Beyond the Classical Landscape: Photographs of Rural Greece from the SPHS Image Collection

Beyond the Classical Landscape: Photographs of Rural Greece from the SPHS Image Collection

Since the earliest days of modern travel to Greece, landscape and the rural environment have been an object of fascination among foreign visitors. A preoccupation with ancient ‘topography’ and ‘picturesque’ views are familiar tropes in images produced by travellers, and the nostalgic sense that rural Greece offers an idyllic contrast to urban modernity remains pervasive in tourist media today. While scholars have noted these tropes in early photographs of Greece, the first photographers generally prioritised depicting antiquities rather than landscape in its own right. This situation began to change in the late 1880s with the invention of the portable kodak camera; Aliki Tsirgialou, among others, has argued that a new generation of amateur photographers began to challenge established ‘iconographic patterns’, though many such images remain little known in ‘institutional archives.’ Thanks to extensive digitisation by the BSA, the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies’ Image Archive offers a good way to explore the representation of landscapes, not least because it was created during a period around the turn of the twentieth century when British travellers were becoming increasingly interested in post-antique and contemporary Greek culture. In the first instance, this paper explores to what extent these images depart from a concern with ancient topography and the ‘iconographic patterns’ of picturesque landscape views which predate photography. Secondly, it draws on contemporary writing about landscapes and the environment to understand the appeal of images which eschew depictions of ruins beyond the broad label of ‘rural nostalgia.’