Camera Graeca: Photographs, Narratives, Materialities ed. by Philip Carabott, Yannis Hamilakis, and Eleni Papargyriou (review)
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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...