In rural Greece nothing is more sacred than friendship toward strangers. Even when that stranger is armed with a camera and capturing some intensely private moments. Constantine Manos recalls his classic photographs taken in the early Sixties
One day I was walking toward the sea on the southern coast of Crete. Beyond the distant cliffs lay Africa, 200 miles away. Here Greece ends. It was a warm overcast day as I picked my way over the rocky outcroppings of the barren landscape. The silence of the place was touched only by the distant tinkling of sheep bells.

As I walked, raising my head occasionally to look at the sea, I began to discern an unusual black shape in the distance. It soon became apparent that this immobile object was a man sitting on a rock. He was resting his head in one hand, his eyes covered. His other hand grasped a shepherd's staff.

As I came closer, I slowed my pace and moved more gently over the rocks; I felt that I was invading a vast and serene privacy which would be shattered by my presence. I held my breath as I moved closer for fear of startling the man. I expected him to look up at any moment; then I stopped, only a few feet from the bent figure. I raised the camera to my eye and pressed the button. The man raised his head, looked at me calmly, and said "Good morning". The picture had been taken, and the experience was ended.

Each photograph in this portfolio was a personal experience and a particular moment in time both for myself and the subject. The people in these photographs lived in small villages and isolated farmhouses scattered over the Greek countryside. They were mostly poor, but extremely proud and strongly defined as individuals. Most of the young had left to seek work in the cities of Greece and distant lands, leaving behind a sparsely settled landscape of old people and children.

My passage through this countryside was leisurely and unplanned, that of a friendly observer. My presence was accepted with warmth and hospitality. In time I came to learn that nothing is more sacred to the rural Greek than philoxenia, "friendship toward the stranger".

The resulting photographs - the majority of which were taken in small villages on a variety of Greek islands - should be viewed as one man's experiences in Greece. No attempt has been made to define Greece or the Greek people, for such attempts inevitably lead to generalities. By their unique nature each human being defies generalities. The individual is constantly changing in relation to time, environment, and other people. Selecting a split second in which to arrest this passage through time is the unique magic of the camera. These small particles of time have passed. Whatever meaning they might possess are captured forever in these images.

`A Greek Portfolio' by Constantine Manos is published on 1 September by WW Norton & Company at pounds 29.95

Sheep shearing, Crete

I travelled all over Greece in a Volkswagen van, with a bed and a little kitchen in it. I remember suddenly coming upon this scene. It's a beautiful moment. This was in spring when they take the sheep up to the high land. Each sheep had a bell which made its own sound so the shepherd could tell where they all were. Sheep were very important, they got wool and meat from them, although this was very rarely eaten - maybe at Easter, Christmas and possibly one other occasion. They lived on beans, cheese, bread, pasta, vegetables and olive oil.

Fisherman and family, Trikeri

Fishing is very close to my heart. I'm named after my grandfather Constantinos who was a fisherman living on a little island in the Sea of Marmara. I grew up in South Carolina with my mother telling me stories about him. This family were moored in the harbour eating. It was a completely candid shot, they didn't know I was taking it. Fishing was a mainstay then, now it's a very hard life because the Mediterranean has been fished out. Contrary to people's expectations, fish is scarce and expensive in Greece.

Going to market, Thessaly

I take very few pictures where anyone is looking at the camera - I like to be the observer rather than the observed, but they spotted me here. This is in the far north, the big plain where they raise the best horses. It's autumn and overcast. I was a very serious young man and I wanted to do serious, profound work. I had this idea that everything should have a sombre feeling, so there are only one or two pictures in the collection lit by sunlight. I remember driving through the countryside and if I saw clouds in the distance I would head in that direction. These women are wearing thick, black woollen costumes which are colourfully embroidered, and look more Balkan than Greek. Even in the early Sixties, costumes such as this were dying out.

The village school, Karpathos

Olympos - on the island of Karpathos - was my favourite village. It is perched on the top of an island and was like a museum - the women were still weaving and there was a bootmaker who made the shoes for everyone. But a lot of the menfolk had left to look for work, in Athens, Germany and the US, and they would send money back. Olympos has a large emigrant population in Baltimore, Maryland which probably now outnumbers the village. There was a certain innocent quality to the people there, a poetry in their faces, which has been lost. This was a very simple village school (right, and above right), just a single room, with wooden desks and quill pens. All the different ages were in together. If they wanted to go on to high school they'd have to leave and go away to Rhodes which would be expensive unless they had some relatives there they could stay with.

Girls dancing at festival, Epirus

When I first arrived in Greece in 1961 I didn't have a real focus. I then realised that the pictures I liked best were of people and in very isolated communities, and I made a little rule that I would only stop in villages which had no electricity. This is a little place in the north of Greece, just south of Albania. It was the final festival before Lent. On feast days people would come back from Athens or wherever to their home village for two or three days and dance and celebrate. The boy in the middle is wearing a carnival mask, and the girls are doing a circle dance. This sort of dancing was very popular in the early Sixties - they didn't go in for one-to-one dancing. This and the music are almost all that has survived.

After the festival, Karpathos

This was taken at Easter. The men were dressed in their best clothes. It was after one of those orgiastic gatherings: eating lamb, drinking wine, dancing. I always thought the men had a really good life in these villages. The women did all the work while they sat around, playing cards, drinking, talking about politics. It was a very macho world. Easter is the most important festival of the year in Greece, it's the beginning of spring, of planting, and the main religious date. The Church was at the heart of these communities, central to Greek culture. In the Greek diaspora it is the church which has held the people together around the world and kept the language alive. I grew up in the bosom of the church in America.

Men in foustaneles, Metsovo

These two old men are wearing foustaneles, which are the traditional Greek skirts which men, and in particular warriors, have worn for centuries. I remember as a child seeing pictures in books of Greek heroes wearing them. But even in the Sixties this was a rare sight. This is the winter version of the costume. In summer foustaneles are white and lighter. I remember I once saw a man in white foustaneles outside his house. I slammed on my brakes and jumped out with my camera but he ran inside. You only see these in folk dances and for tourists these days. I suppose all of these images seem a little romantic now, but I still find them beautiful. I didn't realise at the time, but this is a lost world. n

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