ATHENS – A gripping photo showing an elderly Greek woman holding her heart in grief and a bag in hand as wildfires roared behind her home on the island of Evia was picked by Time magazine as 2021’s Best Photo and on the cover.
The picture was taken by photographer Konstantinos Tsakalidis for the agency SOOC on Aug. 8 as fires consumed nearly half of Greece’s second-largest island, about 69 miles northeast of the capital Athens.
The photo depicted 81-year-old Panayiota Noumidi as fires hit around the country during a brutal heatwave and saw hundreds of blazes outpacing the ability of the fire service to deal with them.
After the shot was taken, and before the magazine’s award, Washington Post Art and Architecture critic Philip Kennicott lauded its grim majesty and scope and warning to humanity.
“The challenge now is fighting off despair, and few images have captured the despair of climate change as powerfully,” he wrote, adding that the woman “stands before the world like a wailing chorus member from a tragedy by Aeschylus or Sophocles.”
He said the image worked on every level and that, “Its content is harrowing and its construction powerful. The woman’s anguish and fear are framed by the geometry of two garden walls that force our eye past the foreground of her pain deep into the background, where a house lies in peril.
“There’s hardly time to register details, the well-tended trees in the well-kept yard, the rounded stones carefully laid on the walls that lead to what is presumably her home, perhaps a place where she has gathered a lifetime of memories. The diagonals make the eye race to the fire, just as the fire races to the house.”
He said its truth was stark, too. “This woman personified collective fear: What she is suffering, we will suffer; what she has lost, we will lose. She lives on an island called Evia, we live on an island called Earth. The people in her village have been forced to flee. Where will we go if the fire comes for us?” Not Evia.