Photographers' Blog

Circle of life at Greece’s fish farms

Sofiko village, Greece

By Yorgos Karahalis

Fish farming was a business that a few decades ago was completely alien in Greece, where eating fish was strictly related to the local fisherman, the weather conditions and the phase of the moon.

These days, regardless of the moon and the weather, we can all buy fresh fish at extremely low prices, every day. And from my experience of the industry during the days I photographed its fish farms and hatcheries, I realized there is more to the process than I thought – it’s a production line that resembles the circle of life itself.

The first step in the journey is at the hatchery. There you’ll find the broodstock, a group of fish held in the facility for breeding purposes. Once the eggs are chosen, they’re transferred to different tanks where they start growing up. At the same time, ichthyologists, the scientists who study fish, carry out regular checks on the newborns to make sure they’re healthy.

What do they eat? Well, they don’t consume food the way we think. A team at the hatchery is responsible for the daily production of plankton – a microscopic organism fish feed on – from scratch. Just next to the tanks where the fish live, an entire business devoted to taking care of the food has been set up, made up of colorful big plastic “tubes” as well as huge cans with different types of plankton – phytoplankton and zooplankton.

As the fish grow up, they’re transferred in groups according to their age to other tanks until the day they leave the hatchery for the fish farm in the open sea, making room for the younger ones at the facility.

Dressing the jewel of the Greek army

Athens, Greece

By John Kolesidis

Known in Greece as Evzones, the soldiers comprising the presidential guard – a term dating back to Homer, meaning the “well-girt” men, implying an elite status – are a symbol of discipline. The unit is often referred to as “the jewel of the Greek army”, and rightly so. Their primary mission is to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier around the clock, which may seem like a piece of cake, except it isn’t. During their watch, they have to remain completely motionless and stand at attention at all costs in all kinds of weather. During violent demonstrations, for example, plastic water bottles, oranges and Molotov cocktails keep flying over their heads. Their eyes may tear up because of the tear-gas used by police, but they remain stone-still, maintaining a show of normality. It is quite surreal to watch them stand still while a virtual war is raging around them or while little children tease and harass them, often pinching them to make sure they are alive.

It’s not easy to join the presidential guard. There is a minimum height requirement of 6.1″, and the soldier has to be in top physical and mental health. A series of exercises and drills are necessary to establish their unparalleled level of discipline. Upon waking up in their camp, which is identical to the rest of the army camps, the Evzones perform an extended program of marching and lining up drills, as well as endurance training and stretching exercises at the National Garden. Their target is to learn how to raise their legs to shoulder height and get used to standing on their feet for more than 100 hours per month.

Next to their discipline, the most striking thing about them is their handmade uniforms, mirroring the lengthy national struggles. The white kilt comprises of 400 pleats, representing the 400 years under Ottoman occupation. The red leather clogs weighing more than seven pounds bear around 60 nails, depending on the size, which would hook to the rocky ground of the mountains where the Greek people fought at the time. Getting dressed is no simple mission either. Putting on the uniform is a ritual in itself, demanding the presence of two people. One helps the other, as the various items have to be placed carefully, and the uniform has to remain crisp.

Swimming by Seatrac

Alepochori, Greece

By Yorgos Karahalis

In Greece, with its hundreds of islands, one of the longest coastlines in the world and a great climate, people are lucky enough to enjoy the beach for nearly half the year. Swimming in the sea is a way of life for many Greeks and a habit they’ve grown used to from their earliest years. With tourism being the country’s biggest industry, almost all visitors plan at least one “touch” with the sea during their holiday.

But for some, things are not so simple. Those with kinetic disabilities have always had to ask for help to enjoy the simple pleasure of swimming in the sea as wheelchairs cannot be driven on the sand or over pebbles. Unfortunately, this isn’t unusual in a country where access facilities for the disabled are in general very poor, even at the most basic level. A lack of infrastructure by the state and hostile behavior by many locals is a cocktail poisoning the daily life of those who depend on wheelchairs to get around.

In such a difficult environment, a team of university students and professors developed a solar-powered device which enables autonomous access to the beach for people with kinetic disabilities: the “Seatrac”, an innovative project covered by European and U.S. patents but faced with Greek reality.

Marathon inferno

Marathon, Greece

By Yannis Behrakis

It was a typical August day in Athens — very hot and windy. I was driving around town on my scooter when I stopped next to a fire brigade jeep at a traffic light. An officer in the vehicle asked me if I was happy with my scooter. I said: “yes I’m happy. Are you happy with the weather conditions?” He smiled and said: “I’m sure we will have many forest fires these days. There are a few burning in central Greece as we speak.”

It was less than an hour later when I received a message on my mobile phone from the fire brigade about a fire in Marathon, some 40-45 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of Athens, where the Athenians fought the Persians in a historic battle in 490 BC. Sources said that police and the fire brigade had started evacuating a hamlet in the area. I took my gear and a few masks for the dust and raced to the area on my scooter. It was really windy and for the last few miles, the traffic on Marathon Avenue was heavy — both ways — as some people were fleeing and others were trying to reach their homes and protect them from what looked to be a fire out of control. Police were stopping vehicles from reaching the area to provide clear access to fire engines and fire brigade troops. In order to pass through, I drove closely to a speeding ambulance and managed to pass all the police check points.

