Up Close and Personal: Athens' Afghan People

Panos Kefalos’ visceral images offer a glimpse into the lives of the Afghan men, women, and children who call Greece home.

© Panos Kefalos, from the series, saints

“It is an inner process,” says photographer Panos Kefalos of what taking photographs means to him. “Every picture is a projection of how I feel. Making pictures is like dissecting myself. It all comes from my need for expression. I love photography because it helps me plunge deeper into the truth. Making pictures is a form of energy.”

Energy is what drives saints, Kefalos’ first completed body of work on which he worked for three years. Fabrica published the work in July 2016. Shot in his home city of Athens, the project follows the lives of Afghan children (and others) as they play, dream, and interact with a volatile adult world. War and violence are never far away, and they have no choice but to endure inescapable hardship as a result of poverty.

© Panos Kefalos, from the series, saints

“As soon as I reached Victoria Square in downtown Athens […] I was drawn to the games the children were playing,” says Kefalos. “That was the spark that triggered a flow of images and memories from my own past. I felt an inner urge, an impulse to delve deeper into that emotion.”

The images he took - gritty, raw, and rendered in high contrast black and white - feel urgent and visceral. Anything and everything that passes Kefalos’ lens seems to morph into something unreal, and sinister, even. “What I'm looking for in my approach is to be as free and spontaneous as I can be,” says the 27-year-old. “I like the immediacy of black and white high contrast photography. It creates a parallel universe where everything - people, trees, buildings, animals, objects, and the city itself - takes on a different shape. The textures and repeated motifs in saints generate an air of eeriness and alienation around the subjects - a mood that makes them speak straight to my soul.”

© Panos Kefalos, from the series, saints

As much as the series is a reflection of what Kefalos witnessed, it is also a personal journey, he says, which led him back into his own childhood. “I wanted to explore the relationship that we had - myself and the people I photographed - as well as what made me turn to them in order to find the images I was looking for,” he explains. “I realised we shared many common feelings, familiar situations, and the vague sensation of having been left with a heavy burden to carry. The kids added a different tone: they couldn't hide anything. Expressing themselves was something that came naturally to them. They showed unique instinct and intuition, and having that is a true gift.”

The project coincided with a period of personal growth Kefalos explains, in which he questioned himself, and feelings of fear and guilt crept in. “I wanted to relive a past event buried deep in my memory and subconscious… Even from the most difficult situation, you can squeeze out some life.”

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Panos Kefalos was born in Athens in 1990 and works as a staff photographer at Vice Greece.

Gemma Padley is a freelance writer and editor on photography, based in the UK.

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