“It started as a road trip with my girlfriend, then another friend joined us and it developed into a whole project,” said Stratis Vogiatzis, who first dreamed up the idea of the Caravan Project. Now the three artists drive around Greece looking for unique individuals, people who stand out because of the lives they have chosen to lead and who could serve as inspiration to anyone who feels stuck in a rut. Their success does not lie in their academic credentials or their wealth, but in their everyday lives, the meaning of which can be found in humble accomplishments. Photographer and cinematographer Vogiatzis and the Caravan Project’s co-founders, his girlfriend, photographer and artist Thekla Malamou, and Alexandra Salimpa, the coordinator of the project who also contributes to its creative part, create high-quality documentary films capturing the lives of these people. The documentaries, which can be used for educational purposes, are funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
How did the Caravan Project begin?
We started the Caravan Project three years ago. It was our way of reacting to the crisis. I was interested in people who could inspire others with their approach to life. I had met many such people on my previous travels and they had had an impact on my life. We went out looking for unique people who have their own personalities and the power to shape their lives according to their own will, without conforming to the norms of society. We wanted to present their stories and use them as an educational tool.
What are the similarities between the people that you documented?
They are similar because they want to carve out their own paths in life and discover their own personal realities. In addition to their artistic value, the documentaries are of great educational value because children today grow up in a system that doesn’t teach them how to develop their own talents and truly feel alive. Our project includes 12 documentaries that last about 30 minutes each. Among the people portrayed are a shipbuilder from the island of Chios, a Roma activist from Xanthi in northern Greece, Giorgos Kalivas, a farmer from the Halkidiki peninsula in northern Greece who battling environmental pollution in the area, Massimo, a homeless Ethiopian artist who draws inside his shed, and an old anarchist from the small island of Nisyros in the southern Aegean who makes lyres and gives them away for free.
All these people live their lives with dignity and can serve as inspiration to the rest of us to pursue our dreams. We are not implying that certain ways of living are wrong or that we are the only ones who know what’s right; we just want to start a discussion based on the lives of those people and talk about aspects that are not touched upon by formal education. This is why we have already presented our documentaries at universities and schools, as well as to the public in squares and to prison inmates.
We are not trying to present the precise facts of a person’s life and we don’t ask them to provide us with all the details. We stay with them and try to understand them. In the process, we also gain a better understanding of ourselves. Hence the theme of our documentaries is the interaction of two different worlds.
What can we learn from people who failed to fit in and who ended up making a living off their idiosyncrasies?
We don’t mean to snub success in its conventional sense. Rather, we wanted to meet people who had managed to overcome obstacles in their lives as a necessary step toward achieving their goals. The blind fisherman, for example, managed to fish despite his handicap, while the Roma activist managed to make an impact despite the discrimination she faced. These people are not losers; they were forced to fight against the norms of society and they did not quit. They are still fighting.
Do these people have problems?
Of course they have problems. But we were not trying to discover heroes. We were just trying to show that people all around the world may have the same desires and the same fears as we do. The people we portray in our documentaries are very much conscious of the choices they have made in life. They can serve as an example that can help us. It’s not like they’ve come up with some answer to the meaning of life that we can then swallow, but they do carry a message that life is indeed beautiful and it is possible to live it to the fullest.
The Caravan Project is about to enter the next stage. It will be of a nomadic character because we will use mobile facilities to present exhibitions in different parts of Greece. In September we will set up two yurts on the island of Lesvos and in seven other places.
The exhibitions will present all the material they have gathered over the past three years, including documentaries, photographs and written stories. They plan to hold seminars to teach people how to discover and present their own stories by showing them how to take photographs and create documentaries. There will also be educational workshops and a section called “Tell Me an Interesting Story,” which will help them gather more material. An online story bank will be created for the first time in Greece. The exhibitions are aimed at presenting different ways of life, helping people become more open-minded, and giving people a voice, says Vogiatzis.
“We are creating a record of stories that would otherwise be lost.”