Greek folk tradition’s new beauty

“Whatever I do in life, I imagine it beforehand; I close my eyes and I dream,» says Calliope. «When I was thinking about this book, the images were very clear.» The book turned out to be «Traditional Costumes of the Lykeion ton Hellenidon» and the images are Calliope’s beautiful, touching photographs of a country’s rich past. «The book reflects the way I see things: Maybe I see my country and my people with a romanticism, with longing, tenderness and love and that’s what comes across,» she says. «These people move you, there is feeling here.» Using the scions of prominent Greek families, actors, artists, politicians and pop stars as models, the publication features genuine garments from the Lykeion ton Hellenidon – the Lyceum of Greek Women – and its Museum of the History of Greek Costumes’ impressive and precious collections. A non-profit organization, established in 1911 in order to safeguard Greek folk costumes and dance, the Lykeion owns about 25,000 items – the majority being authentic as well as a few faithful copies of ancient garments. Though this is not the first time the garments have been recorded via photography – it was Emile Lester who first captured the costumes on camera, later followed by Kydoniefs – Calliope’s lens brings this timeless beauty to contemporary society. Published just recently, the album is fast turning into a collector’s item and the few who turned down Calliope’s invitation to pose – out of fear of being caught in old-fashioned garb – are surely regretting their decision. «Casting was important here, this kind of mix. The way I tried to do things was to have a balance of glamorous but at the same time discreet people. I didn’t want to overwhelm the costumes. For me, they are the lead characters in this publication.» From Mayor of Athens Dora Bakoyannis to journalist Nikos Aliagas and heartthrob crooner Sakis Rouvas, the majority of those featured in the book are Calliope’s friends (all the names are listed as an appendix). «My intention was not to have famous people pose. My intention was to use the people I like and I respect.» A lavish production, published by Fereniki Editions with the generous support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, this is Calliope’s first venture into the world of books. Why did she choose the traditional folk road, when she could have gone for something fashionable and hip instead? «I adore my country, and I have missed it a lot during all these years I’ve been living abroad. I left when I was only 18 and I can never get enough of it. I felt that I was ready, having reached a point of maturity as an artist,» she says. Born and raised in Athens, Calliope left her home for London before moving on to Milan. In 1987, she moved to New York City, where she has been based ever since. Over the years, Calliope has built a solid career in the fashion industry, initially working as a fashion editor for Conde Nast publications and later as a photographer for magazines including Italian and Spanish Vogue, and American and Italian Glamour. She has also shot prestigious ad campaigns for Ralph Lauren Kids and Guess, among others. Lately, however, the photographer is on a very selective path, collaborating with publications that will offer her complete creative freedom. This same desire for artistic freedom drew her to the book project. Known for her colorful, ethnic, personal style, Calliope enjoys a great passion for cultures all over the world – including her own. «I think there are very few countries that feature such a rich, traditional folk tradition,» she says of her motherland. Using «I don’t think, I just do; logic has no place when I’m working» as a mantra, as soon as the idea for the book developed into an urgent need, Calliope flew to Athens. Once in town, already aware of the Lykeion ton Hellenidon’s impressive archives, she got in touch with the association’s president, Eleni Tsaldari. After both parties had agreed on the project, Calliope began shooting – in black and white. «For me black and white has a lot of mystery; it’s timeless. It’s easier for an artist to express himself,» she says. «Color is too realistic. In my mind, everything was black and white from the start.» Also on the photographer’s mind was the necessity to evoke a sense of realism. That included imposing «no makeup» rules for women, although a few did get away with using lip gloss. While re-enacting history, Calliope enlisted the aid of a national ally – Greek light, unaltered through time. She struggled to arrange photo shoots during summertime and worked around busy schedules for just a few hours of warm, bright, gorgeous light. Beautiful Greeks wearing beautiful garments at the most beautiful hour of the day. Is this how foreigners view Greece on an aesthetic level? «They don’t really know much about it, and that’s why I want the show to travel and the book to be published abroad,» says Calliope. «I want the world to know that we are not only about flowing robes and ouzo. There is so much more to Greece than the stereotypes.» Besides banishing stereotypes, one of the book’s greatest achievements is that it sheds light on a relatively unrecorded period of Greek history, as compared to antiquity, for instance. Based on this wealthy – and now visual – history, Calliope nurtures tremendous hope that the book will prove inspiring to many people abroad – including fashion editors and designers. Meanwhile, the photo exhibition that accompanied the book launch at the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens is set to travel to cities like Milan and Paris. «Our identity is our strength and people have to realize that instead of being embarrassed,» says Calliope. «Also, I really want the young Greek generation, currently living in the middle of globalization, completely cut off from their roots, to reconnect. It is our duty to inspire and educate them.»

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