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Reviewed by
Philip Carabott, Yannis Hamilakis, and Eleni Papargyriou, editors, Camera Graeca: Photographs, Narratives, Materialities. Centre for Hellenic Studies, King's College London, Publications 16. Farnham: Ashgate. 2015. Pp. xx + 375. 87 illustrations. Cloth $138.

The 16 essays that comprise Camera Graeca originated in a conference, "Greek (Hi)stories through the Lens: Photographs, Photographers and their Testimonies," that took place in 2011 at the Centre for Hellenic Studies, King's College London. The editors' introduction lays out the broad parameters of the volume: "with a few notable exceptions … most work on the photography of and in Greece to date has avoided explicit theorization and reflection on its ontological, epistemological, and political work and impact. One of the aims of this volume is to fill this lacuna" (7). The scope of the essays, then, is admirably broad.

Art historian John Tagg coined the useful plural term photographies to denote the many ways photographic images constitute their subject (Tagg 1988), and the term certainly applies here. The subject of "photography and Greece, photography of Greece" is nothing if not capacious (3). Within its [End Page 244] photographies, some key themes reappear in multiple guises, principally the relation, or tension, between ancient Greece and the modern nation. There are few, if any, countries other than Greece that are so constantly being compared to their distant past. To quote the title of a book by the eminent classicist Peter Green, "the shadow of the Parthenon" still spreads over Greece (Green 1972). There exists a similar interplay between urban and rural scenes. The city, particularly (but not exclusively) Athens, is identified with progress and modernization, while the countryside, whether on the mainland or on the islands, is home to a population of farmers and shepherds, who collectively exemplify traditional values and customs. In the photographs, too, one finds a divergence between emotively picturesque views and the more analytic, archaeological, or ethnographic studies.

The essays in Camera Graeca are grouped into four sections, which treat, respectively, (1) the formation of Greek national identity, (2) photographic narratives, (3) photographic materiality and photographs as propaganda, and (4) vernacular photography. Of course, all such large categories are permeable, allowing for multiple approaches to the same topic and considerable cross-referencing. The essays do show the inevitable unevenness that reflects their origin in a conference, but the general quality is quite high. If I had to voice one general reservation, it is that on a number of occasions some of the authors strain to invest a relatively limited subject with a significance it does not warrant, often by applying inflated theoretical terminology. I have to make the customary but honest disclaimer that I harbor no antagonism toward theory, but I admit that I have little tolerance for neologisms like deterritorialization, self-interpellation, and intersubjective linkages (and still less tolerance for solecisms like archetypical, which are fortunately infrequent). In what follows, I will provide a brief summary of each essay and will attempt to summarize some of the most significant issues and contributions.

The Greek victory over the Ottomans in the War of Independence (1832) preceded by only a few years the invention of photography (1839). The first five essays in Camera Graeca explore some instances, both nineteenth- and twentieth-century, of the medium's deployment in the process of establishing Greek national identity. John Stathatos examines how photography was used after the War of Independence, and again during the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, and even during the hardship that followed the Second World War, to buttress Greek claims of national unity. Depictions of landscapes and monuments as well as portraits and costume studies could all serve to reinforce ideological claims of ethnic solidarity and historical continuity. At the outset of Alexandra Moschovi's contribution, she quotes from a 1941 volume, This Is Greece, [End Page 245] written and photographically illustrated by two scholars from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (Frantz and Talcott 1941). They wished to encourage foreign aid to Greece, and their introduction contains the telling assertion that "in Greece past and present [are] separated by no very wide gulf" (53). The statement, with its problematic implication of Arcadian timelessness, has been virtually a truism among many foreign philhellenes. Moschovi concentrates on three points (the 1950s, 1980s, and 2000s) within a decades-long movement among Greek photographers to depart from what she calls such "Hellenocentric folklore" (61). Aliki Tsirgialou gives a historical survey of the nineteenth century photographers, both Greek and foreign; almost all of them worked within the influence of a powerful iconographic tradition, in which the ancient monuments played the most important role. There was not only a canon of sites but also a set of prescribed points of view from which they should be photographed. Frederick N. Bohrer discusses the remarkable nineteenth-century American photographer William James Stillman. I have also written about Stillman, and Bohrer makes some claims with which I disagree (Szegedy-Maszak 2005). For example, he says that Stillman's photographs "are part of the history of commercial imagery of the site" (104). While it is true that Stillman earned a profit from the publication of his sumptuous album of views (The Acropolis of Athens, 1870), the distribution was quite limited, and the pictures were meant for his fellow connoisseurs. Stillman's images, in fact, are deliberately very different from the conventional photographs produced by commercial studios for the tourist trade. Bohrer moves on to present an engaging argument that links Stillman to Sigmund Freud via photography. Freud wrote a famous letter about his own visit to the Acropolis and the "disturbance of memory" that it occasioned (Freud 1936). Bohrer suggests that photographs themselves embody a "divided or doubled perception," in that they have both a factual and a subjective function (108). The final essay in this first section, by Heather E. Grossman, considers a nineteenth-century commercial photographer, Pascal Sébah, whose work, unusually, included not only the ancient Athenian monuments but also elements of the modern cityscape, such as the new railway terminal. The themes introduced in this section recur, productively, in several of the subsequent essays.

