest it in real estate in London or Berlin.

Mental Institution

Finally there is an inherent danger in photography. Like the power of paintings in earlier centuries, the photos can be used to dominate the perception of the Greek crisis. If not careful, these mental images can become a kind if institution, indeed a prison. 

It is noteworthy that the collective of photographers believes that the crisis is also a matter of the state of mind which influences, to put it mildly, the perception of things. Variations thereof prevail throughout man's history.

It can start with Aristotle's lesson of categories and will not end with the German term of 'Weltanschauung'. Only Freud deviated from the growing tendency amongst philosophers to focus solely on the 'phenomenology of the mind' and which became after Hegel the 'spirit' (Geist). Out of this emerged the term 'Zeitgeist', or that what captures contemporary trends.

If it was the intention of the photographers of the collective to capture this 'Zeitgeist' by means of images, then they adopt a classical, indeed reserved tone as if they wish to be more remote and less analytical. If it so, the question becomes one of asking if the aesthetical styles to be found in the exhibition reflect the imprisonment in a mental institution? 

One feature of such an institution is to instigate self pride. Such an attitude follows down the path of self assertiveness. The latter is a form which has become virulent in the 21st century. By fostering this kind of national narrative, a special kind of mental institution is created, one which is capable of imprisoning the mind. It does so at a very high prize as the gaze upon the self is like looking into the sun so that all other histories and narratives are blended out. It leaves humanity and the 'voice of reason' as it has become known through the Enlightenment completely silent.

Forgotten in this search on how to restore 'pride' is what Pablo Neruda advised, namely the abolition of pride as it leads only into a strange kind of loneliness. The Pantomimist Marcel Morceau would show this in the form of someone passing by a monument in the park and begins to imagine that he could be like that statue being admired by all those people passing by. In the end, he does climb up on this monument and suddenly his body turns to stone. The only thing which reigns thereafter is silence. 

Such a legend and identity allows many to presume that they stand above any need to be self critical and therefore it never comes to an open discussion about how Greece ended in such a crisis. Instead national pride is linked to the ancient past as if this is proof enough of greatness. Here the symbol of the pillar of Ancient Temples stands out as most significant reminder thereof. By evoking repeatedly this allusion to the past as if it is still real in the present, this illusion can be nourished to be someone above any crisis. Naturally when living in Athens, it is difficult to ignore the evidence of the Acropolis. Nevertheless the relation to the past is constantly distorted so as not to come to terms with present challenges and demands. Instead there is cultivated a new kind of national narrative as exemplified by the underlying concept of the new Acropolis Museum. The jury decided for that specific design as it exemplifies kitsch, something which existed admittedly as well in Ancient Greece.

In view of the simple fact that neither words or photos can capture the truth about the Greek crisis, a more precise metaphor might have better to look at the prevailing institutions. For migrants, these are the famous detention centres. Altogether it would have been worthwhile to explore linkages between staying put in a depression and being confined to a 'mental institution'. (2) The term suggests something similar to an invisible prison and can be related to what Michel Foucault said in his book 'Observation and Punishment' - an analysis of the glance of a prison guard. By being locked into belonging together, but without any form of mediation in-between, it implies everything from ever tight family patterns to the realization that there can be no redemption. It would help to realize if the crisis is deep inside, in the psyche, only two alternatives exist. If not wishing to play the clown, one can continue to be the victim and suffer under an inferiority complex, or else fake being superior over all others. Neither choice is really liveable. It will be just as depressing to be forced to live and to work under such circumstances as trying to overcome limitations by seeking some kind of transcendence. Yet they will hit the invisible walls of the 'mental institution' quickly. Since this 'mental institution' appearing to be boundless when at the same time it draws tight borders, it can become highly frustrating when there seems no way out.


It would have been good if all these elements were shown in the exhibition 'Era Depression', but this omission says already a lot. If people are to come together, they need something they can identify with. Since the crisis began to grip in earnest all stratas of society, but this in many different ways, photos as critical reminders or rather memories of importance should have been included in such an exhibition. But photos aiming to capture experiences people made as Greece slid ever deeper into the crisis, they need to be themselves measures of time. For that to happen they should contribute to not forgetting that the common assembly on Syntagma Square was only tolerated by the authorities for a short period of time, that is until July 2011. Already some legends and false interpretations become the premise for critical observers which serve to dismiss protest movements as if they can say only 'no' and not contribute to politics, governance, institutions and an imagination needed to find a way into the future. Often defeats come twice: in the form of real police violence sweeping over Syntagma Square, and in what in retrospect is valorized by official society or rather goes unrecognized.

