Mitos / The thread of Greece

Mitos, the ongoing series by Greek photographer Michael Pappas, is a compelling ethnographic tribute to the time-honored customs of his homeland.

─── by Josh Bright, June 24, 2021

The medium-format portraits depict Pappas’ compatriots adorned in traditional garb and set against a diversity of eye-catching backdrops. Invariably characterized by rich colors, textures, and dexterous use of light, they possess a painting-like quality that befits the socio-historical subject matter and arrests and intrigues with striking immediacy.

He first began documenting such traditions in 2010/11 whilst at photography school, though it was a decade later,  shortly after the onset of the Coronavirus Pandemic that, finding himself with an abundance of free time, and his movements restricted, he looked to his archive for artistic inspiration.

“I was inspired to create a more directed project, where the textures and details of the clothes that come to the foreground stand out more. During this time, I studied the works of several photographers and I organized my photographic material that mainly concerned customs in Greece”.

During his early forays into the subject ten years previous, his process involved attending traditional dances and events across Greece, where, with little preparation and no real sense of direction, he would photograph spontaneously, finding inspiration in moments, faces, landscapes, or costumes.

However, with Mitos, his approach was more deliberate. The publication of these early images and the network of contacts he built up during their creation, engendered approaches from others across Greece, who requested he photograph them in their traditional attire.

It was, by his own admission, an often painstaking and exhausting process; in order to portray them honestly and in context, subjects were photographed in areas to which they and their garments belonged and shared deep cultural and historic connections.

It would routinely take days to find the right location with the perfect light and, settings included both internal spaces and natural landscapes, with the latter frequently all but inaccessible due to the often significant weight of the costumes.

Nonetheless, he also found it fascinating and inspiring, not least the meticulous process involved in dressing, which he describes as ‘wonderful’ and ‘ritualistic’.

“Men usually have simpler costumes and can get dressed relatively quickly. For women, however, this procedure can take up to two hours. As much as I hurried at that time so as not to lose the light, everything must be done in the right order, this is something I realized over time and with many conversations with people. In many cases several pieces must be worn carefully to give a proper and beautiful result, the dresses and jewelry, each of them has its symbolism, and, finally, the preparation of a headband that can also last a long time.”

Such fastidiousness displays the deep respect his subjects have for their clothes, and more importantly, what it is that they represent; whether everyday, festive, or even wedding garments, they are family heirlooms (some of which date back to the 19th century) and are thus considered sacred, emblems of their ancestors; their identity, their history.

“The garment is a symbolic communication system that provides information about the social identity of individuals and cultural groups. It is a language of communication that works on two levels: materiality and meaning. Through the structures, forms and stylistic elements of clothing, the cultural codes of each society at a specific time and place become apparent.” 

Pappas captures this reverence with extraordinary clarity, highlighting a side of Greece for which he himself holds profound appreciation and respect, and which he believes has, for years, been “devalued in an attempt to turn to the West”. 

Mitos, therefore, serves as a deeply arresting visual archive, and a tribute to Greece, whilst simultaneously, and with remarkable acuity, demonstrating the medium’s profound potential.

All images © Michael Pappas