Why ‘saints’? The correlation between the title of my book and its subject matter is not an obvious one. I chose the word ‘Saints’ because, to me, it is the signifier of a spiritual search. What I was looking for with my work was a missing spiritual connection: something linking me with the people portrayed in these photos, or linking them with my city, or me with the lingering shadow of my past.
In the fall of 2012, my involvement in an unrelated work brought me to Victoria Square, in downtown Athens. In these early stages my goal was to capture the everyday life of the children – most of them refugees from Afghanistan – that worked and played on the square. It quickly became about much more than that. It became about childhood – that broken mirror image of adult life – and the forces tearing it apart: fragility and unconstrained freedom, the brutal violence of war and the instinctive expression of child’s play.
The Saint is he who opens to the sinner the way to atonement and transcendence. The bond I formed with three of the children and their families released a tension that took away all my innermost fears. They taught me that the truest connection would come by looking at their world as a photographer ultimately should: through my own eyes. By delving into intimate feelings and personal truths, the memories and primeval impulses that struggled inside me to reach the surface were suddenly free to pour forth.
These photos don’t tell any stories. They are a free association of images, reflections of the way I felt about our encounter.
By 2015 all the people I knew had left Greece. I documented the refugee crisis that broke out in August of that year: surrounded by TV Channels and photojournalists from all over the world, I took my last pictures. It was a time for international headlines – personal journeys and friendships seemed now, in the face of pressing news cycles, like concerns of the past. A few days later I decided the time had come to commit this experience into the book I had been planning and I finally left for Italy to edit it.
All images © Panos Kefalos
Book By Panos Kefalos