The area was covered by smoke and the one main road was full of water containers, police cars, fire fighters and a few local volunteers. I left the scooter off road in a field and rushed into the forest behind a group of fire fighters and a couple of volunteers. It was intense. The strong wind would change direction again and again, burning trees and thick bush as helicopters and fire fighting planes flew overhead dropping water. The heat was extreme and the smoke made it hard to see. In some cases, I was taking pictures unable to see as the smoke made my eyes watery and sore.

The search for a mosque in Athens

Athens, Greece

By Yorgos Karahalis

Some say that to come in contact with “God” is a spiritual matter that has nothing to do with the particular spot or place where such contact takes place. Well, if it were that simple then there would be no need to build churches or mosques.

In the Greek capital Athens, where almost half the country’s 11 million people live, there is a 500,000-strong Muslim community, mostly immigrants from Asia, Africa and eastern Europe. Many of those are faithful and want to express their faith by praying in an appropriate place. Well, there is no such place – there isn’t a single “official” mosque in the wider area of the Greek capital.

Instead, they have to rent flats, basements, old garages and all kinds of warehouses and transform them into makeshift mosques to cover their need for a place to hold religious ceremonies. There are lots of these types of “mosques” around town but they’re not easy to spot and whenever I arrived at one of those addresses I had to double-check it was correct as there was no way to identify these flats or warehouses from the outside. I could not say that they’re miserable places but I could better describe them as hidden places, places that do not want to get noticed. During most of my visits people have been very welcoming and very keen to express their concerns about the lack of a recognizable place of worship as well as their fears about the threats they get from some locals.

Homeless in Greece

Athens, Greece

By Yannis Behrakis

Marialena’s tears ran down her face onto the dirty mattress where she and her boyfriend Dimitrios have been sleeping day in, day out, for over a year, under a bridge in one of Athens’ most run-down neighborhoods.

Marialena, 42, is a homeless AIDS patient and a former drug addict on a Methadone rehab program.

Athens is full of sad stories like hers – of once ordinary people with a job and family who have found themselves on the fringes of society after the country’s economic crisis began in 2009. Up until a few years ago, homelessness was relatively unusual in this country of close family ties, but nowadays stories like Marialena’s are increasingly common.

Cyprus, it’s all Greek to me

Nicosia, Cyprus

By Yorgos Karahalis

I’ve been working in the media industry since 1986 and I can’t recall the last time Cyprus, the small divided Mediterranean island, attracted so much attention since the 1974 invasion by Turkey, which stills keep the island and its residents separated.

A decision by the European Union for a “haircut” on deposits in all Cypriot banks made the country one of the top stories in the region and across the world. Various scenarios for Cyprus’s financial meltdown appeared everywhere.

After the vote by the Cypriot parliament, who delivered a loud ‘No’ to the proposal to seize depositors’ money, and the government’s decision to close banks all over the island to avoid a bank run, the idea of a violent uprising started gaining traction. The capital Nicosia, with its population of just 300,000 people, saw journalists, TV crews, photographers and famous analysts drinking coffee on the pedestrian Ledras street in the old part of town.

A dramatic rescue outside my window

Athens, Greece

By John Kolesidis

Today I woke up to the deafening sound of thunder. The rain was pouring hard.

I made myself a cup of coffee and watched the rain out the window flood the surrounding streets. I was at a loss as to how I would get to the office without getting soaked, so I decided to stay put until things calmed down a bit. When I finished my coffee, I looked out the window again, and things had taken a dramatic turn.

GALLERY: SAVED FROM A FLOOD

A bit further down the street I could see an immobilized car getting swollen by the flood. Then I heard some muffled voices. I put on my galoshes and raincoat, took my cameras, and tried to get there. I walked through a small park, but that led me behind barbed wire which I couldn’t get over. I saw a woman trying to hold on to her car door, while the water was at waist level. I called out to her not to be scared, urging her to hold on to the door until I could get closer.

I took some pictures behind the barbed wire, and then I tried to find a way to cross the flooded park so that I could get to her. When I got in front of the fence, there was a cascade between me and the woman, as she was on the other side of the road. People were looking on from their balconies, and I started shouting out to them to call the fire brigade. Then a man on the same side of the street climbed on top of her car, and another man managed to approach as well.

The key to Greece’s economic crisis

By Yiorgos Karahalis

Mata Nikolarou, a jewellery shop owner in Athens, says she is not surprised that thousands of businesses in the capital have had to shut down.

“It was about time to happen. The market needed a clear off. Everyone in Greece had become a merchant, either by taking over their father’s shop or by taking out a cheap loan from the bank,” she said, explaining that most merchants had appeared out of the blue.

Almost a third of businesses and shops around the Greek capital have shut down over the last two years, as Greece’s crisis broke out and it agreed on a huge bailout package funded by the IMF and the European Union.

On your bike Greece

By Yorgos Karahalis

Anyone who rode a bicycle through the jammed Athens center a few years ago was either admired or called “the madman of the village,” as an old Greek saying goes.

It’s not like that anymore. “You’re no longer the madman of the village, you are a person inspiring others on how they could live in the chaotic Athenian center using a bike,” said Tolis Tsimoyannis, a 42-year-old bicycle importer and himself a biker.

The boom in Greece’s bicycle market started about four years ago and has maintained its upward trend, with small periods of steady sales due to political and financial unrest in the country.