Panos Kefalos Shows What Boils Just Beneath the Surface with Lava

Each day, photographer strolls along the alleyways and sidewalks of Athens as part of his daily routine. Even before Greece’s debt crisis became an international talking point, the city itself ceased to resemble the powerful acropolis it once was. Though the iconic temples, theaters, and landmarks of ancient times have remained, the people that make the city in a state of constant flux. In the midsts of a fragile environment struggling to regain its ancient glory, Panos Kefalos and his camera function together as a single unit to capture the authentic raw pain and of the place and its people. Presented with the following questions, the young artist provided us with some additional insight on the changes he’s observed and the role photography has played in addressing the issues in his hometown.

Your artist statement reads that these images were taken on daily walks through the streets of downtown Athens. Is it difficult to spot change within an area you’ve become so familiar with?

I live in the centre of Athens almost 7 years but I had a picture of it before, because I studied in the area. It is quite difficult for me to spot big changes because it’s a familiar place and everything that happens in the city is part of my route and my daily walks. Maybe it would be easier for me to spot the changes if I had to leave from the place for a long time. The estimation about it would be more explicit. A change I notice over the years is that many people that I use to see in the city for a long time at specific spots, suddenly, they are no longer there. They somehow disappear. I see some people again in the future and some others not.

Often times, your portraiture focuses on the most vulnerable, destitute members of the community. How do you go about forming relationships and gaining the trust of the individuals you’re photographing?

Maybe it comes from the affection I feel for the people and the need to communicate with them.It’s a natural impulse that drives me to interact with other people.As I mentioned before, those people are part of my daily walks in the streets of Athens around the Omonoia area, I see some of them almost everyday. People, especially those who live or work on the streets, have the need to communicate. They trust me when I start talking to them. Afterwards, the pictures come spontaneously. I need to take my time to take pictures.
One of my photos portrays my longtime friend Alex, eating his favourite pasta.He was an itinerant retailer and he was selling magnifying glasses for almost ten years in the same street. I’ve been photographing him sometimes during these years and he was feeling very comfortable with it. He was often gone from the area because he was not allowed by the police to sell things. He went through a lot. But he was always smiling and dancing in the street. He was telling me that faith helps him and our meaningful conversations with him were helping me as well. A few months ago, he knew that he couldn’t do this anymore. He was not accepted by the state to live legally in the country, he was never able to secure a visa and he decided to leave. He wanted a peaceful life, away from jail and camps. One day before going back to Africa, his last words were : “ I’m going to find the pastor, to help me find strength.”
I received a call from him a few days later, once he had arrived back to Africa. He wanted me to know that he made it.

Your descriptions of Lava describe the series as a diary rather than a documentation – the images reflect the way you see things, personally. When you’re walking through the streets, what prompts you to take a picture?

It’s my instinct that usually leads me to take photos while I’m on the road and I’ve been always working this way. Lava is a record of my personal outlook on the city of Athens. It is about idle strolls repeated over and over again, always leading up to the same familiar places.This series is a result of random events and conditions. When I took the photo of Vevian’s shaved head it was the beginning to add more images.

The name itself – Lava – immediately conjures visions of destruction and the violent impact of volcanic eruptions. What parts of the status quo do you need to be dismantled or destroyed in order to reinstate stability and peace to your home?

Lava deals with Athens’ current situation. It’s a metaphor about a volcano which is ready to blow, through a real outbreak that prevails all these years I live in the centre of Athens. Downtown Athens is like a volcano’s flaming crater. It’s a chaotic and alive place that if you follow its suggestions you could either get lost or end up discovering the safest way home.

What do you feel is the most important point you’d like to communicate through your images? What information about yourself and the greater community would you like viewers to take away from this body of work?

They are a free association of images with a very specific rhythm of the city. I believe that even after a collapse, life can always be found.

All photos are courtesy of Panos Kefalos

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