© Olga Stefatou
Burma series © Olga Stefatou

The Athens Photo Festival’s Photo Folio Review “is the best way for a photographer from Greece to expose themselves to an international audience without even having to leave the country” says Athena Chroni, a photographer who is part of the travelling Faces to Faces show included in the event’s main exhibition space – a surprise final entry into my own schedule as guest critic. It makes sense; for many, this was not only a chance to have people look at their work and comment on it, it was also a platform to show their work and maybe even make a connection or two.

On a macro scale the review was also a chance for visiting specialists in the field of photography from as far afield as Finland, the UK, and France to see a side to Athens they hadn’t seen before. The influences of street photography in the tradition of Cartier-Bresson, Koudelka, Frank, Winogrand and Ruscha were obvious. For many of the photographers, this tradition weighed heavily on their work, giving gravitas to analogue, black and white prints of the city and its surroundings, as well as the every day reality of those who live within it.

© Vagelis Georgas
from Urban Tales © Vagelis Georgas

Vagelis Georgas, a young award-winning photographer, has created a style that is so steadfastly of the ‘decisive moment’, it’s as if Bresson never left the building. A keen interest in sociology and social conceptions in art and photography lends itself to the tight concepts behind each of his series such as Urban Tales which takes the viewer on a journey into the heart of an abstract city through the moody, grainy lens of a 35mm Nikon. Strong contrasts highlight aspects of the composition, with arms intertwined, or a profile emerging from a building’s shadow magnified by strong contrasts in black and white. “I purposely remove any element that might reveal exactly where the image was taken,” he says. “It’s about isolating the subject.”

For Dimitris Kioseoglou, the influence of street photography is much simpler. “I take pictures of my life,” he says modestly. “Of course I am influenced by the street photographers, but I am also interested by thousands of other photographers, too.” An unassuming man with a day job unrelated to his passion, he notes, “photos exist everywhere – there just isn’t enough time.” In response, Kioseoglou takes his Minox 35mm camera loaded with 400ASA film everywhere he goes and develops the film in his own darkroom. The results are an ephemeral portrait of a life being lived, that drew the attention of nearby critics, Fiore Pinna and Chiara Capodici – curators of the 3/3 Organisation, Italy. For such a humble man, his photographs betray a dynamic eye for composition.

© Dimitris Kioseoglou
© Dimitris Kioseoglou

Balancing work with photography is something Sotiris Papanikolaou knows well, but for him, it is the separation of his commercial practice from his artistic one. “I own my own studio, work in advertising and do portraits of businessmen,” he reveals in a straightforward manner that translates into his series, The Worker’s Portrait of the 21st Century.  Thes series depicts workers, from those building the new metro system to ship workers, pimps, and prostitutes, placed alongside businessmen and the Ludovics. “The French Royal Family is there as a reminder of the French Revolution – the first one fought for human rights,” he says. “We have forgotten what revolutions were fought for.” Using digital equipment, the portraits are black and white – reminiscent of the way colour distinguished commercial from art photography in the 60’s and 70’s. The colour choice also adds a sense of uniform equality to his diverse group of subjects.

© Sotiris Papanikolaou
from The Worker’s Portrait of the 21st Century
© Sotiris Papanikolaou

Maxime Gyselinck, a Belgian photo-reporter working for Amnesty International shares Papanikolaou’s concern for human rights. “I suppose I have a connection with immigrants and their experience – my mother came to Belgium as an immigrant from Yugoslavia,” he reasons. He used a Canon EOS 5D Mark II for Unfame Stories, a series of immigrant portraits that present those living the problem of immigration that escalated in 2003.  In that year Greece signed the Dublin II declaration stating the first EU country an asylum seeker arrives in has the responsibility to process the application, effectively turning Greece into a final destination rather than transit point. Gyselinck uses the aesthetics of passport photography to force the viewer to look into the faces of the hundreds of people flooding the streets in the city centre daily, and the connection between photographer and subject is clear – they are unafraid of his lens.

© Maxime Gyselinck
from Unfame Stories © Maxime Gyselinck

A similar connection is evident in the work of freelance photo-reporter, Olga Stefatou. With the daring approach of a street photographer, the compositional skill of a master painter, combined with a palpable sensitivity to the plight of those living in difficult circumstances, she has spent five years journeying independently through terrain both physically and metaphorically challenging, including Morocco, Turkey, Syria, Ethiopia, Cuba, China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Her Burma series, she says, “are a look at how people living in hard conditions try to keep hold of their humanity,” a humanity that bursts from every colour shot her Leica 35mm camera captured. Considering photographers are not allowed in Burma, she claims the experience taught her how to be fast and invisible. “I could not say I was a photographer, because if I did, I would also put the people in my photos in danger.”

© Olga Stefatou
© Olga Stefatou

John Voulgarakis, a teacher of basic photography who cultivated his craft in New York, takes his Holga lens away from people and focuses it on the details. A series of Lomo images framed by a Polaroid border depict items, objects, cracks and colours of the urban jungle, though his black and white series of a factory in Athens are more successful. With a talent for isolating shapes and textures, heightened by his understanding of light and its affect on the spectrum that separates black and white, Voulgarakis presents a symphony of greyscale, with all shades and tones crammed into a single frame. Interesting composition allows for some photographs to be viewed as abstract, while the focus on certain objects by others create invisible narratives that are whispered in the empty, abandoned space Voulgarakis has managed to communicate in images where time stands still.

Two young photographers who practice alongside their studies in Fine Art and European Culture respectively are Angelos Krallis and Angelos Kaltsis – less advanced and developed as those mentioned above, yet with enough promise to see them developing their work further. Kaltsis is much more interested in colour and the reflection of space and memory that hangs over vast landscapes and urban scenes, in which human presence is implied, rather than expressed overtly. Krallis, on the other hand, is an old school follower of black and white snap decisions and observations with a hope to combine his photography with his Fine Art education. Passionate to the core, the two young men represent a bright, young generation developing their style and their concept as we speak.

After two days of meeting these incredibly dedicated people, it seems photography in Greece is alive and well. Let’s see what next year will bring – 365 days can produce a lot of pictures.

– Stephanie Bailey