Artists have been drawn to the light of Greece for millennia. American photographer Robert McCabe captures that light and the spirit of the country in his photographs since his earliest trips to Greece in the 1950’s. McCabe was born in Chicago in 1934 and grew up in Rye, NY.
His father worked for the New York Daily Mirror, and as the result of his father’s gift of a Kodak Baby Brownie in 1939, he started taking photographs when he was five. His first photographs of Europe were the result of a trip in 1954 to France, Italy, and Greece. He returned to Greece in 1955 and 1957 and photographed the Cyclades for National Geographic. His published books cover subjects and locations in Greece, France, Italy, New York City, New England, Havana, China, and Antarctica.
McCabe’s many, and current, projects include books: Portraits of the Greeks 1954-2017; The Greeks and Their Seas (with Margarita Pournara); Mykonos in my Dreams; The Last Monk of the Strophades (with Katerina Lymperopoulou); and an exhibition and book of photographs of Greek archaeological sites in the 1950s, for the 180th anniversary of the Archaeological Society of Athens.
The Archaeological Society of Athens celebrated its 180th anniversary in December 2017 with the publication by Kapon Editions of a collection of photographs taken in the 1950s of major Greek Archaeological sites, most of which the Society has had a role in excavating and studying. The photographs were taken by McCabe primarily during his first two visits to Greece in 1954 and 1955.
The 248-page book in black and white, printed in tritone, has an introduction by Dr. Vasileios Petrakos, the President of the Society, and a preface/autobiographical essay by the photographer. The sites featured include Athens, Delphi, Rhodes, Mycenae, Ancient Thera, Corinth, and Methoni.
The 195 images illuminate some of the dramatic changes that have taken place in the past 60 years in Greece: monuments before restoration and devoid of tourists, Athenian streets just barely recognizable today, and villages transformed by changes in society.
McCabe’s interest focuses often on things that the Greeks took for granted but he was seeing for the first time and wanted to record. Things as simple as the light and shadow revealing the shapes and masses of the ruins, the guard taking refuge from the noon-day sun, the lone figure of a woman on a deserted dirt road under the Acropolis, take on a symbolic meaning in McCabe’s photographs.
Everything holds interest for McCabe and his camera. From the railroad station at Mycenae to the photographer at Delphi and the marble workers with their chisels, McCabe finds inspiration all around him in Greece. His impressive photographs bear witness to a moment in time, capturing the memory with skill and artistry.
“Through his artistic vision, the art of Robert McCabe brings us back to an older Greece, when the light was stronger, clearer, and the monuments appeared to be revealed for the first time,” wrote Dr. Petrakos in an excerpt from the book.
“For me, the most successful photographs represent a form of poetry… Just as a short poem can create a vivid emotional experience, so too can an image,” McCabe said.
For those readers who love ancient history and the remarkable ruins left over the millennia, a great choice to add to your reading list is Mycenae: From Myth to History by Athina Cacouri and McCabe. The book includes a new play by John Guare, commentaries by Lisa Wace French, and a piece on the Mycenaean landscape by Daniel Fallu.
The insights into the search for the city that fought Troy and the archaeological history are fascinating. The highlight of the book is the photography by McCabe. The extraordinary light of Greece is captured in the stunning photographs of the archaeological sites before they were opened to mass tourism.
Robert McCabe’s books are available online.