The monastic society of Mount Athos has inspired humanity for the counterbalance it offers to the values of life. It is a tower of spirituality documented by many authors. However, the photographic book of Stratos Kalafatis, “Athos, Colors of Faith”, approaches the Mount Athos State as an alternative society, with spiritual salvation being its primary concern. Argyro Barata becomes better acquainted with the Garden of The Virgin Mary (i.e. Mount Athos), a place she will never visit herself, searching for her own personal colour of faith, through the lens of the distinguished photographer.
“Systematically photographing on Mount Athos I found myself before the Seragiou photographic studio with its painted wall, which remains in relatively good condition despite its lack of maintenance. I muse about the thousands of portraits created against this background constructed by Russian monks in 1852. The renovation of the skete reached its outer areas, too. The party wall with the painted scene was deemed redundant and destroyed. The enchanting glass roof that had lit the faces was covered with tiles. The portrait of the two Athonais students is probably the last of a photographic tradition that lasted for over a century and a half”, remarked the artist, himself concerning the photograph in question.
Mount Athos is a place of silence, located below the surface of logic and behind the spotlight of social life. Kalafatis’ work mirrors, not that what appears to be, but that which in reality Athos is, namely, a place where monks and anchorites seek the love, freedom and peace of the soul.
In the pages of the book, the chance existential quest of the reader concerning the Orthodox faith will not be satisfied / requited. He will, nevertheless, discover the inexpressible beauty in the humble life of the monks, which the photographer will represent as an anonymous painter with the inscription: Χειρ Στράτου εποίει, ΚΑ΄αιών. (By the hands of Stratos made, 21st century.) A moment from a shoot with intense optical expressiveness, that produces an emotional work of great artistic worth, which records the vital male societies living the monastic life. The social setting of Athos cannot be interpreted as a system or ideology, but is experienced as a functional presence with love and self-sacrifice. Elder and acolyte in the cell of the Karamanlidon.
The title of the publication, “Colors of Faith”, provides the reader with the opportunity to give his own interpretation, his own colour to the meaning of faith, since this holy place has for centuries been a global sender of universal messages for all people; and each and every visitor garners whatever he can and is capable of, seeking the colour that represents him.
“On Mount Athos no people are born. They are drawn there by deep faith, need, curiosity and despair. There are initiated into the ascetic life and continue in a stoical relay of death with the finishing line being the monastery ossuary. From Elder to Acolyte, from Monk to Novice, a millennium of history without discrimination, seeing that monasticism is not passed on by inheritance, it is won on merit”, Stratos Kalafatis states in a personal footnote in the photographic book.
The first mission took place in 2008, following the persistent exhortation of his friend and associate, Arsenios Toptsidis, with a view to them photographing the pupils of the Athonias. Ecclesiastical Academy, from which Toptsidis, himself had graduated. This is the sole ecclesiastical boarding school operating on Mount Athos, founded in 1749. “After my first trip to Karyes and the Athonias Academy, I returned charmed and inwardly delighted about what I knew would follow: the 25 trips and 200 days and nights that had a decisive effect on a great part of my life for the next 5 years”.
“25 trips using transport of all types: small boats, mules and hiking. Many of the hikes were long, arduous and unforgettable. Athos does not have wide paved avenues but dusty dirt roads that turn and lead you to the unexpected. And from there begin the mystical trails leading to monasteries, sketes cells, springs and caves, to small hermitages and real anchorites”.
More than 1,500 pictures, taken using film and an old-type Hasselblat camera, were the outcome of the work in question, printed in the 200 pages of the publication.
According to the art critic, Niko Ksidaki, the singular morphoplastic elements of Stratos Kalafatis’ vocabulary stand out in this particular book: supersaturated, electric colours, full-face portraits, wide-angled shots and, particularly, the striking perfection of night landscapes. “All the elements serve a compact whole, a single objective: the avoidance of pictorialism, the avoidance of documentary credibility. He does not make a documentary. His pursuit is the soul, aura, what is hidden within the shell of the manifest, the traces of the departed, the latent essence. The invisible”.
With his photographs the artist does not aim at stressing the strict canons that regulate the lives of the monks by concentrating the attention of the knowledgeable viewer on the spiritual asset represented by the Garden of The Virgin Mary,but rather traces the lives of these men, who are dedicated to divine dispensation, in modern forms and with a contemporary style of aesthetics.
His photographs are serenely structured, with balance and, as Niko Ksidaki writes in the book, “…A look like a caress, tender, a look that embraces and penetrates, converses, a look that is inclusive not exclusive, a look that avoids criticism and interpretations, a look that extols beauty, a look which envelopes the invisible, the missing. The look of Stratos”.
Stratos Kalafatis’ photographic work, “Athos, Colors of Faith”, was started in January 2008 and completed in 2013. In total it required 25 visits to the Athonite State and some 200 days of shoots to present a contemporary representation of the land and its people, in this unique place. The photographic book, that includes 142 colour photographs, was published in September 2014 in a bilingual edition.
Stratos Kalafatis was born in Kavala in 1966. Today he lives in Thessaloniki. He takes photographs, teaches and organises activities connected with creative photography. His complete extended photographic works, include: “Archetypal Images, Journal 1998-2002”, “Saga”, “Archipelago”, and “Athos - Colors of Faith”. He has written five books, four of which have been issued by the Agra publishing company. Since 1990, he has been presenting his work at numerous exhibition in Greece and abroad. Indicative of these are: The Venice Architecture Biennale / Backlight, 10th Triennale, Finland / EU Japan, Saga and Fukoshima, Japan / Photo Espana Madrid, Spain / Bozar Expo, Brussels / The Nice Festival, France / The Rome Festival, Italy / Journal 1988-2002, Beirut, Lebanon.