In 2016, attracted by the smell of Easter cookies, I entered a small bakery in the village of Olympos on the Greek island of Karpathos. The owner, a woman named Kaliop, was wearing what looked to me like a traditional dress.
After chatting for a minute or two, I asked if he was dressed that way because it was Easter.
“What do you mean?” He asked. “These are my clothes.”
“You are the one,” she said, “who is wearing a European dress.”
Despite growing up in Athens and traveling extensively throughout Greece, I had never before come across a community in which people would wear such traditional clothes in their daily lives.
Still, Kalliope’s clothes seemed intrinsic to her village—more so, as she suggested, than the clothes I wore when I greeted her.
After my encounter in Olympos, I decided to create a project of exploring the undiscovered corners of my country – to meet people, learn about their traditional practices, and create images in a way that would be useful to others. Could offer a window into Greek culture. Through this.
Four and a half years later, on a sunny Sunday morning, I found myself in the village of Nea Vaisa in the extreme northeastern corner of Greece, where I had arranged a two-day photography session. I sat at one end of a long table, amidst a beautiful blooming garden, sipping Greek coffee and savoring the local cuisine.
As the women arrived to be photographed in their traditional attire, I asked the president of the local cultural club, Fani, to take me around the village to find a suitable place where I would photograph. I usually find places that have been abandoned or are simply on the verge of being abandoned, as such places often feature traditional architecture without any modern additions or alterations.
For me, photography is much more than just images. I love rural Greece, and I love . have fun exploring the concept of Xenia, or hospitality – a central quality that can be traced back to ancient Greece.
A famous Greek writer, Nikos Kazantzakis, in his fictional autobiography, “Report to Greco”, describes how his grandfather went out at night, strolling the dark streets of Crete, lantern in hand, searching for people wandering the streets. Nowhere to spend the night to do. He would bring them to his home, feed them and give them a place to sleep.
I have experienced many manifestations of this hospitality in my travels. For the past five years, I’ve been visiting Tetralofo, a small village of about 300 people in northern Greece, to document the traditional New Year’s celebrations known as kotsmania, or momoria.
Kotsamania is a theatrical ritual performed each Christmas by local men who visit homes to wish prosperity, abundance and happiness for the coming year. The entire community participates in the festivities, which include street plays, dance and playing of traditional instruments.
On one occasion in Tetralofo, when I was being hosted at the cultural club, residents would come every day to bring me home-cooked food. Others – people I’ve never met – offered to host me at their homes. I felt right at home.
Many traditional events throughout Greece are revivals of old customs, performed to help the local economy by attracting tourists and attention. Often such incidents seem kitsch and kind of redundant.
Others, however, such as Kotsamania, have survived in adulterated forms and are performed as a real, integral part of a community.
Ultimately, my work attempts to highlight such customs: to present vivid, complex depictions of fading traditions, and to help us avoid the pitfalls of monotony in our modern lives.