This week, the public in Greece will have a last chance to visit Constantinos Pittas’ photo exhibition “Images of another Europe 1985-1989” running through November 27, 2016 at the Benaki Museum (Pireos Street Annexe). From 1985 to 1989, Pittas - a self-taught photographer - traveled to 17 countries in Western and Eastern Europe, capturing street scenes from both sides of the former Iron Curtain, aiming to show that the common ground of divided Europe was its own citizens and their daily life, no matter which "world" they belonged to. He pointed his camera at the faces of the scared and repressed people in the East, the faces of the lonely or the elderly in the West. His “naive” idea was to present the Europeans as an entity… as a big family beyond borders and walls.
However, his plan was to remain unfinished, mainly on account of the collapse of the Berlin Wall that canceled the "theme" of the project, as all those countries would soon become members of the EU, rushing to highlight their common roots. Moreover, photography entered a phase of intense criticism in the late 80s, as its relationship with reality was seriously questioned. Thus, Pittas thought that the collection of the unique photos he had accumulated in just a few years was not making sense anymore and decided to “bury” the negatives, literally, without ever showing them to anyone. “I had this naive dream of bringing Europe together in one book. However, Europe was now reuniting on its own, it did not have to wait for me. My plan was dead” explains Pittas.
Twenty-five years later, Pittas came across his old camera. It prompted him to look for the 25,000 negatives from his Europe project before posting some scanned images on his Facebook wall and the project was put back in motion… Pittas carefully picked out about 100 images and released a photo book using a self-publishing platform. One of the 1,000 copies ended up in the hands of Costis Antoniadis, Professor of photography in the Department of Photography and Audiovisual Arts at the Technological Educational Institute of Athens, who first helped Pittas organize an exhibition on the island of Kythera, and then curated the current show at the Benaki Museum, exhibiting a unique selection of 155 images.
And perhaps Pittas’ decision to showcase his photos today has some kind of symbolism, as it coincides with the beginning of a looming crisis in the European Union. However, Pittas remains optimistic despite all problems:
“The crisis in the European Union is frightening indeed, as there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. The (European) vision has faded, and the narrative that could excite people and make them believe that the EU -in essence, the European idea- will make Europe a better place and improve their life, has ceased to exist.
What I did, almost 30 years ago, was out of love for Europe, a vision for a united Europe… something almost mad at the time, since we were in the midst of the Cold War.
Things are different now, there are other kinds of problems but overall I’d say that things are better. Hope is not lost” Pittas* told Greek News Agenda**.
*Costantinos Pittas was born in Athens, Greece. He studied engineering at the Technical University of Athens. On 1984 he began taking photos in Athens, his native city, his first project being "Athens, 1984". In the next few years he traveled extensively in Eastern and Western Europe, taking photos of people on both sides of the former Iron Curtain. In 1989, he abandoned photography and "buried" his project for 25 years.
** Eleftheria Spiliotakopoulou
For more photos, watch video: "Images of Another Europe":