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Macedonia in Greece: Photography Project on Folklore Dresses

Introduction: An Ancient Kingdom of Greece

The 'Caryatis' project in Macedonia Greece, is a deeply personal photographic journey that blends the timeless beauty of black and white photography with the rich cultural heritage of northern Greece. This project was inspired by the ancient Caryatids, the sculpted female figures serving as architectural supports in ancient Greek temples, symbolizing grace, strength, and timeless elegance. My travels through Macedonia for this project connected me with the region's pagan customs of Northern Greece, vibrant traditions, and captivating landscapes, all beautifully captured in monochrome. I have travelled across the country from Athens to Macedonia on many occasions throughout my photography adventures.

*The name Macedonia (Μακεδονία) comes from ancient Greece and the tribe “Makedni” as described by Herodotus. It originates from the Doric Greek adjective “Makednos”, a word mentioned by Homer to describe a very tall poplar. The same adjective is described by the lexicographer Hesychius of Alexandria as a Doric word meaning “great” or “heavenly”.

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Video from the trip to Florina and Prespes, in Macedonia, Greece.

Below, find a video I put together during one of many trips to the regions of Florina and Prespes' Lakes in Macedonia, northern Greece.

Volax, Drama, Eastern Macedonia

My adventure in Volax, Drama, began on a snowy day that nearly thwarted my plans. The initial plan was to photograph the local traditional pagan customs. The journey was challenging, with heavy snowfall threatening to block the roads. I arrived just in time, only to find the village transformed into a winter wonderland, blanketed in thick snow. The picturesque scenery was both a blessing and a curse; while it provided stunning photographic opportunities, it also trapped me in the village. The village sits in the north of mainland Greece, close to the borders with Bulgaria, to the North of the city of Kavala.

Equipped with my camera and snow boots, I ventured out to capture the essence of Volax. The local women, adorned in their traditional dresses, stood out beautifully against the snowy backdrop. Their attire's vibrant patterns and textures created a striking contrast with the serene whiteness of the landscape. Each photograph told a story of resilience and tradition, as these women carried on with their daily lives despite the harsh weather. After one day, my car was buried under snow, and I had to dig it out with shovels, a small price to pay for the incredible images I captured.

A woman hoding an urn next to the Greek flag, in Volax, Macedonia, Greece. Black and white photograph by George Tatakis
Portrait of a woman in the local attire in the snow. Volax, Drama, Macedonia, Greece. Black and white photograph by George Tatakis
A vailed bride, wearing the traditional attire, inside a local home. Volax, Drama, Macedonia, Greece. Black and white photograph by George Tatakis
A veiled bride inside a local home

Pontic Costume at Lake Kerkini, Central Macedonia

Lake Kerkini, situated in Central-North Macedonia, near the Greek-Bulgarian border, is a haven for wildlife and a paradise for photographers. My visit there required navigating icy conditions, but the effort was well worth it. The lake, partially frozen, presented a unique challenge as I glided carefully on the ice by car to find the perfect spot.

The stillness of the lake, the snow, and the occasional movements of birds created a surreal atmosphere. I focused on capturing the beautiful Pontic costume, against the serene beauty of the landscape. Ourania had brought her costume with her. She was a woman who lived nearby and is a collector of authentic folklore dresses. Each photograph from Lake Kerkini is a testament to the peaceful coexistence of nature and tradition in this part of Greece.

A woman wearing the traditional Pontic costume, posing on the frozen lake Kerkini, Macedonia, Greece. Black and white photograph by George Tatakis

Prespes Lakes, Florina

My travels took me to the Prespes Lakes in Florina, a region known for its breathtaking natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. I visited this area twice, each trip offering new experiences and photographic opportunities. The locals welcomed me warmly, sharing stories and traditions that added depth to my work.

The Prespes Lakes are surrounded by mountains, creating a dramatic backdrop for my photographs. I focused on the traditional costumes of the region, capturing the intricate details and vibrant colors in monochrome. I have photographed the local folklore dresses in several locations. These included local churches, barns and houses. We have also ventured to the surreal islet of Saint Achilles, a small island located inside the small Prespa lake. There, I have taken some photographs with the locals amongst the ruins of the Saint Achilles Cathedral.

