With his latest photo book Athênai: In Search of Home, Niko J Kallianiotis portrays Athens through fresh eyes. The photographer grew up in the Greek capital but moved to the US when he was young – his first photo book, America in a Trance, was based in his adopted home of Pennsylvania.
Athênai conveys the city’s multiculturalism, the persistent contrast between history and the modern day, and a series of multitudes which, as curator Hercules Papaioannou writes in the introduction, illustrate “every success and failure of modern Greek society”.
Plenty of people looking in from the outside would reduce that success-failure binary to Greece’s enduring influence on culture and society, and the more recent economic crisis felt throughout the country.
Athênai touches on these chapters in its history but offers a more holistic portrait, as Kallianiotis takes photographs with no agenda other than to reacquaint himself with the place he once called home.
Architecture and monuments feature prominently, but so too do less widely seen pockets of the city and its surroundings, from industrial quarters to a rain-sodden coast to districts that are home to refugee communities.
Papaioannou says that Kallianiotis shows how Athens has eroded “boundaries geographical and cultural, economical and social, belonging normatively to the western context while deftly evading its rigid austerity, maintaining its ancient definition as a city-state, in both historical and contemporary terms. In this sense, Athens eludes any definite description.”