Desired Landscapes, issue 2

Set back from the street and nestled in the corner of a central Athenian stoa (a covered arcade), Fotagogos can be hard to track down. “If you find me once, then you will find me again,” quips Julia Tsiakiris, founder of the shop-cum-gallery and its parent publishing house, To Rodakió. With its packed shelves and jumbled piles, half of Fotogagos has the comforting cluttered feel of an independent bookshop. The other half is a bit more organized. A photo exhibition lines one wall and a broad table occupies most of the space, its surface filled with neatly piled magazines. These aren’t the latest issues of Vogue, GQ and Good Housekeeping, or even Frieze or 032C. Instead, you’ll find Nomas, Kennedy, South, Taverna, Humba!, φρμκ, ΟΡΜΗ, and more. Disparate in their topics, the size of their pages, the textures of their covers and even the languages of their content, these titles are nonetheless united by their home city of Athens. 

The collection of magazines on sale at Fotagogos reflects part of the independent magazine publishing scene that has been steadily growing in the Greek capital over the last decade or so. A few of those on Tsiakiris’ table will be familiar names to frequent magazine hoarders around the world. South, for example, or South as a State of Mind, to give its full name, has been a familiar fixture of gallery bookstores since its founding in 2012, and more prominently so following its association with documenta 14 which took place in Athens in 2017. South was founded in a “post-crisis world” when “Europe was narrated in terms of North and South,” according to its editor Marina Fokidis, writing in the tenth issue of Nomas, another Athenian publication. 

Photo of a stoas from Athens Walkthrough, courtesy Natassa Pappa; photo by Thanos Kapranos

As suggested by its title, the Greek word for nomad, Nomas is a wanderer. Each issue of the punkishly glamorous large-format publication dives into the art, fashion, and photography of whatever city or country has captured the editorial team’s gaze. For issue three, that was Porto; issue six was on Scotland. The tenth and most recent issue, however, sees Nomas circling back to Athens. Also subject of their first issue in 2014, editor Yannis Bournias reflects on the city “where it all started,” returning to see what’s happening “after ten hard years of economic and social crisis,” and ask, “Why is it flooded with tourists in recent years? What has changed apart from the city becoming a more affordable destination than before?” 

Kennedy has also dedicated its 10th issue to Greece. This edition of the ‘biannual journal of curiosities’ is a gorgeous collection of photographs and drawings from the islands, mixed among interviews with Athens gallerists and others. Yet editor-in-chief and photographer Chris Kontos is somewhat mournful in his introduction, reflecting on a “paradise that is now lost,” where “capitalism and tourism growth have been slowly transforming this poor corner of the earth into an unrecognizable place.”

That these editors might choose to reflect back on the politics and economics of their home city for their titles’ anniversary issues is hardly surprising—their existence and the broader ripples of this new generation of publications is closely, at times inherently, tied to Greece’s economic crisis. The publishing industry, bookshops, and book sales were hit hard in the years after 2009. In the neighborhood of Exarchia, the center of the publishing industry in Athens, dozens of small publishers and stores have gone out of business over the last decade. According to Anna Karakatsouli from the University of Athens, the Greek industry was hit particularly hard owing to the sector’s predominance of “small sized family businesses of archaic structure and traditional character [which are] particularly vulnerable to market pressures.” 

That said, Tsiarikis has witnessed a different side to this story. “Since the crisis, even in the middle of the crisis, [Fotogagos] has seen a flourishing of magazines and publications,” she explains, backed up by the evidence on her bookshop table. She argues that the difficulties faced by individuals working through the crisis provided the creative impetus behind these new magazines. 

Natassa Pappa, editor-in-chief of Desired Landscapes recognizes a similar phenomenon. Pappa’s first independent publication project, Into Stoas is a guide to the Athens city center stoas and a masterpiece of minimalist graphic design. The project itself was born out of a stoa whose shops had been abandoned as a result of the crisis. Stoa Empiron was renovated by a group of architects, and with the support of the municipality, for temporary new uses. Traces of Commerce, as the project was called, provided free space in the abandoned storefronts for creative start-ups, such as a print studio or a carpenter. One of the spaces was taken up by the Athens Zine Bibliotheque, whose founders Panayiota Theofilatou and Tassos Papaioannou persuaded Pappa to quit her day job, produce Into Stoas and eventually launch it at their space in Traces of Commerce.

