|Sophia talks about the impact of the financial crisis on GSPAP|
|Thanassis, President of GSPAP in his Athens office|
It was around nine months in the planning as it proved understandably difficult to gain access to public institutions looking at one point that I'd need to cancel my trip. It was then that Christina Vazou, a photographer, who is also part of M55 and who lives in Greece, made a connection with GSPAP and I was able to speak with Sophia, a former board member, by telephone who helped me to liaise with the society and receive official approval to take photographs and publish the work.
The charity have two centres in Greece. One, the only full time residency for those with Autism is located in a place called Zitsa and so after settling into the apartment in Athens I packed for my 1 hour flight to Ioannina early on Tuesday. Packing critical as I was carrying a lot of camera gear which had to travel in the cabin with me.
I'd been given permission to live in the house and take photographs over three days and was collected from the airport by the dynamic Margarita who took me first to a therapeutic riding centre where the 'children' were enjoying their weekly visit.
|Wonderful light in the Therapeutic riding centre at Ionannina|
The house is been supported by additional funding from the European Community which is due to run out at the end of the year. While I was there it was unclear if the funding would be continued and staff had been unpaid for two months. Two years previously they had gone unpaid for six months. Both situations a consequence of the crisis and delayed arrival of government funds.
|The 'family' - Margarita is fifth from the right|
At one point one of the children ran crying to me and held me tight - as I patted his back and reassured him I was aware of two of the educators standing either side of me and ready to intervene if necessary. They told me afterwards that this was a sign of my acceptance.
The 'children' go home for one day a week and I was able to travel in the minibus with two of them to witness and photograph the reunion.
|Giorgos is reunited with his father|
|Dimitris who is also deaf and blind reacts to being touched|
Villy was one of the educators at Sirius who also had a passion for the visual arts. She wrote the script for a short film, The Routine, about Autism which deals beautifully with the challenges of the condition. I'm hoping the full film, which I've been privileged to see is shown more broadly soon. Here is a clip
The routine (Clip)
Very challenging to make a movie about a routine interesting for the audience and Villy and the team have done it beautifully.
|On the beach near Athens|
Regarding the work - the pictures you see here are designed to give you a feel for the time I spent in Greece and I now have an additional 50 images pre selected for exhibition. I have limited connections with the press and have been unsuccessful so far in getting the work published. Thats a great shame given that what I have seen provides balance to the overall negative coverage I've seen in the press. It is however planned that a group exhibition take place next year in Greece.
Linka another of the M55 photographers has agreed to take one of the images and create a lightbox which will be stunning. When I receive it I'll then try a 'Kickstarter' to raise funds for 15 to 20 more. I hope by then to have a number of venues arranged and hope to reach out to the National Autistic Society to gauge interest in supporting the exhibition.
Watch this space for an image of the lightbox and more information as the project moves forward.