A group of 13 persons, wearing the folklore costumes of Prespes inside a local barn, Macedonia, Greece. Black and white photograph by George Tatakis
A woman posing at the center of the ruined Cathedral of Saint Achilles, wearing the local attire. Prespes Lakes, Macedonia, Greece. Black and white photograph by George Tatakis
Woman posing at the Cathedral of Saint Achilles
A group of 13 persons posing at the Cathedral of Saint Achilles, wearing the traditional local attire. Prespes Lakes, Macedonia, Greece. Black and white photograph by George Tatakis

Kastoria, Western Macedonia

Urban Costumes

In Kastoria, a lakeside jewel city renowned for its fur trade and beautiful mansions near the borders of Albania, I had the opportunity to photograph urban costumes in a traditional mansion. The mansion's architecture, with its intricate woodwork and elegant interiors, provided the perfect setting for my photographs. The models, dressed in authentic urban costumes, brought the past to life as they posed gracefully in the historic rooms. The black and white images captured the elegance and sophistication of Kastoria's urban heritage.

A group of women posing inside a local traditional mansion. Kastoria, Macedonia, Greece. Black and white photograph by George Tatakis
A woman in the local folklore dress, posing inside the drawing room of a traditional Mansion. Kastoria, Macedonia, Greece. Black and white photograph by George Tatakis

Rural Costumes

Our search for rural costumes took us to the village of Lefki. A village near the lake town of Kastoria. We found an old house that, despite being abandoned, held the charm of a bygone era. Breaking in was a last resort, but it allowed us to create images that preserved the rustic beauty of rural life in Macedonia. Of course, the people helping me out with the dresses knew the owners, so we had their approval. The simplicity of the rural costumes, set against the decaying backdrop of the old house, told a poignant story of tradition and change. I liked the portraits I created inside this house. I managed to manipulate the light with several props found inside the property. The clothes were of two distinct types. The darker ones and the ones that have a white front.

Three women in the traditional rural attire in Lefki, Kastoria, Macedonia, Greece. Black and white photograph by George Tatakis
A group of women by an old staircase, wearing the local rural folklore dresses. Lefki, Kastoria, Macedonia, Greece. Black and white photograph by George Tatakis

Local Dresses of Kozani, Shot in Siatista

In Siatista, a beautiful town known for its traditional architecture and vibrant festivals, I met with local girls who proudly wore their traditional dresses. After the photoshoot, we enjoyed coffee at a local café, where the girls shared stories about their community and customs. The warmth and hospitality of Siatista's residents were evident in every interaction, and the photographs reflect the joy and pride they take in their heritage. They even had a bag of gifts they offered me with local produce. We found ourselves inside two local traditional mansions. The first one serves today as a folklore museum. This is the mansion of Tsiotsios Christos and Nterou Tatiana. The second one is an abandoned local mansion that is about to be renovated by the municipality. That is the mansion of Manousis. This is where I photographed the folklore dresses of Kozani, Tsartsampas and the Kamvounia dresses.

Urban costumes of Kozani

Kozani's urban costumes are renowned for their quality and authenticity. Each piece is a work of art, meticulously crafted and preserved. Photographing these costumes was a privilege, and I aimed to capture the intricate details and the stories they carry. The images highlight the craftsmanship and dedication that go into maintaining Kozani's cultural heritage.

Costumes of Tsartsampas

The costumes of Tsartsampas are distinctive, featuring a white dress that symbolizes purity and tradition. Photographing these costumes was a unique experience, as their simplicity and elegance stood out in the black-and-white format. Each image captures the essence of Tsartsampas' cultural identity.

Sitting portrait of a woman, inside a Mansion in Siatista, wearing the costume of Tsartsampas, Macedonia, Greece. Black and white photograph by George Tatakis

The Kamvounia

The Kamvounia dress is simpler compared to other regional costumes, yet it holds a unique charm. Its understated elegance and connection to everyday life make it a significant part of Macedonia's cultural tapestry. Through my photographs, I aimed to highlight the beauty in simplicity and the importance of preserving even the most humble traditions. My favorite photograph is the one against a hand-painted wall, inside Manousis Mansion.

