Friday, August 17, 2012

Agora Photo Archive

I have returned from a productive summer field season and a rather neglected blog. One of my summer goals included closer looks in Greek archival collections: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, the Gennadeion, The British School in Athens, and the Corinth Excavation Archives. James Herbst (Corinth Excavations Architect and Drawings Archivists) helped me conceptualize a project involving the 19th-century houses that American archaeologists tore down in the '30s at the Athenian Agora. As an urban excavation, the Athenian Agora had to purchase a number of properties in order to excavate below them. This necessary demolition has not been received positively by contemporary Athenians. Interestingly enough, those houses were carefully documented before demolition. In a paradoxical twist, the architectural and photographic record of the demolished houses constitute the best preserved record of pre-Modernist Athens. Inevitably, these houses would have been demolished by developers in the 1960s and 1970s and replaced with multi-story apartment blocks. In contrast to the developers, the archaeologists documented their deconstruction in painstaking detail.

Like Corinth's, the Athenian Agora's archives have been digitized and available to the public, see They are a great new resource for historians of photography and urbanism. Browsing through the photos, one notices glimpses of daily life. I cannot help to think of Roland Barthes "punctum" conceived soon after his mother's death, see, Camera Lucida (1980). My mother was raised in this neighborhood and  could easily be one of the children shown in the photos. Above, you see daily life in Areopagou Street photographed in 1937  [Image 1997.19.0002]. Beyond their obvious architectural information, these photos capture wonderful historical issues ranging from identity to politics. One of my favorite photos below, shows a family that has poked its heads to see the American photographer capture their home before demolition. On the right corner of the wall, a prominent stencil shows the hammer-and-sickle and the message "Vote Communist." A whole thesis could be written on this image. Masonry, closed shutters, political affiliation, the four women and the invisible photographer engage in a moment of indecision. [Image 1997.19.0146]
To see more photos of houses, see here.

1 comment:

Tyko said...

Nice stuff, Kostis. I have tried to comment a few other times, but the "Blogger" prove you are not a robot letters are insanely designed, so maybe I really am a robot.
I would complain, as I have never encountered such hard-to-read compilations of letters ever before!

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States