The second section of the book is entitled "Photographic Narratives/Alternative Histories." It begins with a determinedly polemical essay by Yan- nis Hamilakis and Fotis Ifantidis. They declare their intention to explore "the collateral development of archaeology and photography as two key devices of capitalist modernity" (134). Despite its confidently affirmative tone, such an assertion is not so self-evident as the authors seem to believe. On occasion, one [End Page 246] finds terminology—for example, "archaeo-photography" (143) or "multi-temporal affordances" (150)—that is more distracting than informative. Nonetheless, the essay is challenging, well argued, and ultimately fascinating. It focuses on the two authors' project called The Other Acropolis, which began in 2008 and has as its goal to restore to the famous site its historical complexity (Hamilakis, Ifantidis, and Démnou 2008-2016). It is well known that nineteenth-century Greek archaeologists scoured the Acropolis of all its pre- and postclassical remains. The Other Acropolis, by contrast, records things like a classical architectural fragment that bears an Ottoman-era inscription in Arabic, as well as rain-slicked bare limestone, which was covered with earth in ancient times and indeed until the site was cleared off. Photographs provide the evidence essential to constructing a valuable counternarrative—"an alternative visitors' guide"—to what is a renowned, idealized Periclean-era theme park (143).

The remaining essays in Section 2 are rather a miscellany. Returning to an earlier era, Kostas Ioannidis and Eleni Mouzakiti discuss early twentieth-century stereographic views, in particular a set of 100 stereo cards accompanied by an explanatory book, Greece through the Stereoscope (Richardson 1907). Underwood and Underwood, the publisher of the Greek set, made similar volumes for Italy, Egypt, China, Japan, and the United States of America. Such productions were very popular. The notional audience was the middle-class traveler, actual or armchair, and as a result the selection of pictures provides an accurate gauge of canonical taste. The present essay, I think, would have been enriched by a broader consideration of that particular social context for these early versions of virtual reality. Next, Theodoros Chiotis gives an account of the photographs made by George Seferis. While Seferis was unquestionably a master poet, he did not seek to have his photographs published during his lifetime. The four images reproduced here seem to me to be interesting but too modest to support Chiotis's elaborate analysis or his conclusion that Seferis was "more than an amateur photographer" (176). In the final essay in this section, Eleni Papargyriou provides a rapid, instructive overview of the history of the Greek literary photobook from the 1930s to the present day.

