This year the seventh Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB) showcases over 100 exhibitions from local and international artists in events spanning over 30 days from 19 August to 17 September. As the only photographic biennale in Australia, BIFB has attracted a huge range of elite and emerging photographers since it began in 2005. At the same time, Ballarat is home to the country’s oldest and largest regional art gallery and other notable heritage locations ideal for hosting events and installations. It is a not-for-profit event that immerses the historic town in photographic art. The core program takes place at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, The Mining Exchange, the Minerva Room, The Ballarat Observatory, Post Office Gallery and the Town Hall, with the fringe program staged at more than 80 cafes, galleries and wine bars across Ballarat, providing the launch pad for hundreds of new and emerging artists becoming a pole of attraction for local and international audiences alike.
This year, iconoclastic American superstar, David LaChapelle is among the artists honouring BIFB while offering Victoria a view into the world, featuring images of abandoned Japanese theme parks alongside landscapes taken in Italy’s magical Dolomite Mountains, unknown territories of Greece and Eastern Europe and more. The Biennale also taps into subjects such as our obsession with selfies and the way millennials perceive themselves and the world around them.
One of the amateur creatives showcasing their work in the 2017 BIFB is third-generation Greek Australian photographer Stavros Voterakis. Born in Daylesford, Voterakis has worked mostly in the building industry and more recently as a picture framer. He enjoys recording images for fun and as a means to keep memories alive. His exhibition ‘Past and Present’ is an eclectic mix of old and new images that record his family’s journey and the effect it had on the local community throughout the years. Inspired by his grandfather’s early photographs, Voterakis’ work reflects on the pride of mostly migrant shopkeepers as they pose to record their status and success, while also recognising their pasts and the journeys that have brought them to Australia.
We sat down with Peter Voterakis who gave us valuable insight into the early days of Victoria’s Greek community and the struggles of modern migrants.
When does your family history in Australia begin?
My grandfather Stavros Voterakis (nee Voutyrakis) came as a very early migrant in about 1905-1908 from Crete. He and a group of young men left Crete just before the end of the Turkish Occupation and went to Alexandria. They spent a considerable amount of time there, waiting for a boat that would take them to Australia. When they did manage to come, they first settled in Whyalla in South Australia. Many young men from eastern Europe and Greece came to work at mines and were promised a passage to Australia if they did that. My grandfather worked there for a year until he found work in Victoria, at a Greek owned café in Warrnambool. The owner was Mr Christy, an anglisised version of Christoulakis. Having worked there for a while, my grandfather was able to purchase the Royal Oyster Café from Christy. That was in Daylesford. He worked hard, implemented many ideas and turned the cafe into a prosperous business which lead to a confectionery shop, a hairdressing salon and other ventures. His success made my grandfather an instrumental persona for the early days of the Greek community in Victoria.
How did his passion for photography come about?
All this time as a young man my grandfather had a camera and developed a great interest in taking photographs and recordings of what he was doing. He documented the early days of migration in the 1920s and 1930s; these photos are part of my exhibition. Some of those photos have been published in Effy Alexakis’ and Leonard Janiszewski’s book In Their Own Image. At some point my grandfather decided to return to Crete and sponsor some of his friends and family to come to Australia. He took the camera with him and photographed the entire journey from Australia back home.
You say his photographs inspired you to start shooting images too?
Yes. Even though I am 66 years old. I’d never met my grandfather. He died of a blood clot in his leg in a farming accident and died a bit before I was born. He was still quite young. The memories I have of my grandfather and my family’s history are entirely through his photographs, that he developed in the back of his fish shop. My father was also a photographer. My grandfather profusely photographed his first coffee shop, his other business ventures and all the people that surrounded his life. To him it was also a way of showing off his prosperity in his new land. He documented the hardships Greeks and other migrants went through back then and how much hard work had rewarded them in this lucky country.
Indeed I found this journey to be mostly inspiring, however, I can’t help but notice how much things have changed. What I’ve done is photograph shopkeepers in a similar situation so I’m juxtaposing life then with life now. What’s called past and present. The people I’ve photographed are not all Greeks but all the stories are migrant stories. Back in the day you could open a small grocery store and prosper; if you do that today, it won’t be as easy, perhaps it won’t even be sustainable. In many ways the journey to Australia has improved people’s lives measurably but regardless of that they still miss where they come from, there is always this nostalgia of the birthplace. This was evident in my grandfather’s photos and it is evident in mine, too. People have come here to prosper, do better, and make a new life. They work hard and their reality is mainly about family and offering their loved ones a better quality of life. It’s a difficult thing to portray and these predicaments are shown in the happiness, smiles and pride of the people.
Being a third-generation Greek Australian how connected are you to your background?
My connection with my Greek heritage has been a bit of a recent revelation to be honest. My father was born in Daylesford and pretty much never left town. Trips overseas were not as common at the time. He never went to Crete, never saw where his family came from. I’ve been more fortunate and I have been to Crete quite a lot. My heritage is embedded in me and I love it; my kids love it.
Interestingly, I was already in my 50s back in 2000 when I took the whole family in one go and decided to visit my grandfather’s village. It was a mind-blowing and extremely emotional experience that still brings tears to my eyes. We had a Greekness rekindling.
Can you describe seeing your grandfather’s village for the first time?
When I went there, we were not even sure whether it was the right place or not. His birthplace is near Siteia and no matter how hard I tried at first I could find no-one who knew who my family was. I had some of my grandfather’s photos and ironically when we arrived at his village, Papagiannades I realised it looked exactly like it did in the photos he had taken back in 1924. The positioning of houses, the school … everything was the same. While we were looking around, I saw there was a photograph of my grandfather in a car and I knew I had seen that photo before. I then started showing people photos of my grandfather in search of my relatives. Some of the old village men recognised certain faces in my photos. They had seen one hanging on a wall and they took me to that house. That’s how I met one of my cousins.
It was through those photos that I found my connection with my past and it is through those photos that legacy remains alive and becomes one with the present.
‘Past and Present’ is part of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB)
When: Saturday 19 August – Sunday 17 September
Monday – Friday 9.00 am – 5.00 pm
Saturdays 9.30am – 12 noon
Where: Creative Framing, 18 Armstrong St North, Ballarat, VIC