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Greece… or on the power of images

The last of the three countries of my upcoming journey will be Greece. For sure Greece, one could say. Wherever else should one go in the search for the European identity than to Greece? It’s one of the cradles of European civilization and Europa, the Phoenician princess and consort of Zeus in the Greek mythology, gave the continent its name. It’s the country of philosophers like Plato or Aristotle. It’s the place where the idea of democracy supposedly was thought for the first time – an outstanding achievement that for sure changed the world. These all… are definitely not the reasons why I want to visit Greece for my project.

Until recently, many people associated with Greece just things like their last holidays on a Greek island or, at the best, what they have learned in school: the Pythagorean theorem and the Battle of Issus. Unfortunately, history – especially ancient history – often has little to do with people’s personal real lifes in a country nor should it serve as a stereotyped picture of a society. I do not want to be reduced to an inhabitant of the land of poets and philosophers either – not to mention other possible associations with Germany’s culture and history. However, to ensure there are no misunderstandings: I do not doubt for one minute on the importance and relevance of history for a society in general. Just think here of the Greek civil war between communists and royalists which – already smouldering beneath the ashes since the beginning of the forties of the last century – immediately erupted at the end of World War II; largely unnoticed by the world’s public, I would like to add. Not very few historians attribute some current societal aspects in Greece – e.g. the often-criticized oversupply with jobs in the public sector for parts of the population – still as one result of this historic tragedy as well as the price for social peace. Therefore, economic rationality might have been sacrificed for social balance between the former opponents – there are worse reasons for acting like this in my opinion. I can’t say whether this is true or not, but it definitely can serve as a vivid example for the sometimes antagonistic pair of cause and perception. Whatever the case, the Euro crisis changed the whole game of perception dramatically…

Which typical perception on Greece and the Greek could we see from outside in, let’s say, the last five years? For sure I will not repeat some of the abysmal outpourings made by the yellow press here. However, even in parts of the so-called enlightened and well-informed society we could observe several knee-jerk reactions on the news and developments in Greece. It’s quite easy to take over the opinions of others without thinking twice or looking on the backgrounds and contexts. One can blame the Greek for ‘always sitting on the streets in taverns and cafés’ – or simply realize that this is part of culture and life – after work – in a warmer climate we are so envious of by the way. Apart from that, who blames the Irish or the English for their famous pub culture? But haven’t they tricked with the budget figures? Yes, they have – but all experts knew this and furthermore it was highly appreciated by our banking system. We could also talk about the weekly working hours – being higher in Greece than in the European average before the crisis – or the fewer days of holidays and the lower income. But this is not the point. Prejudices are serving perception on people and societies to such an extent that there is often little space for reality and truth. Thus, to return to the point of my introducing sentences on my reasons of choice, I can only say: It’s not a journey to the Greek history. It’s simply another attempt to bring in mind to myself again the important difference between perception and truth.

During the last three years, I’ve been traveling to Greece twice; mostly visiting some friends in Athens and staying just for a couple of days. For sure I’ve tried to get a first impression of the country and the current situation. Unfortunately, I have almost forced myself to find indications of the crisis at least to a certain amount, as I have noticed later on. What a stupid approach! On the one hand, such a short time of visit as well as the regional limitations definitely are not enough to get an idea of what is happening in a country – let alone to get a complete picture of it. On the other hand, it’s no way my intention to search for the crisis. I am curious about the people, the culture, the self-image and identity of the Europeans in different countries. Suddenly I became aware that the crisis – or better, the images and news of the crisis – have changed my perception and the approach how I follow-up this issue. This made me think a lot about the power of images, too. Since I will do a documentary work mostly based on pictures, the question of these images’ perception for sure is key for me. I am very aware of the fact that looking at pictures and interpreting them will always be a very individual and personal process. The following picture, found on the website of the Omikron Project, provides an illustrative example for this:


Just as what we see is governed by what we think, press, media and pictures in general are pretty easy able to provide us with a very subjective idea of something. Once again, the differences appear with the context and lie in the eye of the beholder. Of course I will not be able to influence people’s interpretation of and the thinking about the pictures I will make in Greece. Actually, I don’t want to. These pictures will be my very personal view on this country and the people living there… all I can do is observing, listening and then telling my view of the story.

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