Photo exhibition: from crisis to Depression Era

Photo gallery: from crisis to Depression Era

The Depression Era project currently on display at the Benaki Museum eloquently depicts Greece's profound transformation.

Pavlos Zafiropoulos

Until the 11th of January, 2015, photographs, video installations and texts from the Depression Era project will be on display at the Benaki Museum on Piraeos Avenue.

The Depression Era project is a collective of more than 30 photographers, artists, researchers, writers, architects, journalists and curators formed in 2011, recording the Greek crisis through images and texts.

At first glance, the Depression Era exhibition is a relatively straightforward documentation of life in modern day Greece after years of fiscal crisis and painful recession. And indeed on one level that’s exactly what it is: image after image of of Greek life in which the sense of financial hardship and uncertainty is all-pervasive, evident in every cracked wall and deeply lined face.

But taken together, the images and words combine to produce something more than a simple chronicling of the new, hard times. One gets the sense, walking through the exhibition, of the crystallization of a new reality. This is not Greece in crisis, this is simply today’s Greece.

The old Greece – the one that existed before 2008 is gone, never to return. Many of the realities of the early 2000s are now simply irrelevant, consigned to history just as the exuberances of the roaring twenties were supplanted by a new way of being following the crash of 1929.

The inclusion of photographs from Greece’s own exuberance prior to its crash make this clear. They cannot help but be tragically ridiculous: the faces of well-fed politicians and celebrities beaming like excited passengers waving farewell as the luxurious Titanic pulls out of port.

Photo exhibition: from crisis to Depression Era
High Society / Spiros Staveris
High Society / Spiros Staveris
High Society / Spiros Staveris

This shift in perspective from crisis to new reality is reflected in the name ‘Depression Era’ itself, a name that, rightly, eschews the word ‘crisis’ which has been used so often and for so many years as to be almost farcical. After all, how long can a ‘crisis’ last and still be called a crisis? Can one be in crisis for ten years? Twenty? Fifty? Greece will most likely have a large public debt for at least that long.

The word ‘crisis’ implies a temporary situation where if the factors causing the crisis are lifted, the situation will revert to normal. One has a health crisis, is treated by doctors and then returns to a normal state.

What Depression Era eloquently makes clear is that that is not the case for Greece. The social and economic effects of Greece’s collapse have cut too deep and unravelled too much socially and economically for us simply to ‘return to normalcy’. The landscape - both metaphorical and literal - has been irreversibly altered. There is no going back to the old normal. There is only the new normal, the new era.

And this is where the silver lining lies, the glint of hope. The extensive collection of work produced by over thirty talented visual artists feels definitive, and is not without its sensitivity and beauty. You are here, they seem to say, take it in, live it and think about where you are going.

The Depression Era project is itself an expression of the new: a novel collaborative reaction to a novel situation, documenting the crisis in ways that reject traditional structures. As the organizers write in lensculture:

"The Depression Era project aspires to portray a historical turning point; to reflect characteristic events and situations pertaining not only to the economic but also to the political, social, ideological, moral and aesthetic crisis: to depict the emerging landscape of the recession and its consequent, rapid, unraveling transformations of Greek society. It is an artistic archive in-progress, a collective work experiment."

"… The end result reveals and records, sheds light on and signifies a situation that concerns all of us. In the end, it may discover a new reality that transcends the self-fulfilling prophecy of the current crisis."

In short, the Depression Era is less a project about the Greek crisis, and more a project about an emerging reality that transcends the country’s borders.

You can read more about the project and all of the individual photographers on the project’s website.

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