Book review: Clay Perry – Vanishing Greece

For years I had been looking for the book Vanishing Greece. I had first seen it in the late 1990s in the small bookshop on the main street of Kardamyli on the Peloponnese. But I was on foot, backpacking through the Taygetos Mountains. I had just taken one last weight-saving measure by leaving my second pair of hiking socks behind and breaking off the handle of my toothbrush. Every gram counted. Buying this heavy photo book during this mountain trip would have been very stupid.

I thought I could still find the book somewhere in the Netherlands after that trip, but I couldn’t. Even years later, via the internet, I couldn’t get hold of the book. It was sold out and second-hand copies could not be found.
Years later, during a holiday on Corfu, the book suddenly appeared, to my surprise and delight, in a small bookshop in Corfu Town. This time I did not travel with a backpack, but with a suitcase and a rental car, so the book was quickly bought.

The real Greece in pictures.

Vanishing Greece is a book with beautiful photographs shot by the British photographer Clay Perry. In the introduction, Perry writes that after eighteen years of traveling through Greece, he felt the need to capture that which seems to disappear: the essential Greece, the real Greece. Atmospheric photos of shepherds with their herd of goats in the mountains. Images of archaeological excavations without fences and crowds of people. Monks on Athos working the land. Many portraits of people in traditional professions: basket weavers, knife sharpeners, farriers and coppersmiths.

The book is not just about pictures. The accompanying lyrics were written by Elizabeth Boleman-Herring, an American journalist, who herself lived in Greece for decades. She has supplemented her own texts with countless quotes from famous writers and poets such as Edward Lear, Nikos Kazantzakis, Lawrence Durrell, Odysseus Elytis, Yannis Ritsos and Anghelos Sikelianos.

In the words of Patrick Leigh Fermor.

To top it all off, none other than Patrick Leigh Fermor wrote the introduction. The writer Fermor, who perhaps knows the disappearing Greece like no other. He first visited the country in the late 1930s, explored the country intensively until he even moved there in the 1960s. He describes his love for this country, and the way the photographer Perry captured it: “His pictures present a Greece of infinite variety, subtlety and depth”.

Fermor writes in an explanation of the title of the book: “As the title warns us, there is a strond hint of sadness in this wonderful sequence. They are a last long look at Greece before many of the things that attach one to the country are swept away.Every spring, as a spiral till the season, the bulldozer and the cement-mixer move into gear as the storks and the swallows and the house martins start building, and every autumn there are fewer eaves and roof-tiles left for next year’s return.”

The book was published in 1991. Perry and Fermor’s disappearing Greece therefore dates from the 1970s and 1980s. That fact could lead to the conclusion that what we see in the photos, more than thirty years after publication, has actually disappeared. However, that is not the case, is my conclusion. Many of the scenes in Perry’s photographs can still be seen when you turn your back on the coastline and get off the beaten track. There is perhaps one exception: the gypsy with the dancing bear has actually disappeared.

More information.

Would you like to have the book yourself? See for example: Vanishing Greece via Amazon

Clay Perry’s photos are also for sale. No less than twelve photos from Vanishing Greece can be ordered as a print, in several sizes. Check out the photographer’s own website: