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Politics

Greek-Am. Photos: the Next Generation

Jerome and Teddy Kekatos are involved in a family photograph project I recommend to everyone in Greek America.

In July 2011, the Kekatos Brothers’ father, Kirk, passed away. In the period immediately following the funeral, the family was involved in a flurry of paperwork. Among the family documents sorted through and consulted were photographs. With Jerome leading the effort, the brothers are now in a long-term identification and preservation project of these family photos. Actually, given that both Kekatos brothers are computer consultants it is not surprising that long before their father’s death they had begun to scan images of family photographs and other family-related papers into their personal computers.

These photographs can be sent via computer anywhere on the planet. This digitizing process also allows for various types of information to be attached to the individual photographs such as names, dates, and depending on the computer program used other information. Once scanned photographs can be arranged into categories such as graduation, military, portrait and so on. With the passing of Kirk Kekatos, this project has gained momentum driven, in part, by the realization that unless the two brothers gather and identify these photographs and documents no one else will.

Evidently, Greek-America is now living through a time of generational succession. Kirk Kekatos was the child of Greek immigrants who arrived with the 1880 to 1920 waves of (what proved to be) migration. That generation, along with those Greeks who arrived after WWII, now constitutes the seniormost cadre of Greeks living in North America.

A growing topic of conversation between Greek-Americans is the announcement of some relative or friend’s death. The frequency of funerals and memorial services are on the rise. Just as during the post-WWII period when the second generation of Greek-Americans began to assume a greater role in community life, so now we find the next generation stepping forward to take up the mantel of leadership. This new generation cannot be simply labeled the third since it is also composed of the children of those who arrived after World War II and later. We are in new territory now well beyond the definitions of old school immigration studies.

However, this next generation of Hellenes in America chooses to identify itself it is clear that the Kekatos Brothers are involved with a project that will be of concern to many in this yet to be named group. Like many others, the Kekatoses hold a vast array of family photographs. These images show four generations of family and friends from both the United States and Greece. Gathering these images together, scanning them, identifying specific individuals within each image and then adding other information is the core of the project at hand.

Sounds simple, right? It’s not. As it stands, in the Kekatos collection, 5,600 individual photographs have been identified and scanned. There are an additional 700 duplicates whose existence only became known as the process of scanning was undertaken. Neither Kekatos brother can judge how many more photographs are to be added to the final collection since there are an uncounted array of albums, boxes, and piles of photographs yet to be reviewed.

Think about this: can you identify every person in your family photograph collection? Or better still, can anyone else in your family do so? Just taking on such a venture is immediately humbling. For it takes no more than a few short minutes reviewing any family collection before one has to ask something to the effect, “and who is that standing next to Yiayia?”

The most common feature of any family-held photograph collection is that only a few are framed, some have been gathered into albums of one kind or another while the vast majority sit in no particular order whatsoever in envelopes, boxes or cabinet drawers. Those that are framed as well as those in the albums are rarely identified in the sense of having names written on the backs or in the albums below the individual photographs.

That said, one can find that for certain periods of time, the fashion with keeping photograph albums (with paper pages) was to include writing the name or occasion when the photograph was taken directly below the image. Anne Kekatos (nee Eustathion), mother of Jerome and Teddy, used to keep such albums while she was in high school. But photographs are not stagnant cultural objects. Humans like to view and hold their photographs, show them to others, give them as gifts and even move them around. So, the albums that Anne kept, at one point in her life, still have scattered here and there the names, dates or occasions of various people identified. But, over time, some of those photographs have been taken out of the album. Again, since Anne knew these people not everyone is identified, in writing, under each image.

In my ongoing discussions with other Greek-American families, about their photograph collections, the issues and problems faced by the Kekatos Brothers seem far more common than most are willing to admit. Obviously the fundamental question is, “how do I find out who exactly are all the people I see in my family photographs?” The Kekatos Brothers have followed all the logical means of achieving this end one could imagine along with some new ones. They have sought out relatives and lifelong friends to ask after particular images. Next, and here is one of the new possibilities they have also begun to contact people around the country via email and other Internet venues.

Again, for those not using a personal computer, with the Internet there are an ever growing number of sites and other means to contact others with similar interests. Email, Facebook, TumblR, Twitter, Flickr, chat rooms, and all the rest compose what are now known (more or less) collectively as the new social media. Jerome Kekatos, for instance, joined, several years ago, the computer discussion groups of those who hail from the island of Cephalonia. The Kekatos side of the family originally came from this island. Today, those who were born on Cephalonia or those who ancestors came from this island can now, via their computers, interact with each other no matter where they may happen to live on the planet.

The dilemmas, solutions, and the means by which these solutions were achieved (along with some of the unsuccessful efforts) these two brothers have so far attempted can aid those faced (or who will soon be faced) with this same issue. Without exaggeration these images, taken in their broadest sense, collectively constitute the very core of Greek-American visual history. That photographs, documents and even objects can be digitized means that they can be shared and studied on a scale never before achieved. Greek-Americans have much to learn in dealing with their visual history.

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