Robert McCabe

Top 10 Greece in 10 Iconic Images

© Robert McCabe

“It takes a lifetime to discover Greece, but it only takes an instant to fall in love with her”  – Henry Miller

─── by Elizabeth Kahn, December 16, 2022
  • Greece might be better known for its temples, Gods and heroes, rather than for photography. But in spite of the youthfulness of the medium (in comparison to ancient Greek civilization), over the years many esteemed artists have documented our modern relationship to this ancient land.

    Michael Pappas, documentary portrait photography, Greek women, temple, Greece,
    © Michael Pappas

    1. Michael Pappas – Untitled. From the series ‘Mitos / The Thread of Greece’

    For the last decade, Greek photographer Michael Pappas has been documenting the time-honored traditions of his homeland. Mitos, his ongoing project, comprises stunning medium-format portraits depicting his compatriots, in traditional attire, distinct to their local region, set against backdrops to which they share deep cultural and historic connections.

    The deeply absorbing, imagery collectively serves both as a visual archive of Greek culture, and a tribute to his homeland, and shows a side of a fascinating, historic land, which he believes has, for years, been “devalued in an attempt to turn to the West”.

    Black and white photography by Nikos Economopoulos, street photography, Greece, Karpathos island, Avlona village. Feast of St. John.
    © Nikos Economopoulos / Magnum Photos

    2. Nikos Economopoulos – Feast of St. John, Avlona village, Karpathos island, Greece

    Few if any photographers have composed a panorama of Greece like internationally acclaimed, multi-award-winning Magnum photographer, Nikos Economopoulos.

    Born in 1953, in the Peloponnese region in the south of the country, he has spent much of his career photographing the communities of the Balkans, including those of his homeland, capturing moments of quotidian life; religious ceremonies and cultural practices, with a perceptivity and empathy reminiscent of the medium’s most celebrated humanists.

    Black and White Photography from Greece - Costas Balafas
    © Costas Balafas

    3. Costas Balafas – The Hermits of Meteora 

    With the curiosity of a child and the intuition of an artist, Costas Balafas’ work depicts ordinary Greeks going about their day-to-day lives. Balafas is undoubtedly one of the most important post-war humanist photographers of Greece, and his work has helped determine the course of Greek photographic history. 

    Documenting everything from Orthodox Priests to the women of Epirus, Balafas captured the pulse of Greek life, imbibing each image with a special mysticism. This striking photograph depicts the holy Meteora, a dramatic landscape of gigantic rocks (as high as 600 meters) that hosts one of the most important monastic communities in the country.

    Santorini, landscape photography, sunset
    © Caroline Hurt

    4. Caroline Hurt  – ‘Golden hour in Santorini’, 2020

    No other island embodies the breathtaking beauty of Greece’s Cyclades archipelago like Oia, or as it’s more commonly known, Santorini. Renowned for its dramatic coastal cliffs, azure Aegean waters, and mosaic of whitewashed edifices; the latter, captured beautifully here by UK-based photographer Caroline Hurt, are rendered resplendent by the golden glow of the setting summer sun.

    Black & white film photograph, portrait, documentary, woman, Greece, religion, church
    © Giorgos Tantsis

    5. Giorgos Tantsis – Karpathos, Greece  

    Selected as 3rd prize winner of our 2020 Black & White Photography Award by competition judge, Bastiaan Woudt, Tantsis’ absorbing depiction of an elderly woman ascending the narrow staircase from her local church in Karpathos, Greece, recalls the work of the great humanist photographers of the 20th century. From the woman’s attire to the orthodox church in the background, and the dramatic coastal topography, it is a quotidian scene that is almost unmistakably Greek, capturing the deep-rooted cultural traditions and immense natural beauty of this captivating land.

