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Columnists

Seeing Chicago’s Greeks

April 25, 2021

Once again, Gregory C. Pappas demonstrates he has, among other gifts, always a keen eye when it comes to seeing the Greeks in the United States. With his new coffee table book, EXTRA! EXTRA!: Chicago's Greeks in News Photographs 1930-1990, Pappas has gleamed a singular 144 page collection of over 150 black and white newspaper photographs. Every one of the photographs were originally published in major Chicago newspapers spanning the decades from the 1930s through the 1990s. This soft cover book is 11″ x 8.5″ in size. Proceeds from the sale of this book benefit the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago St. Iakovos Camp and Retreat Center. For my part, I would argue that the focus on media photographs rather than photographs drawn from the Greek community itself is one, if not the key significance of this volume.

In his Preface, Pappas reports on how he first became interested in media photographs of Greek-Americans:

“I first stumbled upon an old photo from the 1930s in a pile of paper junk in a shop in Andersonville [a Chicago neighborhood]. It was a photo of a feast, complete with lambs roasting on the spit and people celebrating. The back of that photo contained a newspaper caption about the 'Greek colony' in Chicago and how they held on to their 'customs and food traditions from the old country.

“This photo started what would be a years-long fascination with old, printed photos from mainstream American newspapers that I began collecting. I was fascinated with how the mainstream American media, covered our community.”

Pappas' chance encounter evolved into a far more directed purpose: “My goal was to create a love letter to this city I called home for almost twenty years, through the lens of a very Greek-tinted camera. The result is a beautiful memento for anyone who calls Greek Chicago their home.”

At this point, Pappas acknowledges and expresses thanks for “the vision of Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, who saw the historical significance of this collection and acted to turn it into a reality for all to enjoy.”

It is this very Bishop who provides the Foreword for this book, where we hear “that this volume is presented in honor of the spiritual leader of Chicago, His Eminence Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago … who has served as the Archpastor of Chicago's Greeks since 1979.”

And for whatever Pappas may report I would argue that it is his true and enduring gift – which he has demonstrated over and the years – in one project after another, is his ability to bring fellow-Greeks together for a worthwhile and much needed public project.

Aside from Bishop Demetrios, Pappas is this volume's compiler and editor with Agamemmon Polyzois as co-editor and copy editor, with Enrico Pieri serving as the book's designer. Included in this collective of worthy fellow-workers is Harold V. Anagnos, Archon Depoutatos, who made this volume possible through his kind generosity.

As Pappas and his colleagues are undoubtedly aware, this volume comes at a time when Greek-America – from sea to shining sea – has sought to preserve its history and heritage by compiling collections of community photographs. Various institutions and individuals have chosen various formats, themes, and venues to offer these visual documents to the world. At the moment, the three collectives responsible for these visual-based publications are local church histories, the ten book-length volumes of individual communities found in the Arcadia Press series (c.f. https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/), and the efforts of individual Greek-Americans.

Pappas has demonstrated a literally decades-long awareness that the visual history of Greeks in the United States needed to be recognized, examined, and re-evaluated through public projects. Pappas' sustained work over the years as editor of various Greek-American print and on-line publications document his sustained interest in and thoughtful consideration of the visual history of Greeks in the United States. As a case in point I need only mention Pappas' leadership role in the identification, research, collection, and public presentation of Greek War Relief posters produced during World War II. I would be remiss, in even a quick survey of Pappas' enduring work on behalf of Hellenism, if I did not also acknowledge Pappas' role as the founder of the Greek America Foundation, an organization that presents dazzling social and cultural events and also undertakes charitable endeavors supporting scholarships, cultural activity, and humanitarian relief causes in Greece.

But what about the photographs found in this new volume? First, let us once again note that every image in this volume comes from some Chicago news print media outlet. As a consequence, given the overall time periods when these images were first taken, all are black and white photographs. The key point here is that unlike the collections of photographs found, say, in church histories and the Arcadia Press community volumes, these images were at all times taken by professional press photographers. And in very public settings. All of this adds up to the uniqueness of the volume in the limited but ever growing field of Greek-American photographs.

This array of photographs is – for the moment at least – a unique collection because all the images offered are those selected by non-Greeks viewing Greek-Americans in expressly public settings. Public settings in which their ethnic identities, the essential 'Greek' images (whatever they may be), are what is sought to be captured in every image. The volume's format is divided by decades 1930s, 1940s, and so on into the 1990s. Group and individual photographs, each with an accompanying date, are mixed across the decades along with an accompanying caption line or short description for every image.

So what do we see? As one might expect, parades and large public gatherings predominate. Traditional Greek costumes are also seen on nearly every page. Other photographs show the exteriors and interiors of Greektown storefront and interior locations, the predictable coffee shop images, dinner-dances, weddings, and notable Chicago Greek-American public figures. Mixed among these images are those of Orthodox clergy, picnic gatherings, queens of the Parade, Greek Independence Day celebrations, small children holding Greek flags, a belly dancer, a 1974 huge gathering in front of the Annunciation Cathedral protesting the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, dancing and marching Evzones. And scattered about this volume are reproductions of entire newspaper pages showing stories and images related to Chicago Greeks. What is often the case is that as the parades took place the photographers would frequently choose to take their images just as the marching Evzones or children on highly decorated floats passed some recognizable location with downtown movie theaters and – at the time the images were taken – distinctive new buildings such as Marina Towers can be seen in the background.

Clearly these images are portraying not simply the Greek Parades, political protests, social dances, or even the everyday lives in Greektown. Such photographs are conscious juxtapositions of places and sites that can only be found in Chicago, with persons who could only be Greeks seen in each photograph.

Writers have long understood that the average snapshot is most often taken to commemorate a moment in time and while not necessarily a completely random image it is taken to preserve a moment in one's life – be they the photographer or the persons being captured on film. Once again, over the last fifty years or so academics, reporters, and other writers have stressed how professional media photographs can never be strictly speaking random. Professional photographs are virtually by definition staged or 'captured' in the blink of an eye as the events being recorded take place. What does one 'see’? And we can ask simultaneously, who's doing the 'looking’? Are there contemporary questions and issues posed of any studied photographic image?

Consequently, in this volume of Greek-American images, we find a case study in the fashion and manner in which professional newspaper photographers from 1930s into the 1990s have sought to portray to predominately American audiences images of what it means to be Greek in Chicago. Aside from the visual memories this volume unquestionably captures I suspect that in the future this collection of images will be used as a counterpoint to those Greek-Americans collect and present to the world at large.

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