submitted by Anna Kominos on 14.10.2006
Turn the leaf of any Kytherian photo album and you will certainly come across the work of Manolis Sofios. An analytical witness to the revolutionary changes of this century. Manoli’s seized the opportunity with his camera, to document Kytherian life when it was still totally an agrarian society. This year’s ‘Kytherian Summer Edition’ pays tribute to the man who had the foresight and inspiration to use the art of photography to immortalise peasant life.
Born in Logothetianika in 1912, Manolis was influenced by his artistic parents from a young age. Dimitrios Sophios who was also born in Logothetianika was one of the leading plaster/moulders of his time and responsible for many church adornments on the island. A perfectionist always keen to learn the last European techniques, Dimitrios assumed the guise of photographer in Athens so as to study the ground-braking methods used by a group of German craftsmen who were creating the now familiar columns of Athens’ Polytechnio. It was here that Dimitri met the inspired Aretee Katsoulis who was also living and studying in Athens.
Born in Katsoulianika, Aretee was raised in Athens by her childless aunt and uncle. Turning her back to traditional gender roles of the era, what was then considered the latest technology in the form of photography. Aretee’s and Dimitrio’s small world met and they married in 1907 returning to Logothetianika to set up house. On arrival Aretee and Dimitios set up a portrait studio in their home. Dimitrios continued his work while Aretee continued with her photography.
Word of this new service spread all over the island and families done up in their Sunday best made the arduous donkey trek so as to be immortalised in print. Manolis can remember of seeing dozens of family groups patiently waiting their turn. With the photographic process in its infancy, families were often turned often away as every portraiture was extremely time-consuming.
Tragedy struck the Sophios family in 1918 when Aretee at a young age died in childbirth. With five children Dimitrios closed the studio and focused on supporting his young brood. Aretee’s influence continued throughout Manoli’s childhood and at the young age of twelve, Dimitrios agreed to teach him the basics of photography. Using his mother’s studio and equipment, the young Manolis honed his skills on the thousands of passport photos needed by locals emigrating to distant lands. Manolis, who had always yearned to study fine arts, did not share his mother’s passion for portraiture. He initially turned the lens towards landscape deciding each frame would become a scene. His photographs of Paliohora still remain hauntingly eerie. Loaded up with bulky equipment, he would set off on foot to distant villages photographing Kytherian agrarian life in its many seasonal forms.
“Children, peasants and elderly living on the periphery of pre and post war Kythera were my favourite subjects. There were always spontaneous.” Sorting out his large collection of school photos, it is difficult not to be touched by the pride and dreams that fill the faces of the crew-cut boys and the brightly costumed girls. “if a group were going on a picnic or an excursion I would be invited along to take photos.” Manolis’ camera became his ‘passport’ giving him access to all places and events.
During World War II when food and essentials were scarce, Manolis continued his photography. Most of the German and Italian soldiers were knowledgeable in photography and would order film with army requisitions. As well as continuing locals at school, work and play, Manolis also photographed many of the occupying forces. “When they left the island the came by the studio and confiscated all of the photos and negatives themselves. Fortunately they were respectful of my work and didn’t confiscate or destroy any of my other archive.”
With awards from all over the world, it is his photos of the Allied landing in Kaspali in September 1944 that has brought international accolades. This historically significant moment was almost lost due to censorship.
“Having heard that the Allies were about to land, I took my uncle who spoke English and rode five hours by donkey to Kapsali. My uncle spoke to an English officer and I was allowed two photos. Strangely they confiscated only the second negative.” The black and white photo with the Ally ships beached at Kapsali hangs proudly in museums all over the world including the Australian War Memorial Museum.
The Greek Ministry of Culture has shown strong interest in cataloguing and ensuring the survival of Sophios’s voluminous archives. Many of Manolis’ photos remain negatives to this day. “I would see something I wanted to photograph so I’d ask them and away I would snap. The high cost of paper and chemical papers meant that I could develop only one or two photos. A few years ago I discovered the photo of a young girl and her puppy which I had sealed in an envelope and completely forgotten about. The young girl, Eirene Mihalakakis, is now a grandparent as are many of the children that peer out of my black and white photos.”
by Anna Kominos
Article entitled An Encounter with Manolis Sophios, from the paper “KYTHERA”, Issue 7, Summer Edition 1999, Page 12
Maternal grandmother of Manolis Sophios
Arete and Demetrios Sofios. Parents of Manolis Sophios
Kirani Chlentzos Katsoulis with grandchildren Manolis & Giorgos Sophios
Manolis Sophios. Early years
Manolis Sophios, as a young man, engaged in painting
Manolis Sophios 1935. Aged 22
Manolis Sophios 1940. Aged 27
Manolis Sophios, in crowded Potamos, 1951
Manolis sister Grigora and her children
Manolis Sophios, 1991. Aged 79
James Gavriles, Detroit, recalls the Sophios Photo Album
Obituary, Manolis Sophios
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