The photographic activities in the Makronissos reeducation camps were intense and spectacular. The Army had its own photographers, to whom the exiles would pose with their brightest smile. For once, the aim of the exiles coincided with the aim of the regime: they had to convince their families that they were alive and in good shape. Thousands of staged group photos of soldiers, civilians, women, children. The smiling faces did not disperse suspicions; still, they make the contemporary viewer uncomfortable, unable to see the smallest bit of truth behind those frozen smiles.
The 3rd Sappers Battalion had its own photography lab. The photographer had to process not only boring poses of smiling soldiers but also images of killed and wounded exiles which documented the 1948 massacre in the 1st Battalion. Images which had to disappear, as we learn from the written testimony of the exiled writer Lefteris Raftopoulos (in Greek: The Length of the Night).
Accredited photo reporters from Athens and abroad visit the island in order to immortalize the miracle of reeducation and the reconstruction of the Greek spirit. The rigid symmetry and the staged euphoria of their images are imprinted in newspapers, magazines, postcard series with captions in Greek and English, posters, flyers, stamps. Visual propaganda is powerful. In 1949, a huge exhibition in Zappeio (Athens) invites the public to a virtual visit of Makronissos via those reassuring clichés.
Madame Lambert, wife of the International Red Cross delegate, takes her own photos. While monsieur Lambert inspects the camps and the exiles’ state, she snaps pictures of what the re-educators would hate to make visible. However, the access to the confinement areas and the infirmaries remained forbidden. The International Committee of the Red Cross has an important photographic archive from the exile islands of Makronissos and Ai-Stratis which one may consult in Geneva.
Photos are also taken by the political exiles, especially the women. In their camps, the voluminous cameras would be illegally imported, after coded correspondence, buried in sacks of wheat flour or sugar sent by the exiles’ families. Films were shot secretly and exported in twofold backs of suitcases. The photographic group which the political exiles had founded in the island of Ikaria imprints the Disciplinary Camp for Civilians locate at the northern part of the island. Exiled women took advantage of the fact that body search to women was not allowed in order to hide the cameras under their long skirts . The illegal, hastily taken photos, from which very few have survived until today, are the only untagged visual documentation of the daily life Makronissos that can be found. In these photos, one can see the tents, the barbed wire, the hard work, the misery of survival.
Many of the photos taken on the island of Makronissos were lost, damaged beyond repair from one exile to the other, as time and persecutions went by. In the 60s, while working on the first History of Makronissos (Dorikos editions, Athens, 1966), Nikos Margaris placed an ad in the newspapers asking for photos and testimonies. The exiles and their families massively sent to Margaris their photos and stories; He archived them and researched in order to identify faces, building, dates, events. His photographic archive can be found today at the Contemporary Social History Archives (ASKI) in Athens. Many more photos were gathered by the exiles themselves in the archives of the Makronissos Museum and the Exile Museum, while others remained in private collections which are exhibited on the occasion of historical memory events (e.g. the collection of Nitsa Gavriilidou).