Everything on the Greek Isle of Santorini seems designed for one time of day - sunset.
White-washed buildings, blue domes, bell towers all expectantly stand watch over the sea. Human spectators gather every evening as the sun meets the waters, and clap in homage to the show’s creator.
Desiring a private viewing, we returned to the island in April, a month noted for storms that drive skies into a frenzy and visitors into refuge. After three days of heavy winds, the sky churned like a boiling stew. Then, as the winds calmed, so did the waters. And all that watched - both human and inanimate - saw the brilliant reward of reaching another day’s close.
I consider myself a people person. I cherish my time with family and friends. I am also a very faithful person. As difficult as it may seem for me to dedicate my whole life and being to the monastic lifestyle, there is something profoundly calming and reverent about it. In a valley in the heart of Greece where fertile plain meet soaring peaks, there stands a group of monolithic rocks housing numerous monasteries that seem to hover between Heaven and earth. In these lofty fortresses that reach dizzying heights I found myself at peace and wonderment, as if I too were gazing down from Heaven itself.
Life on Santorini, Greece, ironically owes its existence to a destructive force.
The island was formed by volcanic activity, of the kind that collapsed a volcano in 1650 B.C. and left a “caldera” in its place. When water filled the caldera, a lake was born - and evidence of its maker was obscured.
Still, reminders of the now-submerged volcano abound. Rock is piled upon rock, just as homes are built upon homes, climbing up the cliff sides. Vineyards spring from the fertile soil that was once lava and ash. Fishermen plumb the caldera’s depths for the catch of the day at local eateries, many of which they also own.
But in the day-to-day activity of life, it may be easy to forget the peril that once destroyed and may yet threaten - especially when the view from most any window is breathtaking.
Sunsets happen every day in Greece. “Duh”, my daughter would say. On the island of Santorini though, it’s a big event. During the peak season, the terraces and rooftops are teaming with people, waiting in anticipation for what is usually one of the most beautiful sunsets one can witness. Applauding ensues as the sun sinks into the sea. Being there on this particular evening, I, along with the lovers capturing the moment on film, had given my own silent ovation to another ordinary extraordinary sunset over Santorini.
When one thinks of Greece, the ideal image of white-washed walls and cool blue water enters our mind. This reflection is completely washed away when travelling to the northern parts of mainland Greece. Here, five hundred year old monasteries sit atop massive rocks built in isolation to preserve the silence of prayer carried out by its’ inhabitants, the monks. The fulfillment of this isolation gives our vision new meaning. You are no longer sitting next to water but are enshrouded in a place that has housed grace from years past and for years to come.
Buildings age, that is inevitable. Sometimes their walls crumble and fall, other times they are repainted to mask their aging faces. As with people, some age with grace; grace that makes it difficult to tell whether or not a day has passed since they were built. This particular wall, in my opinion, is different from the rest in that it has not completely crumbled nor has it stayed pristine. Its paint merely fading to expose a mosaic of time, a myriad of stone and paint.
It’s always good to start out the day with a prayer. When I’m on a shoot, I usually begin the day with, “show me the light”. For a photographer, “light” is what it’s all about. After finding the scene I wanted to capture in the village of Oia, it became a waiting game for that special moment. On this particular morning my prayer was answered with a warm glow on the horizon. This glow would eventually rise higher unveiling the village before me with a radiance I had not seen on previous mornings. It was at that moment I looked up, winked, and tripped the shutter.
Photographers often avoid exposures with full sun, as intense lighting is seldom conductive to establishing visual depth.
In the bright Mediterranean, the midday sun can literally drive a photographer indoors - unless there’s a compelling reason to make an exception. We found one such exception, in the colors and shapes on a terrace in Santorini, atypically enhanced and dramatically delineated by the bold light. The light even made a subject of another creature hesitant to leave: a cat whose dark shape joined itself with the deep shadows on the wall.