Saturday, May 20, 2023

From the Kodachrome Archives: Athens and Central Greece in 1951


My father moved to Athens, Greece in February 1951. He had just returned to USA from an overseas position in the Pacific, spent a week job-hunting in New York City and was offered this posting. He visited relatives in Boston and Orlando, bought a few supplies and clothes, boarded Pan Am, and left for Greece. He traveled light and efficiently (unlike his son).

Greece must have seemed exotic. But he had read classical literature, and Greek architectural features were popular in early 20th century American buildings. On weekends, he had time to explore. He sometimes had access to the company car and by mid-year, bought a new Chevrolet. 

He and other American engineers lived in hotels for a few months and then found apartments. He co-rented a flat near Kolonaki Square with two other Americans within easy walking distance to the office on Merlin Street. The flat came with a man-servant who did laundry and cooking. 

Here are some examples from approximately 1951 and 1952 (plus one from 1957). My dad did not label his slides, so I am guessing the dates based on his diaries. For some frames, I know the exact date because he wrote a detail like "went to the market with two cameras." At that time, Kodak did not print the processing date on the cardboard slide mount. He used his 1949 Leica IIIC camera with its 5cm ƒ/2 Summitar lens (both of which I still use 70 years later). 


Hadrian's Arch and the Acropolis
East side of the Parthenon. 
The Parthenon (built 447 to 432 BC).  

I remember when you could walk all over the Acropolis site and climb up into the massive temple. Today, visitors must walk on wooden boardwalks. The millions of tourists were literally wearing out the stone. 

Think of the awesome passage of history during which this temple has stood. Aristotle may have walked among the columns. More recent visitors have included Lord Byron, Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Princess Elizabeth, Agatha Christie, Vladimir Putin, Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret Thatcher, Barack Obama, and Bill Clinton. 

Checking out the Cariadids on the Maiden Porch of the Erechtheion.

As of 1957, these Cariadids were originals. But in subsequent decades, air pollution disfigured them and Greek authorities removed for safe-keeping, They are now in the Acropolis Museum. In their place are replicas based on an example in the British Museum. The one in London, taken to Britain by Lord Elgin, had been preserved indoors are was largely intact. 

Temple of Olympian Zeus (construction 6th century BC to 2nd century AD)

This scene has not changed much over the decades. There may be some tall building in the background now.

1994 view of the Acropolis and Phaleron Bay from Lycavitos mountain (Kodachrome 25, Leica M3 camera, 135mm Tele-Elmar lens)

This is a modern view of the Acropolis taken at dusk. 

Central Greece

According to my dad's diary, this was a 1951 4-door Chevrolet Sedan Skyline Deluxe. He ordered it from a Chevrolet dealer in Athens but paid by sending a check to General Motors in USA. It cost $1629 plus some extra for hubcaps and a spare tire. A ship delivered it, along with cars that other American engineers had ordered, to Piraeus. He got it out of customs on August 6, 1951.

I vaguely remember this Chevrolet. I used to stand up in the back (this was the era before we worried about car safety). I recall him telling me that in the early 1950s, only diplomats and Americans could afford to own cars. Recall, Greece was very poor because it had been looted by the Nazis during World War II and then suffered three years of brutal civil war. An automobile was a luxury item. Petrol was a luxury.

Somewhere in central Greece near Volos

Once, tourists dressed properly. Today, Americans look like homeless people.

View of Volos looking west


Plateîa with Platanos trees, Zagora, Greece

Zagora is a cheerful mountain town perched on the Pelion Peninsula facing east towards the Aegean Sea. My grandfather's family came from Zagora, and the municipal office has records dating to the late-1800s. 

Lady of the Lake (stream), near Zagora, Pelion, Greece

Closing notes

Consider what an amazing amount of information is stored in these 70-year-old slides. And it is accessible! All you need to do is look at the slide with a magnifier. It is a time machine into the past. As long as the slides are not damaged by fire, flood, or fungus, some sort of optical device, like a camera with a macro lens, will be able to retrieve this image data for decades to come. Will our hard drives loaded with digital jpeg files be readable in 70 years? Will people look at a billion cell phone dump Instagram uploads on the "cloud" in 70 years? 

In those days, it was a challenge to get the Kodachrome processed. In that era, Kodak included processing with the purchase of the film. I remember my dad  telling me that he would give an exposed roll to an American who was returning to USA. The colleague would send the film to Kodak when he was back in USA. Then he would take the slides back to Greece or give the package to another American heading to Athens. He would also deliver fresh rolls of film. Turnaround must have been months. This would certainly not suit the modern Instagram generation. Greece is dry, which helped preserve these slides and retard growth of fungus.

I scanned these Kodachrome slides with a Plustek 7600i film scanner operated by SilverFast software. Most frames were almost perfect with the Auto CCR setting. On a few frames, I used the neutral grey dropper to correct the color. Afterwards, on some frames, I cleaned lint and splotches with the heal tool in Photoshop CS5. I resized for web display with XnViewMP. Please click any frame to see it magnified.


Mike said...

Great shots. Nice to see the Parthenon without all the scaffolding.
It does seem strange now to think that your father could continue to make photographs knowing he would not see the results for months. said...

Yes indeed about the turnaround time for Kodachromes. If you wanted instant gratification, you would need to use black and white film and get a local shop to develop it. I think all my baby pictures were done that way; the modest little prints still look untouched by the decades.

Suzassippi said...

Beautiful pictures. August 6, 1951 I was 1 year old.