The third section of the book is entitled "Photographic Matter-Realities: Photography as Propaganda." Georgios Giannakopoulos discusses an archive of photographs pertaining to the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922). They belonged to the historian Arnold Toynbee and his wife Rosalind and now form part of his archive at Oxford. As with some of the other essays in this volume, I felt that slight evidence was pressed to bolster large claims—for example, that "the photographs gain significance … as archival traces of a historian's preoccupations" (215). There is oddly no mention of the fact that [End Page 247] Toynbee's shift from supporting the Greeks to supporting the Turks led to his forced resignation from the Koraes Chair of Modern Greek and Byzantine History at the University of London. The next essay, by Katerina Zacharia, considers the work of the twentieth-century Greek photographer known as Nelly, in particular the photographic portraits Nelly made of Greeks during the authoritarian regime of Ioannis Metaxas (1936-1941). The premise informing the pictures—this will sound familiar—was the "continuity of the Greek race and the supremacy of the classical past" (237). Zacharia makes a fascinating and ultimately compelling argument that Nelly was not, as she has sometimes been depicted, a naïve romantic but was instead "a charismatic agent of the [Metaxas] regime's iconography" (241). In the final essay in this section, Eleni Kouki considers another photographic archive, that belonging to the Memorial Museum of the Battle of Sarandaporo, which was established during the rule of the military junta in Greece (1967-1974). The photographs are meant to evoke nationalist pride, as they recall the first Greek victory (1912) during the First Balkan War. Interestingly, the ones on display are almost all copies made from originals in the Athens War Museum, and Kouki points out that there are serious curatorial errors, because many of the photographs on view have nothing to do with Sarandaporo.

The fourth and final section of the volume gathers four essays under the rubric "Photographic Ethnographies: The Dispersal of Photographic Objects." Margaret E. Kenna gives an engaging reminiscence of her own experiences in the 1960s doing fieldwork and making photographs on the tiny island of Anafi and among migrants from the island in Athens. The photographs served not only as documentation for Kenna's own research and writing but also as treasured mementos for the islanders themselves. A similar intimacy informs Elena Mamoulaki's account of photography on the island of Ikaria. In the late 1940s, the island was used as an exile camp to hold Greeks with left-wing or communist sympathies, and the native Ikarians responded with generous hospitality. Mamoulaki emphasizes the ongoing importance of a small photo shop that still displays some 300 photographs from that time and thus functions as "an informal, mundane museum" (307). Kontantinos Kalantzis takes as his subject the depiction of shepherds from Sfakia in western Crete. These men represent a rugged masculinity; in the late 1930s, Nelly photographed an old shepherd from Sfakia and incorporated the image in a collage of authentically Greek faces. Finally, Penelope Papailias turns to modern times and to her own fieldwork. She analyzes how Albanian and Bulgarian migrants to Greece "locate themselves in 'Greece' but also in the 'world' through the production, dissemination and collection of personal photographs" (337). Despite some awkward [End Page 248] locutions, Papailias demonstrates the salient role played by photographs as emigrants make their transition to a new society.

The volume concludes with a succinct Afterword by historian Ludmilla Jordanova, who stresses "the diversity of photographic practices that 'Greece' has elicited" (364). Most of the essays assembled in Camera Graeca usefully illustrate that diversity, and, as I have said, the volume as a whole is quite illuminating.

Andrew Szegedy-Maszak
Wesleyan University
Andrew Szegedy-Maszak

Andrew Szegedy-Maszak is Professor of Classical Studies at Wesleyan University, specializing in Greek history, historiography, classical mythology, and the history of photography. He has published over 40 articles on the ancient Greeks and photography. He has coauthored Antiquity and Photography (J. Paul Getty Museum, 2005) and has written the text for photographic monographs Toward a Deeper Understanding: Paul Strand at Work (Steidl-Pace/MacGill, 2007) and Philip Trager: Photographing Ina (Steidl, 2016).


Frantz, Alison, and Lucy Talcott, eds. 1941. This Is Greece. New York: Hastings House.
Freud, Sigmund. 1936. "A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis." In Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, edited by James Strachcey, vol. 22, 239-248. London: Hogarth Press.
Green, Peter. 1972. The Shadow of the Parthenon: Studies in Ancient History and Literature. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Hamilakis, Yannis, Fotis Ifantidis, and Vasko Démnou. 2008-2016. "The Other Acropolis." The Other Acropolis Collective (photoblog). Accessed 22 December 2016. https://theotheracropolis.com/.
Richardson, Rufus Byam. 1907. Greece through the Stereoscope. New York: Underwood and Underwood.
Szegedy-Maszak, Andrew. 2005. "An American on the Acropolis: William James Stillman." In Antiquity and Photography: Early Views of Ancient Mediterranean Sites, edited by Claire L. Lyons, John K. Papadopoulos, Lindsey S. Stewart, and Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, 148-195. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.
Tagg, John. 1988. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.