    Black and White Photography from Greece - Voula Th. Papaioannou
    © Voula Th. Papaioannou

    6. Voula Th. Papaioannou – Portrait of a girl, Distomo, 1945 

    Photographer Voula Papaioannou rose to prominence during the Greek Civil War and Occupation, owing to her absorbing depictions of everyday life and people which collectively document a period of unrest in the nation. Her subjects often show the signs of the pain of the era, but Papaionannou also manages to capture rare moments of pure joy and spontaneity, expressing the profound endurance of the human spirit. 

    The outbreak of war in 1940 marked a turning point in Papaionnou’s career. Until this point, she had focussed her lens on landscapes and architectural photography but affected intensely by the suffering of her people she realized the power of the camera to reveal the harsh truths of society, and thus arouse the conscience of the national and international community. Her striking images serve as important historical documents that convey the horrors of war, but stress the dignity rather than their suffering of the subjects.

    color medium format landscape photo of coastline in Greece by Simon Martin
    © Simon Martin

    7. Simon Martin – ‘Border’, Corfu

    Simon Martin‘s breathtaking image portrays the narrow channel that separates the Greek island of Corfu from neighbouring Albania, as well as the Greek mainland. The invisible maritime border between Greece and Albania runs through this channel, and this tranquil scene belies the somewhat tumultuous history between the neighbouring countries. Though today, the pair enjoy relatively close relations, they have been officially at war since 1940, when Italian occupation forces in Albania attacked Greece. The Hellenic Parliament subsequently passed a law declaring ‘a state of war’ between the two nations, which, despite diplomatic efforts, remains in place to this day.

    Black and White Photography from Greece - Elli Souyioultzoglou-Seraïdari (better known as Nelly’s)
    © Elli Souyioultzoglou-Seraïdari (better known as Nelly’s)

    8. Nelly’s – Hungarian Dancer Nikolska, in the Parthenon, Athens, 1929

    The work of Elli Sougioultzoglou-Seraidari, better known as ‘Nelly’s’ helped shape the visual image of Greece in the Western mind. Her photos of ancient Greek temples set against the dry landscapes of the nation coincided with the Greek state’s need to produce an ideal view of the country and its people for tourism purposes. Yet despite her photographic legacy, her political intentions have been questioned and disregarded in hindsight, due to her collaborations with the authoritarian 4th of August Regime in the late 1930s. At some point referred to as “the Greek Leni Riefenstahl”, her work, which covered the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, explored the similarities between ancient and modern Greeks and celebrated the human form.

    greece woman portrait photography in color by mihaela noroc, the atlas of beauty series
    © Mihaela Noroc

    9. Mihaela Noroc – Greece, from ‘The Atlas of Beauty’ 

    “Real beauty has no bounds. One can find it anywhere, in a village or in a skyscraper, in a gesture, in an intense gaze or in some wrinkles: Real beauty is in our differences.”

    Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc has spent the best part of the last decade, traveling the world to photograph everyday women with the aim of expressing that beauty has no borders. She captures the subjects in their natural surroundings, affording them a familiarity and thus a sense of comfort, creating deeply, absorbing, and intimate portraits exemplified beautifully in this depiction of a young Greek woman in traditional attire, which effectively realizes her intentions.

    The Temple of Poseidon. Cape Sounion, 1954, by photographer Robert McCabe
    © Robert McCabe

    10. Robert McCabe – The Temple of Poseidon. Cape Sounion, 1954

    He may have been born in Chicago and raised in and around New York City, but it is Greece (where he now spends much of his time), with which photographer Robert McCabe is synonymous.

    His love affair with the country began in 1954 when he visited the Aegean islands during a trip around Europe. He returned a year later; again in 1957 on assignment from National Geographic, and over the ensuing decades, spent an increasing amount of time in the country, documenting its ever changing-face. He may not be a household name, but McCabe’s depictions of Greece are as absorbing as some of the most ‘iconic’ images captured by his renowned contemporaries, exemplified in this image of Cape Sounion’s Temple of Poseidon (captured during his first inaugural visit to the country) a stunning scene, rendered with an artistry befitting of its profound beauty.


    All images © their respective owners