Interview with Emmanuel Santos and Carol Gordon on The Jews of Greece
IN OUR LATEST MAJOR EXHIBITION, THE JEWS OF GREECE, FILMMAKER CAROL GORDON AND PHOTOGRAPHER EMMANUEL SANTOS SHOW US THE HISTORY, TRADITION AND PRESENT-DAY EXISTENCE OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF GREECE. WE CHATTED WITH THEM TO FIND OUT WHAT INSPIRED THEM TO INVESTIGATE ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST ANCIENT JEWISH COMMUNITIES.
What drew you to document the Jewish Diaspora of Greece?
CG: When I first travelled to Greece some thirty years ago, I felt a strong connection to the place and the people. I returned several times, learning a little more each time about the virtually unknown Jewish communities that had flourished there until the Second World War. I became passionate about bringing this story out of the dark, in honour of 87% of the Jewish population of Greece who were murdered in The Holocaust.
ES: For over 3 decades I have been documenting the Jewish Diaspora from all over the world and the Jewish community of Greece came to my attention through my collaborator, Carol Gordon, who proposed the idea of going to Greece to film and document the ancient Jewish community, the Romaniotes and the Sephardis of Greece. It was a very interesting project due to the fact that it owes its history dating back to the Byzantine period of 300BC. This was an alluring prospect for me as I never came across any remnants of a Jewish community this ancient. I felt that the materials that the project offered were significant and valuable in my quest of the vanished world of Judaism. And true enough, the insights were diverse and illuminating in terms of the cultural, sociological, economic and religious influences brought about towards their adopted homeland.
How would you describe this body of work?
CG: This body of work is an ongoing Project. It started with a screenplay that has been published as a book in screenplay format and is accompanied by the beautiful photographs captured by Emmanuel Santos. The photographs are an integral part of the Project and have been used in various formats in photographic exhibitions.
The aspect of the Project that holds all the elements together is the documentary which has been shown on film festivals world wide. We are now submitting the documentary to television networks for public release.
One of the main aims of the Project is education. We hope to have the documentary shown in museums and schools all over the world in order to make known the history of these forgotten communities.
ES: The body of work is a window from the past that exposes a long history of the Jewish community of Greece. The photographic exploration granted us a unique experience to have an insight to significant events and lives of the people whose tradition and culture did not attract so much focus in the present global narrative about the Holocaust and Jewish history. Our team was hosted to intimate stories of darkness and light, despair and hope, and the perpetual resilience that is so encompassing of the Jewish people.
For us the vessel of the void was filled with knowledge and understanding through the willingness of our subjects to bring their narrative out into the open which gave us meaning and a fulfilling sense of purpose and belief in the project.
The photographs that I have prepared for this exhibition are a whispered voice from such stories where each image is a word within a sentence, a sentence that is so fragmented that one lifetime is not enough in order to complete and fathom. They are musical notes that sing about a certain historical lament, subdued in the evolution of time, that only through the intimate ear of the heart that one can hear the sound of its timid silence.
The images when viewed as one, merely represent a small chapter from the rich history of the Jewish people of Greece, but it is a light that shines in the present where dreams are being made and the memory of the past is held with honour and dignity that inspires us all and provide us with the humility of being human.
What has it revealed to you about the Jewish culture?
CG: As a practising Jew, this Project has affirmed my belief that Jewish culture has a common core among a variety of different cultures and traditions.
ES: Most significantly the unmeasurable resilience of one’s strong faith and belief that crosses many borders and overcome obstacles. Being a present day witness and observer to a fragment of history of people’s lives and cultural practices, provided me with a sense of understanding of what made the Jewish culture an inspiring community when it comes to manifesting our basic humanity. Through the experience, I have learnt and reinforced my belief in the tenacity and ability of the human spirit to traverse many rivers of challenge and tribulation by embracing identity with vigorous integrity.
ABOUT CAROL AND EMMANUEL
Carol Gordon is a Melbourne-based writer, filmmaker, and Holocaust educator. Training as a film editor in South Africa and working in the film and television industry there for many years, Carol moved to Australia with her family in 1995. With a Degree in Teaching and an Honours Degree in Communication (Media Studies), Carol has completed several courses through the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. Devoting more than twenty five years to the research of the history of Greece’s Jewish communities and their near-destruction during the Holocaust, Carol continues on her mission to present the Shira’s Journey Project to local and international audiences of all ages, and sharing the all too unknown history of these once vibrant and dynamic communities.
Emmanuel Santos (born 1957 in the Philippines) is a Melbourne, Australia, based documentary and art photographer. Most of his work since the late 1980s has focused on the Jewish Diaspora, which he has photographed throughout the world. Santos’ photographs are included in dozens of Museum collections, including the National Gallery of Victoria, the State Museum of Victoria, the Jewish Museum of Australia, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme, the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and the Beth Hatefutsoth Museum, Israel. He has had solo exhibitions throughout the world. He authored 2 photographic books, Observances and Israel, one land, one people, one dream.
Images courtesy of Emmanuel Santos