Many people have a pre-conceived mental image of the Greek Islands. They imagine a picture perfect post card setting that includes romantic white washed buildings set in contrast against the deep blue Mediterranean Sea. On a recent trip to the island of Santorini, I discovered those picturesque vistas, and it was truly a beautiful place, but I also discovered the not so picturesque, and several images of the past. Following my usual form, I was in search of the “non-typical” photographic subject matter. While making another stop on my photographic journey to Santorini, I continued to find myself drawn to the old and abused structures. Although my friends Clive Minnitt and Phil Malpas of Light & Land encouraged me to focus on the rich forms and unique compositions found on the island, I was lured away by those houses and buildings that have been left abandoned by their owners and that now fall into the hands of Mother Nature and the occasional vandal.
I have no idea why these structures captivate my interest; it is most likely some deeply rooted psychological issue that attracts me to them like a magnet. As I make my way through the commonly found ajar front door or occasional broken window, it makes me wonder as to whom the last person was to leave? Did they lock the door, or did they just close it? What was on the menu for the last meal cooked in the kitchen? Who used the bathroom for the last time? When the occupants went to sleep on that last night, did they realize they wouldn’t be sleeping there anymore? These are all questions I ask myself as I carefully examine my surroundings. I tend to treat these places like a crime scene, being extra careful not to touch any surface, or leave any footprints. Unlike the many visitors before me, I have a strange level of respect for what these places once were and more importantly what they are today.
As I strolled through the quaint village of Oia (pronounced eeah) located on the north end of Santorini I too visualized the many photographic compositions that Santorini is famous for, but I also made note of the occasional abandoned structure. While my fellow photography friends fought the heavy tourist traffic and digitally captured the typical white and blue architecture, I was deep inside the dark, abandoned volcanic houses breathing mold infested air, getting bit by God only knows what kind of bug, and wiping the clumps of pigeon droppings off the feet of my Italian tripod. There is something intriguingly captivating about these places, the more secure they are, the more questions they ask, and the greater the interest and desire I have to photographically document them.
Many of the houses on Santorini are hand dug straight into the volcanic rock located hundreds of feet above the sea. They commonly have a barrel vault shaped roof or ceiling that has been cut into the near vertical cliff wall. These ancient residential structures are typically five to six times as deep as they are wide and have no natural light source other than the windows and door found at one end of the long and narrow structure. As I made my way through the adjacent rooms of one particular house, the light levels began to diminish as I proceeded from one room to the next. The deeper I went, the darker it got. The last space in the long chain of rooms was reserved for the bathroom. I discovered this special space in the state of total darkness. As I stood there in the bathroom door opening, attempting to compose my photograph, I heard what sounded like a low level electrical hum. Knowing there wasn’t any electricity anywhere to be found, I remained puzzled as to what the source of the sound was. As I examined things closer, I finally realized what was making that sound; it was tens of thousands of small gnat sized bugs clinging to the whitewashed wall surface. I suddenly felt very stupid, as I had originally thought the walls were just stained black from age. I guess my human presence that had invaded their space had gotten them excited and their movement created quite an audio stir.
Even though I was there midday, with the sun at its highest point in the sky, the only light source for my work was what filtered through the front door and adjacent windows. As with all photography, the light played a critical role in the preparation of, and success or failure of the photography. No filters were required, just long exposures times, accurate focusing, and lots of patience that included an occasional swatting of a bug or two. I captured all of the images that day in black & white in an attempt to convey the mood of the environment and to better understand the existing forms, light and shadow. Enjoy!
As a footnote, I will soon be updating my website with additional Santorini photographs, along with a few other destinations. Please be on the look out for that notice. As always, thank you for your interest in Chianis Photography. Please feel free to email me with any comments at: [email protected] I look forward to hearing from you soon.