I saw these photographs in February of 1977, the same day I met Yiorgos Depollas for the first time. My mind went immediately to the works of Paul Strand and the portraits he had photographed in France, America, and Italy and which I had seen, not so long before, in a major exhibition in a museum in London. The same eyes, the same serenity, the same immediacy. When I asked whether he knew Paul Strand‘s work and he answered ‘no’, I thought that there must be a means by which photographers can extract these eyes, this serenity, this immediacy. I don’t know if it was at that moment or sometime later that I understood that what reminded me of Strand’s photographs hadn’t to do with their form-that is the center frame position of faces and their incorporation into the black and white forms of the background- but it had to do with the fact that these photographs had a common origin. Both had approached villagers who had motivated them and asked permission to photograph, they did not ‘steal’ their pictures. The human contact, the respect and esteem for the subjects are reflected in the photographs, they are imprints of the photographic material. They are transformed ultimately into ‘icons’. These photographs have indeed something religious about them –they express a reverence for human kind.
This is one of the particular characteristics of ‘straight’ photography. Personal style is not to be found in some particular morphological ingredients of the picture as it is in paintings, for example, but it is presented through the approach the photographer adopts towards the people, the situations or the events.
It impressed me that Yiorgos Depollas did not employ folklore. He did not decorate his pictures with the ‘picturesque’, something which, even up until then, was ‘de rigeur’ in photographs in Greece. In the portraits of anonymous individuals which I had seen up until then, the eyes of the subjects had rarely been turned towards the lens. It seems that the photographers wanted to eliminate their presence from the scene so they took their shots when the eyes of their subjects were elsewhere. They wanted to give a natural impression fulfilling the widely accepted and naïve view that the photographic image is the mirror of reality.
On the contrary, the people I saw in Yiorgo’s photographs were proud, full of life. They accepted the fact of being photographed disarmingly and with a reaction like that expressed in the following letter written and sent by a shepherd:
‘We thank very much the photographer, Mr. Yiorgos Depollas, for the beautiful photographs you took near my flock. I have been a shepherd for sixty five years and have never had my photograph taken. I’d be very happy to see you again. You know where to find me at the turning in the spring.’