People, places and spirituality become one flesh through the work of a renowned artist.
Text: Stefanos Tsitsopoulos
Stratos Kalafatis captures the intangible essence of Orthodoxy through a series of photographs where humans, places and spirituality «become one flesh»
Photographs from Mount Athos. The cradle of Orthodoxy very seldom leaves its gates wide open to artists wanting to capture its day-to-day life. As such, the significance of «Athos – Colors of Faith», an album by the world-renowned photographer from Northern Greece Stratos Kalafatis, is not only a profoundly absorbing and inspirational impression of the Athonite life routine, but also a testament of the photographer’s accomplishment in winning the trust of the monks who awakened his intuition.
The photographer’s constant to and fro commutes to Mount Athos involved boats and mules, followed by long walks on a tapestry of rudimentary roads leading to monasteries, cells, caves and secluded hermit dwellings.
Kalafatis is a tireless journeyer, a pathfinder and an artist. He casts a multifaceted and protean light on landscapes and humans, too, incorporating them in a coherent whole. He evokes the invisible from a distinct viewpoint and that is essentially the trademark of his oeuvre.
Kalafatis’ work of exploring Mount Athos is an amalgamation of sunken-eyed monks with faces hardened by the ascetic surrounding and abstemious life amidst a rich verdant landscape of bewildering variety, set against the contrasting images of novice monks radiating an angelic innocence.
Kalafatis is a great master in capturing the mind, the sacred, the utmost divine. His pictures overlook and override the obvious, his lens glides behind the Cross. Even in full face portraits, the images glide through the full spectrum of the frame’s ambient light and shade. As he reaches for the morsel, deep inside the core, far beneath the surface of rough contours or saturated colors, Kalafatis brings forth a Renaissance chiaroscuro, revealing a plethora of invisible rays of light cascading upon the black-cassocked figures of the monks.
He has an idiosyncratic “pop” visual parlance, one that penetrates through the veneer of verisimilitude and remains consistent with life in Mount Athos: sensitivity and strictness, rule and obedience, along with an anarchic approach to its immaculate universe. Gold-laden vestments set against material bareness, love in line with order, patristic teachings intertwined with personal conversations.
Stratos Kalafatis seems as if he doesn’t exist, as if he doesn’t stir the flow of life and its elements; water, clouds, humans, dwellings, each one a miniscule part of a mosaic, each one devoted to an infinitesimal prayer. The only one prayer. That is, the question of existence for those who hold the key-algorithm of life that begets a visit, long or short, to Mount Athos, granting them, now and forever, a fragmentary nearness to the essence of the One.
His great anxiety was in understanding and discovering the right approach, given his absolute respect and sincerity towards Mount Athos and the monks who offered him hospitality.
Kalafatis has developed a fixation with entrenched places and hermetically-closed societies. Within this “tight” theme, he uses a square-format angle, bright color, with square form, bright color, diffused flash. Boldly «beautiful pictures». The absolute exoneration of the beautiful.
Just like everywhere, everything is a matter of approach. As such, it was only a matter of time that even the publicity-shunning Mount Athos would overcome doubts and misgivings about the photographer. Especially in Mount Athos, where everything was equipoised between the secular character of photography and the human nature of the monks.