“Because a lot of people couldn’t express themselves in a mainstream way, they were trying to express themselves in a more independent way, through magazines.”

“It was the crisis, people were depressed with their jobs, they didn’t have a lot of money, they had to do things they didn’t like,” says Pappa. “So having these kinds of relationships were really making our day.” The success of Into Stoas led Pappa to begin Desired Landscapes in 2018. The publication is a reflective city guide that brings together imaginaries of multiple cities within its pocket-sized pages (and, incidentally, whose second issue has sold out at Fotagagos when I visit). 

Today, the Athens Zine Bibliotheque has a permanent space in the neighborhood of Ambelokipi, to the north-east of the city center. Here, Theofilatou and Papaioannou host monthly open days where the public are invited in to browse their collection of roughly 900 publications—mostly DIY zines across a kaleidoscopic range of subjects, geographies, and styles. The pair have an infectious and encyclopedic passion for their collection, which grows continuously via mailed or hand-delivered donations. “Zines are a cheap and good solution to making art” explains Papaioannou, “not only art, but to express yourself in any kind of way, whether it’s photography or literature of poetry or whatever.” When I stop by the Bibliotheque, they highlight photozines such as Athens Porn (authored, albeit anonymously, by a curator at one of the city’s major museums) and Athens Hates Pigeons by Nicholas Faraklas, which documents the city’s anti-pigeon architecture. Elsewhere, an exceptional illustrated edition of Aesop’s Fables highlights the silkscreen printing capabilities of local studio Tind, and the illustrator known as Never Brush My Teeth creates surreal moments on a riso-printed mini-zine.

Athens Zine Bibliotheque

Theofilatou and Papioannou also recognize the role of the crisis in the upsurge of both zines and magazines being made by Athenians. “In Greece we had a lot of publishing houses and mainstream magazines, but after the economic crisis, everything stopped and now many still don’t exist,” says Papioannou. “There was a rise in underground and DIY magazines. Because a lot of people couldn’t express themselves in a mainstream way, they were trying to express themselves in a more independent way, through magazines.”

Of course, crisis or not, producing zines or independent magazines has never been a license to print money. It’s telling that a significant proportion of the magazines on the Fotagogos table are published in English and without a Greek translation, and it’s surely no coincidence that many of these titles, such as Nomas and Desired Landscapes, are peripatetic or travel-focused. As Julia Tsiakiris puts it, these “are made by Greek people who want to look international” and, by extension, increase their potential circulation. Others make do with a more local focus, but not without sacrificing design quality or innovation. The Worst Street Journal, for example, which is produced in collaboration with the Latraac skatepark, takes images from the Greek media to make memes and narratives characterized by “irrationality, humor, and irony,” according to its creator Dimitris Mitropoulos. 

Yet while some of the publications do make waves overseas, the networks of support within Athens seem to have remained since the days of Traces of Commerce. “The people who do these kinds of things in Athens have the same objective and the same passion,” explains Natassa Pappa while showing me a copy of The Worst Street Journal and an early issue of South from her personal collection. “We know each other, we discuss, and we collaborate at times.” This legacy of support and collaboration is also producing new ventures as the scene continues to grow; across town in the neighborhood of Kypseli, Zoetrope is a new space for photography and, in particular, self-published photobooks. Their recent exhibition Plateau034 was a “first attempt to map” self-publishing photographers in Greece, and in 2020 they plan to build a small library to showcase these works in the same vein as the Zine Bibliotheque. 

Where this scene goes next is an intriguing prospect. Born so close to the crisis, many would not have predicted the survival of a Kennedy or a Nomas over ten issues, nor the arrival of the Zine Bibliotheque into a permanent space. Yet the networks of support and solidarity that have sustained these titles and spaces, and nurtured the arrival of new ones, are surely here to stay. Perhaps, then, the next step is to consolidate and increase circulation within Athens and wider Greece. In his editorial for the tenth issue of Kennedy, Chris Kontos writes that the Greeks “have forgotten who they themselves are and that the gods once lived here.” Rather than focusing on the international or tourist-led market, then, perhaps the next generation of Athenian magazines might rediscover the gods at home. In which case, we’d better start learning Greek.

Athens Zine Bibliotheque