Keep your finger on the trigger (of your smartphone or camera that is) because Athens is a city that never stops. Around every sunlit corner, you’ll find some instagram-worthy sight or scene you’ll want to commit to memory. Who better to give advice on capturing the never-ending story of Athens than the people who do it for a living? We spoke to some of the finest Athens-based photographers working across a range of fields (from photojournalism to fashion and street photography) to find out what inspires them, what you can learn from seeing the city through their lens—and how best to explore Athens, camera in hand.
“Athens definitely helped me grow as a photographer,” explains Melbourne-born photographer Angelos Giotopoulos, who relocated to the Greek capital in 2004. “Athens is just a raw city. There’s no hidden agenda, it is what it is.”
Freelancing for Greek and international media, Angelos also co-runs Lost Athina, a respected resource for Athenian subculture and the city’s untold stories. You’ll often spot him shooting a DIY punk gig with a 90s camcorder or snapping Athens’ many underground cycling events.
“Athens has incredible light and high buildings which create great shadows. Painting with light becomes a way of life,” Angelos explains. “ I don’t have a favourite place, but I enjoy shooting in my ‘hood, Kato Patisia. It feels like I haven't left the multiculturalism of Melbourne. I prefer diverse communities, with cultures blending and evolving. It keeps things interesting and will always give photographers something to document.”
“I discovered Athens through photography,” says actor-turned-shooter Fanis Pavlopoulos. “I explored the city deeply to find new locations to shoot. I have a thing for symmetry and urban landscapes. Athens can be a dirty city, but the Athenian light at different times of the day can still make it beautiful.”
Raised in an artistic household, Fanis first performed in the theatre at age 10. He flirted with interior design, but finally became an actor. Eight years ago, he downloaded Instagram, entered the world of photography and has become one of Greece’s most-followed shooters. He still scours the city for inspiring new locations to shoot with his camera or drone.
“The Athenian Riviera, the southern edge of the city from Faliro to Vouliagmeni, is perfect during sunset, with beautiful beaches and summer-y vistas,” he says. “Lycabettus Hill provides endless view of the city; Victoria, my neighbourhood, has amazing abandoned buildings; while Kypseli is fantastic for facades and street photography.”
Taken by Icarus—@takenbyicarus
“I’m trying to capture the city in a way nobody has done before,” explains Stelios Kotsovilis, better known by his Instagram handle, Taken By Icarus. “But this isn’t easy and it needs time."
Stelios spends hours—and sometimes entire days—scouring the city for new angles or areas that haven’t been seen before. But the effort he puts in is justified by the results. He presents Athens with a highly distinctive style, usually shooting at night or lurking in the city’s shadows, using techniques such as long exposures to give Athens’ frenetic energy a sublime, ethereal quality.
“When you see Athens from high ground through aerial photography you will witness chaos,” he says. “A big city spreads its concrete wings, without any discernible architectural shape or structure. But when you take a closer look at the city you will find that within the urban madness there are interesting perspectives. Doing my best to focus only on the positives, my passion to capture the next frame grows all the time.”
I Love Athens Project—@iloveathensproject
As a fashion photographer, Giorgos Malekakis would always have to try to make Athens look like Paris, Milan or Beirut—but never, ever Athens. When Greece suffered a major recession in 2009, it took much of the local fashion industry with it; but George feels the representation of Athens failed to improve. It remained polarised between “tourist brochure schmaltz” and critical photojournalism of homelessness, hardship, and riots.
Step forward the I Love Athens Project, a photography and cultural platform through which George and his co-founder Dimitris Ntavantzis strive to represent a more honest and nuanced picture of the real Athens.
“Athens is like nowhere else on earth. It has so many influences and possesses such a strong energy and identity. It’s super-multicultural, unplanned and anarchic. But for years, Greeks always wanted to pretend to be something else—to copy foreigners,” says George. “This project is a call to look at your surroundings differently and appreciate the environment around you.”
George is interested in the areas where beauty lurks unrecognised and where people are fighting for change. “I have long documented the revival of Keramikos. The history of the area has been neglected, but street art and underground culture have changed its identity for the better. Keramikos is full of surprises and - just like the rest of the city—if you open your mind, you’ll discover so many interesting things.”
“I have grown up with a camera in my hands,” says archaeologist and photographer Alexis Efstathopoulos, whose father was also a photographer. “I feel that archaeology has influenced my focus on the city, the past and its relics. My Dead Toys Society project was about abandoned toys around the city, while Sunday Visitors used old photos I found in the garbage or at flea markets.”
Alexis’ photography portrays Athens with a dark but beguiling beauty, which reflects his complex relationship with the city. “Athens is a fascinating city to be a photographer because there are interesting people to follow on the streets and a constant contradiction between old and new, decay and beauty,” he reflects.
For Alexis, Omonia Square is one of the most textured areas to photograph. He has been documenting it on 35mm black and white film for over two years. “Omonia is constantly changing. I like the idea of recording the transformation of the area and its people over the next ten years,” he says. “The old arcades that surround Omonia are great for architecture photography. Head to Kypseli for street photography or the National Gardens if you like plants and nature.”
Eva Balasi is a young photographer and videographer working in fashion and lifestyle. She collaborates with Hard.clo, an up-and-coming Athenian clothing brand created by Eva’s friend, George Mesimeris. Eva also documents Athens’ emerging female skate scene.
“Athens is a big city filled with grand contrasts, which suits my personal style of photography,” Eva says. “I like to combine fashion photography with the city’s harder edges. You can easily stumble across the underground and cult aspects of Athens in the most unlikely places, like a forgotten grocery store. There is an authenticity to the city and it is full of memories of the old Athens.”
Eva’s favourite places to shoot are those that reveal the city’s diversity.
“The Pakistani market near Omonia is like suddenly finding yourself on a whole new continent, with different colours, scents, and atmosphere,” she says. “Anafiotika is another endless source of inspiration; the Cycladic architecture of the streets is timeless and priceless. Metaxourgeio inspires me too. It’s an area of yellow lights, brothels and small traditional cafes, and it’s home to Athens’ only skate bowl, Latraac.”