The Kamvounia dresses, against a hand painted wall in a Mansion in Siatista, Macedonia, Greece. Black and white photograph by George Tatakis

Costumes of Naoussa

The ancient city of Naoussa is famous for its Genitsari and Boules costumes, worn during the town's vibrant carnival celebrations. I visited the town a few years ago to photograph this event. During this time, I had the chance to ask three girls to wear the local folklore dresses and pose for a few shots around the town. Photographing these costumes was a visual feast, as their elaborate designs and bright colors created striking contrasts in black and white. Each part of these dresses tells a story of Naoussa's rich cultural heritage. We made these portraits around the streams of Naoussa.

Three girls wearing the local folklore dresses of Naoussa, Imathia, Macedonia, Greece. Black and white photograph by George Tatakis

Meliki, Imathia

In Meliki, a village situated an hour's drive away from the city of Thessaloniki, I stayed at the house of George Melikis, a local historian and cultural enthusiast. Our days were filled with exploring the village, meeting residents, and enjoying meals at a local tavern that used its produce. The photographs from Meliki capture the essence of village life, the warmth of its people, and the beauty of its traditions. I had a great time and explored the place to find the right spots for my photography. I have selected an old local house as my first venue that whispered tales from the past. Furthermore, I believe that the local architecture is a kind of sibling to the local attire. What they share is the value of heritage. They are two possessions that people are reluctant to part due to their ancestral nostalgic value.

I have also created some portraits amongst fields of local produce. Namely, a tobacco and a pistachio plantations. These are the dresses of “Roumlouki” and the headscarf is considered to be inspired through the centuries by Alexander the Great's helmet, since the time of the ancient Macedonians. The two women that you see standing next to each other in the tobacco plantation are known as “Lazarines”. This is a traditional local costume that is worn during Easter.

A group of women in the traditional folklore dresses of 'Roumlouki', posing amidst a tobacco implantation. Meliki, Imathia, Macedonia, Greece. Black and white photograph by George Tatakis
Four women wearing the Roumlouki costumes, inside an old local house. Meliki, Imathia, Macedonia, Greece. Black and white photograph by George Tatakis

Veria, Imathia

Veria city's local dresses, preserved by the Lyceum Club of Greek Women, are authentic pieces of cultural history. Photographing these treasures was a journey through time, each piece a window into the past. The images from Veria are a tribute to the dedication of those who preserve and celebrate their cultural heritage. I have met with the ladies of the Lyceum's board, and we made friends. We had dinner together, and they helped me find contacts for other projects in Greece. This is something invaluable in this line of work. Wherever I went I met with dedicated people who are passionate about Greek heritage. I mention this now, but it is true for every last place I visited in Macedonia.

Three women wearing the urban folklore dresses of Veria, Macedonia, Greece. Black and white photograph by George Tatakis

Kostellides Group, Shot in Meliki, Imathia

Finding the right spots around Meliki for the Kostellides group was an adventure in itself. Each location had to complement the traditional costumes and enhance their beauty. The images from this shoot are a blend of careful planning and spontaneous moments, capturing the spirit of Meliki. With the invaluable help of a local folk dance instructor, I managed to find both the sets and the extremely rare costumes. These costumes are rarely seen even in museums in Greece. They are authentic pieces owned by the families who wore them.

Portrait of three women wearing the Kostellides costumes, inside a local traditional home. Meliki, Imathia, Macedonia, Greece. Black and white photograph by George Tatakis

After visiting a local home that kept the local character we ventured up to the mountains. Going around the area through dirt roads, I found a spot that in my mind complemented the folklore dresses. The curves of the lines and the trees made me feel I was in the right place and this is where I created another portrait.

Sometimes people ask how difficult it is to create a photograph. In all honesty, I never feel it's difficult at all. In my mind, all it takes for me is to pick up the camera and photograph. However, if I try to reverse engineer and analyze it, it surely takes more than that. All this information after all these years is embedded inside my head and I do not have to think about it. I just need to see. It feels more like driving a car. For me, the most successful photograph is one that looks very simple. One that the viewer thinks to themselves: “I could easily do that”.