For nine straight years, from 1988 to 1996, PHOTOSYNKYRIA was characterized by a whole series of parameters: internationalism, the collective co-operation of the forces, people and organisations of the city of Thessaloniki, the systematic participation of foreign cultural missions and of the press, the support of the municipality and of our sponsors, the constant movement towards manifold amelioration, and the programme and content changes based on "moving" targets. Perhaps more than anything else, for an organisation that rose out of private initiative, it is the regularity with which it has swept into Thessaloniki every February that has characterised it as Greece's prime annual photography/visual arts event. Despite the fact that it has never acquired the formal status of an institution, it has nonetheless functioned as one, with everything that that connotes and entails. The result was that in 1995 it won the recognition and support of the Ministry of Culture.
In 1997, the year that PHOTOSYNKYRIA would have celebrated its 10th anniversary, and coincidentally the year in which Thessaloniki "was" the Cultural Capital of Europe, the event was suspended; the responsibility for this continues to weigh heavy upon the political leaders of this city's cultural life. This offence against its consistency was wrought by factors outside its control, factors which had the potential not only to ruin its image but in a variety of ways to work calculable harm to its very structure. We hope that time will heal the wounds, aided by our own persistence and by our multitude of colleagues old and new. One year late, then, PHOTOSYNKYRIA returns once again with the month of February (this time presenting nearly fifty different exhibitions rather than the five we started out with in February 1988), for a tenth gathering of old familiar faces and the new friends we are happy to welcome.
While the commemorative character of this event may have become a pretext for celebrations and anniversary exhibitions, it is however first and foremost an occasion for reflection on the time that has passed, for assessment perhaps, for consideration and questioning, for re-orientation, even simply for confirmation. Each individual, whether exhibitor or would-be photographer, artist, student or organiser, art historian or ordinary visitor, will reflect, singly or collectively, on what he or she has brought to or garnered from the processes involved in events such as this, and will work out or adopt positions with regard to photography, art, the image and their interplay. On the ways, too, in which we marshal these, making use of them or allowing them to influence, conduct or guide our lives. Encounters such as PHOTOSYNKYRIA, at whatever level of interest they may be rated by local or international standards, are, one and each, de facto places of – much more than interaction – exchange where, in a framework official or unofficial, views critical and imponderable are formulated.
During the course of these ten years, PHOTOSYNKYRIA has simultaneously followed two pointers in its promotion of photography: on the one hand, it has taken an interest in the entire spectrum covered by this concept in and of itself (with the possible exception of scientific or purely applied photography), while on the other it has on occasion focused some part of its attention on specific areas, stimulating discussion of these or participating in their on-going broader exploration. This is the reason for the development in the past few years of lecture and discussion groups and pocket exhibitions in relation with the theme, so that their exploration may find an unobstructed focus.
This year, however, the organization of the projects into units and their evaluation according to group criteria has puzzled us more than ever before. If this sense of helplessness is stronger than ever, it may be because the concept of the picture as immaterial image now plays a leading role in contemporary society and therefore in art. As we face he questions "what is photography" and "what is art", the images before us of these things are blurred –and this is no longer a case of "le flou artistique" but of an essential inability to focus. Concepts such as the construction of the immaterial image or the two- dimensional photograph and their incorporation into or use in broader contexts clash head on with the co-ordinates of the accepted techniques and styles of classical photography, without however overcoming them. They are thus forced into compulsory cohabitation, jostling with other elements from more traditional or contemporary art, from science (and science fiction) and from high technology, and at the same time with considerations of a philosophical or ideological order, thus weaving the fabric of a complex undecipherable and giving shape to expanses of shifting sands. Most competent of all, perhaps, the art historians in their turn come jointly and severally into action, following the track but never providing us with the corrective lenses that would enable us to focus more clearly on our image. The most serious of them prefer, for the moment at least, simply to note characteristics, particularities, lines of descent, prospects of the trends that appear, without establishing systems of evaluation. Their predilections, at once subjective and substantiated, and combined insofar as they overlap, result in the fostering of this, that or the other trend, thus permitting the more perspicacious receptors to hazard their own choices. At the same time, however, and involuntarily of course, they lead numerous "artists" with borrowed inspiration into dangerous adventures from which, especially if they happen to be leaders of some sort, emerge perversions or –at best – distortions.
Successive reversals in the history of art continue to follow one another at ever accelerating speeds. Differentiation by means of the invention of new vocabularies constitutes a tactic sine qua non. The oscillation between content, form, concept, performance, substitute, support, reality, representation, reduction, deviation, the ephemeral, the monumental, outward appearance, negation and assent constitute at one and the same time a highway for the accomplishment of great things by those without guile and a safety hatch for the escape of the spurious.
In this "spurious" age, then, it is more than merely difficult for us to classify photographic proposals. And while in some cases things may be reduced to "black" or "white" with evident ease, making quality assessment almost obvious, the area of infinite shades of grey harbours comparable, if not greater, risks of fatal error - or indeed it may conceal inestimable treasures, by virtue of the seeds of entire new worlds.
This time, we shall not be designating the families sheltering the different sorts of photography. We are moreover aware that a photography event automatically tends to exclude certain areas of art to which it claims to belong. Our inner conflict as organizers of this event, and our helplessness in the face of what has come to pass, we seek to share with you –participant, colleague or member of the general public.
Wander about with us, then, among photographs, documentary, artistic, conceptual, among the installations and constructions, among techniques mixed or traditional, analogue or digital, among materials paltry or noble. Explore with us, searching both around and within yourselves for emotions, which will be different for each one of you, for sure, and at the same time for a force that may help us regain paradise lost.
Artistic Director / Photosynkyria '98