New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Descending the stairs to the gallery, a little late for the reception for the exhibition, Daily Bread;Photographs of Rural Greece at the Consulate General of Greece on Tuesday, November 7, sounds of hilarity and the unmistakable klarino were coming from below. Surprise! Joy, food and dancing and the music of Epirus and other regions. It was a party! Consul General Koutras’s brainstorm, to accompany the opening of the exhibition, Daily Bread;Photographs of Rural Greece, an exhibition of 39 black and white handmade gelatin prints by Beatrice Hamblett with accompanying stories, poetic observations of Greece and its people.
Introducing the Hamlet and the show, Consul General Koutras had said that Hamblett searches for the “real” Greece, not the places tourism has altered but places where people still work the earth and celebrate traditions, remote areas, such as in Epirus. In both her photographs and her stories, Hamblett reaches for the moments that distill the essence of character and occasion, the love of family, the courage and dignity of people as they embrace the 21st century, within a contemporary context and without sentimentality.
The Greek Embassy in Washington, DC, which has held three exhibitions of the photographer’s work over the last ten years, the most recent being in February 2016, connected Hamblett with Consul General Koutras, who liked her work and put the exhibition into motion.
Fresh loaves of bread, sheep farmers’ rugged faces, two women dancing, musicians passing the time at a cafe, shearing a sheep, a lone man walking up a road. By zeroing in on a limited subject, Hamblett’s photographs allow the viewer to step into the picture. There are also landscape photographs, images of vernacular architecture and ancient structures, mountains and sea coexisting in a land “where magic prevails but change is imminent.” There is a feeling of singularity in these, too.
Hamblett, who lives and works in Washington, DC and the island of Skopelos, and has been referred to as “an old-style roving reporter, “due to her wanderings, talks about her life and work with GN.
INTERVIEW WITH HAMBLETT
BH: My first connection with Greece was through my husband, who many years ago, as a teenager, had passed through Athens. He was born and raised in London, a place where people on the street barely made eye contact, so to suddenly meet people who spoke to you, embraced you—a big dose of philoxenia… he was forever impressed.
Years later we visited Greece together, and in 2000 bought a piece of land in an olive grove overlooking Skopelos village and built a house there. Once we had a base I began exploring the island on my motorbike, always with my camera and a notebook in hand. By the year 2004, we began spending five or six months at a time in Greece. Having such a large chunk of time allowed me to wander further and photograph and write stories.
BH: When friends ask me how I spend my time, I sum it up by saying I photograph, I write, and I enjoy the life. I go out and shoot probably three or four times a week. Sometimes I just carry my smaller camera with me and shoot whatever excites a feeling or interest. Most of the time though, I plan shoots in which I go to a certain place, say to a square in the village where kids always play, or I make appointments with people to make photos of them at their house. Stories just pop up wherever. I am usually writing at least a few stories a week. These are the stories that are now part of my book Daily Bread: Stories from Rural Greece.
To photograph and write stories I also travel all over Greece to find interesting subjects. This is where the road trips come in, particularly for the body of work that is in Daily Bread: Stories from Rural Greece. From 2004-2014 I traveled everywhere in Greece but probably spent the most time in Epirus because I treasured it for its authenticity and rural flavor. I have made many friends there.
Enjoying the life means making sure my days include the special pleasures that Greece provides. I love the culture, the music—whether it is Rembetika in Skopelos or Epirotic music with the klarino and drums. I love the language and enjoy speaking it with the local people. I know I am a foreigner and therefore different but I am almost envious of Greeks for being Greek, for the freedom the children enjoy growing up on an island like Skopelos, for the wonderful food and family life Greek people enjoy together. Here in America, it is a little different.
Enjoying the life also means being in the sea every day and swimming a long way up the beautiful coastline of Skopelos’s beaches.
GN: What are some of your observations about the country and the people?
BH: Regarding the crisis, I admire the strength and fortitude of the Greek people and their ability to carry on despite the crisis. I am impressed with how little they need to sustain themselves and have good and relatively happy lives. I also understand it is a huge challenge for young people, I see this too.
GN: Regarding your book, one reviewer has written of your “determination to break the stereotype of news stories publicizing only the economic crisis.”
BH: In 2015, I decided to put my photographs and stories together and self-publish a book, which became Daily Bread. I launched a Kickstarter campaign and raised $10,000 to help pay for the printing and production. I have done several book signing events to promote the book and I continue to do so.
GN: What will you work on next?
BH: The last two summers I have been photographing the children of Skopelos and to some degree the children in Romania. I started in the play yards and streets of Skopelos but I have also begun to go to the homes of kids so I can include their family, their animals, their physical surroundings. I love this subject because kids give a lot so freely and it feels very pure. Also, I’m trying to show how special and different their lives are in each of the places I photograph.
GN: What was your life like before Greece?
BH: Before Greece I had a few other lives, at least, one being raising my son in New York City until he was 12 years old. But I think of myself as both a photographer and writer and both things go on simultaneously. When I travel, I have lots of time alone so both the photos and the written stories flow.
Zoe Kosmidou, PH.D., USA Office Director Foundation for Greek Culture, Washington, D.C., has commented that “…The vernacular architecture too, which she photographs, was something to be forgotten. She has brought international to the master craftsmen who constructed these stone villages throughout Greece and to their unique history. We are all very grateful for her efforts,”
Beatrice Hamblett has an MFA in Writing from Columbia University, where she also worked as a writer and editor while also freelance writing for magazines. In 2009 Hamblett received a grant from the Washington DC Commission of the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH) which helped make possible many of the photographs in Daily Bread;Photographs of Rural Greece. Dance is her avocation.
Daily Bread;Photographs of Rural Greece will be on view at the Consulate General Tuesday, November 7 through Monday, November 20.