Leica Akademia in Athens is a thriving university for the photographic profession, providing new opportunities for the young unemployed
When my new friend Vlasis Hatzialexandrou told me he had "graduated from the Leica Akademia in Athens in 2007" I was a bit sceptical. Surely the term graduation was over-egging the pudding, judging by my experience of the rather exclusive Leica Akademie in London.
However, I learned that the Leica Akademia in Athens is a completely different proposition, a far more down-to-earth opportunity for Greek youth and one which truly deserves the description of academy.
Chat with the boss
This morning I visited the academy and talked to the boss, Spiros Skiadopoulos, who has also owned and operated a successful eponymous photographic store in central Athens for over 40 years. What I found was staggering. Here is a fully fledged photographic academy aimed at teaching the profession. Students are not predominately middle-aged and rather rich Leica buyers, instead the the aspiring youth of Athens.
With over 50% unemployment among the young people in Greece, it is painfully difficult to find any sort of job, never mind something you actually want to do. Spiros offers a comprehensive two-year course led by creative professionals. The enthusiasm and dedication is palpable and I have never experienced anything quite like it in Britain. These young people really want to get on and do something with their lives. Sadly, many of them, on graduation, will find their opportunities elsewhere than in Greece.
The academy charges a reasonable €4,000 per annum although, as Spiros points out, the rapacious Government snaffles 26% of that fee. It is unforgivable that in the present economic climate, with so much unemployment and so few opportunities, that the Greek authorities do little to encourage young people to find their place in the world.
Spiros gave me a tour of the premises, including the well-equipped basement darkrooms under the supervision of Georgos Raptis, the digital faculty of Manos Lykakis, the large-format department run by Panagiotis Katsos, and the studio facility under the control of Dimitrios Tsevas.
Clearly few, if any, of the students can aspire to owning a Leica at the present stage of their lives. But I did meet one young lady who has just purchased a Noctilux and has been shooting in Brazil.
The influence of the Leica name is there, of course, and I believe the concept and implementation of the this Greek version of an academu offers the true spirit of Leica, worlds away from the usual image of the M buyer. In fact, the entire academy is an inspiration and Leica ought to be very proud of the association.
These young people may not be able to afford a Leica now, nor perhaps within the next ten years. But one day they will remember their time at the Leica Akademie and be tempted by the red dot. These are foundations that the Leica company would be advised to help build.
You can find the Leica Akademia at Ymittou 243, behind the First Athens Cemetery. A short drive away, just off the main thoroughfare of Akademias, lies Spiros's old-established retail premises at Tzortz 12 and Plateia Kaniggos. Tzortz (George) Street and Kaniggos (Canning) Square are named after the British foreign secretary George Canning who, coincidentally, died in my home London suburb of Chiswick in 1827.
I found the more of the Skiadopoulos family running the shop with Mrs S. at the till and daughters Denise and Natalie and their assistant Dimitris dealing with the customers. Skiadopoulos is the Leica importer for Greece and supplies cameras to photographic retailers in all the major cities.
As a frequent visitor both to Athens and the islands, I am surprised that I have never before discovered this treasure trove of photographic wonders. I shall be sure to make Skiadopoulos a regular haunt when I am next in the city.
If you happen to be in Athens a visit both to the shop and the academy is well worthwhile. It's also useful to know if you forget your charger or need a pro SD card. The shop is an easy walk down Akadamias Street from the main square, Syntagma (Constitution) to Plateia Kaniggos, then right into George. The Leica Akademia is best approched by taxi but it is only a short four-euro ride from the shop.