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Literature

Renowned Photographer Robert McCabe on “A Postcard from Kasos, 1965”

Renowned photographer Robert McCabe’s latest book of photography, A Postcard from Kasos, 1965 offers a glimpse into the life of the southernmost island in the Dodecanese. Located between Karpathos and Crete, Kasos, about 11 miles long and four miles wide, was famed from ancient times as a center of shipbuilding, and played a role in the Greek War of Independence which began in 1821. With the advent of steam, however, the island’s shipyard closed, and its population dwindled. Today, about a thousand people remain on the island, living in five small villages full of historic homes and churches.

In 1965, McCabe traversed the stormy seas to Kasos, and was instantly captivated by its rocky, mountainous landscape and sparkling beaches. Through his lens, we encounter the island’s daily life and striking terrain; from its ports, where crowds await the mail’s arrival; to the villages, where carefree children play in the streets, dancers step to the music of lyres and violins, and friends gather for coffee at the kafeneion. Also included in the book are mountaintop views of fields, shores, and islands nestled in the sea. In a stark contrast to the transformation undergone by other Greek islands, many of the scenes depicted in McCabe’s photographs remain almost unchanged to the present day.

The book includes insightful text by Nikos G. Mastropavlos, a distinguished journalist who grew up on Kasos, shedding light on the island’s history. Mastropavlos and Marilen Frangoulis Kedros, another essayist of Kasiote ancestry, offer thoughtful reflections on the meaning of the island to its inhabitants and their descendants.

Featuring stunning full-page tritone reproductions of McCabe’s photographs, A Postcard from Kasos, 1965 is a beautiful volume for all those who love the islands and their indomitable spirit.

An image from the book A Postcard from Kasos 1965 by renowned photographer Robert McCabe. Photo by Robert McCabe

Robert McCabe spoke to The National Herald about the book, how the photos were chosen, and his upcoming projects.

TNH: How long did the project take from idea to publication?

Robert McCabe: You won’t believe it, but it actually took 57 years! The idea of a book of photos and text about Kasos originated with Elias Kulukundis in 1965. He was a writer with roots in Kasiot shipping. He invited me to come to Kasos with him and his uncle George for the August 15 celebrations. I took almost 400 photos. They showed a vibrant island life. But the editor felt that Elias’ text and my photos told two different stories and didn’t harmonize well. So the photos stayed in the files until about 10 years ago when Marilen Kedros saw them and we decided to revive the original concept of a book with text and photos. A major breakthrough was Marilen’s idea of asking Nikos Mastropavlos to consider writing a text. Nikos, a talented journalist who grew up in Kasos, was a superb choice for the job, combining his writing and editing skills. Fifty-seven years is a long time but the perfect team came together between the authors, and Alexis Veroucas and Vassiliki Papakyriazi for design, Trifolio in Verona for printing, Penelope Matsouka for cartography, and Patakis and Abbeville for distribution.

TNH: How were the photos chosen?

RM: The photos were chosen with a view of defining visually Nikos’ portrait of the island’s people and topography. Marilen and I met and ranked each of the photos with from 0 to 5 stars. Nikos used this as a general guide but made his own final selection.

TNH: Have you been back to Kasos more recently?

RM: I plan to return this summer! I am looking forward to using the new map made for the book by Penelope Matsouka and Delia Potamianos.

TNH: What was the most surprising thing you learned during this project?

RM: I know a lot of people from a lot of Greek islands both in the Aegean and Ionian seas. Never have I seen the passion and reverence for an island homeland that is exhibited by Kasiots. One wonders if there is something addictive involved! But it’s simply a very strong sense of community, of homeland, of tradition.

An image from the book A Postcard from Kasos 1965 by renowned photographer Robert McCabe captures the tradition of drinking coffee at the kafeneion. Photo by Robert McCabe

TNH: Are there any upcoming photography books we can look forward to?

RM: I am working on four projects now. One documents what I call (Once) The Most Beautiful Walk in the World, a now nearly destroyed path from Vayia to Livadi in Patmos above a magnificent coastline. A second is tentatively titled Portraits of the Greeks, a compilation of portraits taken over a span of 65 years. A third is a book about some unknown and very beautiful archaeological sites in Athens. And the fourth is a children’s book with text by Anne McCabe about a dog born on the north slope of the Acropolis in Anafiotika who used to lead us on tours of the monuments of the Acropolis. A true story.

A Postcard from Kasos, 1965, published by Abbeville press is due out on June 7.

Pre-ordering is available online: https://www.abbeville.com/products/a-postcard-from-kasos-1965.

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