Exhibition and album evoke the country’s past

The economic and social crises that swept across interwar Europe and the ensuing war produced a genre of photography that celebrated humanity and sought to capture the dignity of man against times of great hardship. Broadly termed «human-interest» photography, it did not just include images that make direct allusions to war, but a broad range of themes from city views and nature to portraits of people. Underlying those images was a concern with capturing the essence of human nature, of pointing to something eternal and dignified that transcends the specificities of time and place. For Greek photography, Takis Tloupas was one of the pioneers and greatest advocates of this humanist photography. He is also one of the greatest classic names in the history of photography of this country, together with Voula Papaioannou, Spyros Meletzis and Costas Balafas, all rough contemporaries. «The Greece of Takis Tloupas,» a voluminous photographic album (with essays by Antonis Karkayiannis and Giorgos Hourmouziadis) produced by Kapon Publications in collaboration with the Benaki Museum, and an exhibition on the same theme that was recently organized at the Benaki to mark the occasion of the publication, provides both a sense of this man’s talent and a loving view of his country and its people. Beginning from the late ’30s and stretching throughout his career (Tloupas died two years ago), this retrospective exhibition and album on his work also provide rare documentation of what Greece, its cities and the life of its people were like before the country’s modernization. Interestingly, even after the late ’50s and ’60s, when urbanization and reconstruction rapidly changed the Greek social structure and quality of living, Tloupas’s photographs still remained focused on Greek rural life, the life of farmers and stock breeders and the pace of life which is close to nature and removed from the urban centers. Tloupas’s special sensitivity to these subjects can be traced to his own background. The son of a carpenter, he was born in Larissa and grew up in the rural region of Thessaly. He became interested in photography quite by chance during the expeditions that he made with a mountaineering club. A basically self-taught photographer, he opened a studio after the German occupation. During the war, his travels with the Red Cross brought him in contact with remote villages in Thessaly. Pictures of Ambelakia and other lesser-known villages have left behind vital documentation of what those areas looked like. Tloupas also toured Greece subsequently on various commissions by the Greek ministries. Although Tloupas took various pictures of other parts of Greece – pictures from the islands of the Sporades are included in the book – he was mostly drawn to the mountainous regions and forests of Thessaly. Snow-covered mountain slopes and large vistas captured in a beautiful stillness and suffused with a sense of calmness are typical of his work. His pictures also have a rare quality of bringing out the land’s different textures, the play of light and almost sculptural shapes found in nature. In some pictures, one can see parts of Greece that have completely changed. Lake Carla and the community of fishermen before its artificial drainage is one of the earliest examples. Many aspects of rural life that Tloupas depicts also belong to the past. Women washing clothes in the river, harvesting without machines and weaving at the loom are all chores that evoke a rural life close to nature and tradition. Tloupas grew up among those people and was part of their daily lives. Seen in retrospect, his pictures may be «read» as a nostalgic evocation of things that no longer exist. But in truth they are a man’s sensitive observations of his surroundings, a celebration of the dignity of man and his labor. The Kapon publication puts this distinctive vision across in all its scope.

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