Exploring Greece’s Unseen Corners

For several years, a photographer has documented local Greek customs and attire, turning his lens toward his country’s vibrant traditional culture.,

Credit…Shadows from an annual celebration decorate a wall in the Greek village of Tetralofo.

The World Through a Lens

Exploring Greece’s Unseen Corners

For several years, a photographer has documented local Greek customs and attire, turning his lens toward his country’s vibrant traditional culture.

Credit…Shadows from an annual celebration decorate a wall in the Greek village of Tetralofo.

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In 2016, drawn by the smell of Easter cookies, I ventured into a small bakery in the village of Olympos, on the Greek island of Karpathos. The owner, a woman named Kalliope, was wearing what looked to me like a traditional costume.

After chatting for a minute or two, I asked if she was dressed this way because it was Easter.

“What do you mean?” she asked. “These are my clothes.”

“You are the one,” she added, “who is dressed in a European costume.”

ImageOn Salamis Island, from left: Emina Fourikis, wearing engagement attire; Semina Frattis, wearing wedding attire; and Christina Genikaliotis, in casual attire.
On Salamis Island, from left: Emina Fourikis, wearing engagement attire; Semina Frattis, wearing wedding attire; and Christina Genikaliotis, in casual attire.

Despite having grown up in Athens and traveled extensively throughout Greece, I had never before come across a community in which people wore such traditional clothes in their day-to-day lives.

Yet, far from seeming performative, Kalliope’s clothes looked intrinsic to her village — much more so, as she suggested, than the clothes I wore when I greeted her.

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Anastasia Risoglou in a traditional outfit in the village of Praggi, in the flatlands of northeastern Greece.

After my encounter in Olympos, I decided to make a project of exploring the unseen corners of my country — to meet the people, learn about their traditional practices, and make images along the way that could offer a window into Greek culture for others to peer through.

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In Olympos, a village on the island of Karpathos, a dowry is transported as part of an extended wedding ceremony.

Four and a half years later, on a sunny Sunday morning, I found myself in the village of Nea Vyssa, in Greece’s extreme northeastern corner, where I had arranged a two-day photography session. I sat at one end of a long table, set amid a beautiful blossomed garden, sipping Greek coffee and tasting the local delicacies.

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Christina Kouremenou in traditional attire on the island of Kalymnos.

As 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 appropriate spots where I would make the images. I usually find places that are abandoned or just on the brink of being abandoned, since often such places feature customary architecture, without any modern additions or changes.

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Dimitra Kouvaris in traditional attire in the hilltop city of Vathia.

To me, photography is about much more than just the images themselves. I have a passion for rural Greece, and I enjoy exploring the concept of xenia, or hospitality — a central virtue that can be traced back to ancient Greece.

Nikos Kazantzakis, a celebrated Greek writer, describes in his fictionalized autobiography, “Report to Greco,” how his grandfather would go out at nights, strolling around the dark alleys of Crete, lantern in hand, to seek for people wandering the streets who had nowhere to spend the night. He would bring them to his home, feed them and offer them a place to sleep.

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Labrini Kessoglidis in the village of Vyssa, in Greece’s extreme northeastern corner.
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Anastasia Pournaras in the village of Mani, also in the northeast.
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Tolis Despiniadis, a participant in the festival of Kotsamania, in Tetralofo.

I have experienced several manifestations of this hospitality on my own journeys. For the past five years, I have visited Tetralofo, a small village of around 300 people in northern Greece, to document the traditional New Year’s celebrations known as Kotsamania, or Momoeria.

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Costumes during the festival of Kotsamania, in the village of Tetralofo.
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Christos Aslanidis in Tetralofo in 2015.

Kotsamania is a theatrical ritual performed each Christmas by local men who visit homes to wish prosperity, abundance and happiness for the year to come. The whole community takes part in the celebrations, which involve street theater, dancing and the playing of traditional instruments.

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In the village of Lefki in 2020, from left: Maria Boutaris, Irene Tsitsikotas and Marina Anagnostopoulos in traditional attire.

On one occasion in Tetralofo, while I was being hosted at the cultural club, residents would arrive each day to bring me home-cooked meals. Others — people I’d never met — offered to host me in their houses. I felt right at home.

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Labrini Gidikas, Anastasia Rizoglou, Sofia Karantonoudis and Labrini Karantonoudis in the village of Isaakio.

Many traditional events throughout Greece are revivals of old customs, performed to help the local economy by drawing tourists and attention. Often such events feel kitsch and, in a way, inauthentic.

Others, though, such as Kotsamania, have survived in unadulterated forms and are performed as genuine, integral parts 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.

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Kostas Pilalidis, a participant in Kotsamania, showcases a spinning movement called charmanlai, in the village of Tetralofo.

George Tatakis is a Greek photographer based in Athens. You can follow his work on Instagram.

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