Being invisible to the subject is one of the greatest virtues of the good photographer. And thanks to this quality, Stratos Kalafatis gives his audience a glance into the world of the monastic community of Mount Athos. The exhibition, “Athos: The Colors of Faith,” has already been shown at 25 venues in different parts of the world. Kalafatis’ photographs take us into the historic monasteries, into sketes, cells, caves and other secluded spots where the monks find solitude for prayer and reflection. They introduce us to monks, initiates and wise old men, and to a community that has been around for a thousand years and continues to function according to its own rules.
Kalafatis was given rare access into this secretive world and allowed to make this record of day-to-day life there, a respectful and discreet depiction that also packs emotional resonance, especially for female viewers who are, alas, barred entry to the sacred community.
After reaping laurels in St Petersburg, Turin, Rome, Paris, Madrid and, of course, Athens, among other Greek cities, the show is traveling to the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos this summer. One of the photographer’s favorite shows was last year in Sithonia, the neighboring peninsula to Athos in Halkidiki in northern Greece. More than 25,000 people attended that exhibition and Kalafatis was on hand most days to answer their questions.
“It wasn’t faith in God that took me to Mount Athos but my deep desire to see this cloistered universe through my lens,” says the photographer, who made 25 trips to the peninsula in order to complete the project, spending more than 200 days and nights observing the community and its visitors, exploring the monasteries and the landscapes.
“There were times when I was a spectator and others a participant in litanies, festal gatherings, vigils, discussions, miracles and revelations,” he adds.
Kalafatis had been a regular visitor to Mount Athos since childhood but the idea for the “Colors of Faith” project came during a trip with his friend and colleague Arsenios Toptsidis aimed at photographing the students of the Athonite Academy. That’s when he realized that he wanted to spend more time in the monastic community. Needless to say, there were a lot of dos and dont’s he had to follow, including a ban on depicting relics owned by the monasteries or secret rites.
Despite these restrictions, there is nothing stereotypical about his work, which is vibrant and absolutely original. This is obvious even in the exhibition’s catalogue, published by Agra.