Summer ABroad – Margot Yale

Hello from Athens, Greece! I’m currently in the last week of my PIIRS Global Seminar on “A Land of Light and Shadows: Modern Greek Literature and Photography.” Over the course of the past five weeks, we have traveled to Delphi, Mycenae, Crete, and all around Athens to explore the ruins of Ancient Greece and the culture of modern Greece. Of course, Ancient Greek myths, aesthetics, and innovations are omnipresent in Western culture. While I have enjoyed going to the Acropolis, the Agora, and many museums filled with ancient pottery, jewelry, and statues, I have found it most interesting to speak with contemporary Greek photographers who are reconciling this celebrated history with the present.

Every Tuesday, we have a workshop with an Athenian photographer to learn about where they seek inspiration from Greece to create their images. Last week, Petros Koublis introduced us to the Depression Era project, a collective of over 30 photographers, curators, researchers, and writers who are working to put together an exhibit at the Benaki Museum in Athens. The exhibit reveals the decadence of Greece in the 1990s and distress of Greece in the present.

The collection of images were all very moving and explored a Greece different from that in the guide books and the media’s coverage of the Greek economic crisis. Koublis explained that the Greeks’ troubles began after the 2004 Olympic games. He introduced us to the work of Yorgos Prinos, whose series Eclipse explores the jubilance of the games and the emptiness that followed. I find the image below to be particularly poignant as it suggests that the Olympics merely provided an empty promise to Greece

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Yiannis Theodoropoulous’ photographs of abandoned incomplete structures also caught my interest because of the way that they suggest that these structures are the modern monument.

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The last image, taken by Dimitris Tsoumplekas, struck me because of the way in which Tsoumplekas captures the relationship between the dilapidated interior and the lively natural exterior.

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The Depression Era project is special because it sheds light into the Greek economic crisis through a very honest lens and will reach the public through an exhibit at a major museum. But, I would hate for you to think that Greece is overcast with an air of sadness. It’s still a beautiful country with a lively atmosphere and culture. I’ve enjoyed many performances in both converted warehouses and ancient theaters through the Athens Festival, like a modern interpretation of Sophocles’ Philoctetes. I’ve had my mine blown by the incredible beaches of Crete and discovered a love for moussaka. And, of course, I’ve gotten to see amazing Ancient Greek monuments and art in person. If you can’t make it all the way to Greece, though, the Princeton University Art Museum can offer you an extensive selection of the types of artifacts I’ve been seeing these past few weeks, like this amphora from ca. 540 B.C.

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