A Thousand Words Expressed in One Photo of the Benaki Photographic Archive

Pelican of Myconos

By Catherine Tsounis

Who can ever forget the Pelican of Mykonos Island? A 1965 photo of the bird known globally as “Mykonos Pelican” to tourists is one of the many photos on display at the Benaki Museum Photographic Archive in Athens Greece. The unsung middle-class Greeks who work long hours to preserve their history is rarely known.

The Photographic Archive was created in 1973 with the purpose of preserving monuments and art of the Byzantine and Post-Byzantine period. It has been expanded to include the Greek photography of modern Hellenism. Emilia Geroulanou, Antonis Benaki’s granddaughter originated the idea. Three hundred negatives and twenty-five thousand vintage prints are part of the Archive. Researchers have free access. Fifty thousand photographic prints have been classified according to subject and topographic location. They will soon be in a digital format. Young creators are promoted to photograph subjects of Greek interest.

A photographic Conservation Laboratory was established in 1999. Their aim is to maintain and restore original materials in a controlled temperature and humidity area. A Dark Room was inaugurated in 2000 for printing and preserving black and white photographs.  The Athens Photo Festival is the most important photography festival in Southeastern Europe. The event is held at the Benaki Museum from June 3rd to July 26, 2015.  The theme is “Reframing Memory”. The 2015 Athens Photo Festival explores how photographers and artists represent history and social changes.

Pitsa Tsakonas enthusiasm about the Benaki Museum has always inspired us. We have made numerous trips to the “Benaki” to see Pitsa, who was a librarian there.  Mrs. Tsakonas is the unique Benaki Museum librarian, one of the top in Greece, when I was on an Alexander Onassis foundation, USA scholarship in 2003. Her views and personality inspired me to have a love for the Museum’s holding. “Escape from Parga” painting showing refugees fleeing in a boat is very alive today in the northeastern Aegean islands 2015 political crisis of the boat refugees Pitsa is retired and a museum volunteer.

Eleni Tsakona, her daughter, is continuing her extraordinary legacy in the “Photographic Archive.”  After High School, Eleni Tsakona took lessons for a year in the Training Foundation “Saint George Commercial College” S.A. She acquired a certificate in computer studies and secretarial support. Ms. Tsakona worked ten years in the Purchasing Department of Hilton Hotel in Athens as a purchasing agent. She met her husband, Konstantinos Giarikis, there and married him. They have two little boys, Haris and Stefanos, residing in Athens.

Eleni took lessons on Greek Paleography for three years in the Cultural Foundation of the National Bank of Greece. Since 2002, Eleni is working in the Benaki Museum as archivist of photographs in the Photographic Department of the Museum. Ms. Tsakona is cataloguing all the books of this Department (about 8.000 books). She provides information and support to all persons interested in the history of Greek photography and photographers. The librarian contributes to the organization of exhibitions and preparation of editions and catalogue exhibitions.  All Benaki Museum personnel have a decreased work week.

Pitsa and Eleni Tsakona represent the middle-class Greeks working to keep their country vibrant and energetic. They are some of the persons online at the ATM machines withdrawing 60 euros a day. The Benaki Museum is fortunate to have dedicated persons devoted to its treasures during the Euro Zone crisis.