It could have been expected of the photographers to undertake to show how people try in vain to relate to the state deficit. Since the sheer number of money owed or gone missing goes well beyond the capacity of any normal person, that invisible dimension of money going beyond anyone's imagination should have been attempted to be captured in photos. Here might help to picture such a state of affairs by relating to a favourite Chinese saying about even the strongest man being weak when he has no longer a penny to his name. To be without money, or in false dependency due to outstanding debts, entails many dangers. Dostoevsky described one in 'Crime and Punishment' when a student sought to rob the money lender, but ends up being trapped him in unforeseen consequences. That is another way of looking at possible political backlashes when a society never learned to uphold a 'morality of payment' and to deal with money in a prudent way. It can lead as well to shame and utmost despair both of which has driven more than ever before in Greek society people to commit suicide.

If the real crisis has not been dealt with in a self critical way, then the exhibition follows some other, more remote intention. There is mentioned that this should be the start of a photo collection about 'Depression'. If so, the main aim appears to be to gain not merely in recognition but value for these photos. As this is only possible over time, it is too early to tell if the collective shall succeed. However, once subjected to such a valorization process, the meaning of their content will alter most likely and risk to become precisely that, what they wanted to avoid, namely a kind of testimony of the times Greeks have been going through since 2009, or at latest since 2011 when the collective started the collection. It is a kind of investment best called speculation in the arts. The peculiarities of the art market aside, the photographer Photini Papahatzi observed that photographs have after decades of neglect started suddenly to gain in value already in 2000. (3)

There is another way to value a photograph. Do they address the issues and reveal at the same time something else as to what is inherent in this crisis to justify calling it 'Depression Era'? Certainly every photo can be appraised if it does not bend content aesthetically speaking, but does tell the truth in such a way that it sparks further interest? If not the case, criticism thereof shall come a bit closer as to what the crisis in Greece is really about. It amounts to an avoidance of public truth. Even people are reluctant to tell each other the full truth. Often they do so out of a wish to keep somehow 'face'. Not to be dragged own in a bottomless pit of misery is not only an art of survival, but knowing how to differentiate own opinions from those of others. If the collectivity says everything is bad and nothing shall change, it would rule out making a difference to the usual assumptions and often anti-political generalizations. Thus if aesthetics and action are to come together, there have to be found another way of looking at the crisis with a much deeper compassion for human truth. Elements thereof exist in the exhibition but what has been shown is not enough to be really convincing. 

One reason for the shortcoming exists in having left out one prime problem which caused the crisis in the first place,namely the 'corruption of the mind'. So many times people have looked the other way when cashed flowed in an improper way. Over time the means became ever more devious. Kick-back practices had become a standard procedure. Whoever wanted a contract had to agree to hand back under the table some of the money. Yet it is not the money itself which symbolizes the corruption. Rather it is the argumentation as to what could be done with the given resources, what not. Too often some good excuse could be found why this decision was not possible or why it does not matter if the project ended up being incomplete. More and more the entire society engulfed itself in all kinds of rationalizations. It is the best method by which taking responsibility and drawing some practical consequences out of missing the targets can be evaded. There was even an open, indeed honest corruption. Everyone knew it since everyone did it. Stupid was only the one who did not join in and who tried to do honest work. The difference was very telling. An architect not willing to pay a bribe at the office where building permissions were issued, had to wait one year; the architect prepared to do so got the permission within three days. Naturally over time the first architect lost clients since they wished someone who knows how the system works and therefore could get things done. This in-built inefficiency is a system leading easily to corruption. It is an intended inefficiency.

All the more attention has to be paid on how political connections begin to determine the art scene.

Hatto Fischer

Athens 19.12.2014


For the exhibition at Benaki, see




1. Prof. Franco Bianchini (2014) „An answer“ given at the “International Perspectives on Participation and Engagement in the Arts” conference from 20-21 June 2014 in Utrecht. Source:


2. John Brady Kiesling uses this term in “Warriors – Resistance and Terrorism, 1967 – 2014.” Athens, 2014.

3. Παπαχατζή, Φωτεινή  Ξεχάστε τον Πικάσο ΔΗΜΟΣΙΕΥΣΗ:  26/11/2000   http://www.tovima.gr/culture/article/?aid=128292


4. Leonidas Stergiou „Some 32.5 bln fled abroad on fears of Grexit“ Kathimerini 8.12.2014 http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_wsite2_1_07/12/2014_545219

6. See artistic statement of the project: «Gradient: From Gray to Color Scale» http://multiartprojects.org/gradient/gradient.html




'Depression Era' Exhibition in Athens | GreekReporter.com

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Nov 7, 2014 - An exhibition entitled "Depression Era" has opened at the Benaki Museum in Athens. The theme is the economic crisis and the new reality in ...


Benaki Museum exhibit shows how ‘the Crisis’ affected Athens


Published Monday, Dec. 15 2014, 3:32 PM EST

Last updated Monday, Dec. 15 2014, 3:32 PM EST


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