Katerina Angelopoulou’s harrowing account of Greece’s deadliest fire

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This article is published in the latest issue associated with British Journal of Photography magazine, Activism & Demonstration, delivered direct to you having an 1854 Membership.

When the catastrophic blaze tore through the seaside area of Attica, the younger mother instinctively began to document the experience, which she right now self-published in a photobook

Before you see a wildfire, heard it, says Katerina Angelopoulou. “No one can tell you except if they have been in one, ” the particular Greek photographer explains. “It is a sound that can bother you. What overwhelms a person is the force. ”

On 23 July 2018, in Mati, a seaside satellite television town 30 kilometres east of Athens in the region of Attica, the deadliest wildfire in Greek history took hold. Since childhood, Angelopoulou has spent summers in the region, where the girl parents still live – “and ultimately the only place I could identify as home in my ever-transient existence, ” she says.  

During the time, she was living in New York City and had arrived in Greece 2 days earlier with her child. She remembers playing with the girl three-year-old and reconnecting with her ageing parents in the quiet peace of the town before hearing the fire charge towards them within the brow of the surrounding hillsides. “The fire rushed from the hilltops, jumping over the pinus radiata trees, and to the edge from the sea in less than an hour . 5, ” says Angelopoulou. Temps rose quickly and solid wind gusts of up to 124km/hour transferred the fire remorselessly forwards. “It swallowed everything in the passage. ”

© Katerina Angelopoulou.

© Katerina Angelopoulou.

Angelopoulou reflects on the personal and shared trauma to be suddenly caught in such a Dante-esque nightmare in her task The Sound of the Seen . She has self-published the work as a book after completing her MA inside documentary photography from London College of Communication inside June. The book furthermore reflects on photography’s ability to act as evidence, reconstructing in forensic detail how the residents of Attica were unsuccessful by the Greek state in the response to the fire, which killed 103 people plus destroyed over 4000 homes. The publication comprises a combination of snatched mobile shots Angelopoulou took instinctively as the wildfire approached, as well as images she made when returning to Attica after the fire had lastly burnt itself out, recording the gutted homes, withered trees and charred devastation that remained.

Angelopoulou offers written powerfully about the girl experiences of protecting her family during the fire, some of these memories appearing in the photobook. “There is thick dark smog, the crackling associated with trees going up in fire and the sound of details blowing up, ” the girl writes. “‘We should go swimming, ’ says my mom. The only thought that keeps circling in my head is, who all – my mother, that is using a walking stick and can’t breathe, or our three-year-old – will I need to let drown first? Who else do I choose to give up on first? I am not leaving her again. I just say, ’No – we are not going to swim’. ”

© Katerina Angelopoulou.

© Katerina Angelopoulou.

The final chapter is targeted on the failings of the Ancient greek fire department, which failed to adequately respond to the problem and its immediate aftermath. “People were abandoned, ” the girl writes. It includes disjointed textual accounts of the fire, written by Angelopoulou herself and other survivors, which are intertwined with data and descriptions of the blaze from the State Investigation Record. These were eventually compiled to consider the Greek fire support to court for dereliction of duty.

The guide is designed to “bear witness in order to one’s own experience, ” says Angelopoulou. “The collective experience; the collapse of the state’s mechanisms, and the common experience of climate disasters. ” 

Tom Seymour

Tom Seymour is a Correspondent for The Art Newspaper plus an Associate Lecturer at Greater london College of Communication. His words have been published in The Guardian, The Observer, The newest York Times, Financial Moments, Wallpaper*, BBC, The Telegraph, CNN, Independent, Foam, New Statesman, Wired, Vice as well as the Royal Photographic Society Publication, for whom he gained Writer of the Year on the PPA Awards 2020.

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