George Ventouris, a professional photographer and permanent resident of Santorini on why the perfect sunset doesn’t actually exist.
One year I searched for the ideal sunset. Over six months, I saw 100 sunsets from Imerovigli only to discover that… the perfect sunset doesn’t exist. I waited to see something that would enchant me more than the previous time, but every one is different. To know what sort of sunset you’ll see on Santorini, you need to check the weather forecast for the Peloponnese in the west.
I photograph all over Greece, focusing over the last 9 years on Santorini where I live permanently. At the ‘golden hour’ I have the most work. For an hour before the sunset, when the light softens, and an hour afterwards when the sky fills with the ‘wake’ of this spectacle, there is no chance that I will answer my phone.
You don’t get used to this view. The caldera still fills me with awe. To appreciate its particular architecture which has been adapted to the volcanic landscape, all you have to do is descend all those steps and think about what your life would be like if you lived there down below. How easy would it be to go shopping or to take out your trash? Then you will understand how much effort is required to build a chapel on the cliffside. The only way to grasp the idea when living in the city is to stop using the elevator for a week.
But I don’t want to complain. Here I wake up and see a small hill that is starting to turn green and if I climb it, in a minute and a half I can see what is happening in the caldera. There are spots where you can meditate. If you descend, say, a cliff far from the buildings in Imerovigli, at the view of the boundless sea you realize just how small you are in the world.
In the winter, as soon as I’ve had a coffee I go out and I’ll greet everyone from hotel employees to farmers working in the vineyards. This is when one can see a less “polished” side of the island – sometimes literally. The winds that blow continuously bring fine dirt and dust from the volcano which covers the roofs and courtyards. The colors are also very different. It is fantastic when a few sunbeams break through a cloud-filled, leaden sky and light up the volcano and Skaros; or to be at Profitis Ilias, on one of the highest points in Imerovigli at night with a full moon.
With the start of the tourism season, in March, the polishing begins. It is an interesting period anthropologically. You meet people from all over the world as if you were in New York. The landmarks that my newlywed clients most often ask about are the blue church domes, the white streets of Oia, the beach of Vlychada with its black sand, the alleys of Fira and Imerovigli with a view of Skaros.
You can’t really get away from the cliches, the couples come for the things that they have seen. I don’t criticize the picturesque, I very much appreciate people who have managed to create a success out of nothing: the small blue table with two chairs by the Aegean; whoever did that first had a very good eye. One of the new cliches in photography is the infinity pool in front of the sea.
Whoever comes to Santorini for the first time cannot imagine that the hardest thing is to find space when the sun is setting to photograph the landscape. That’s why wedding venues have been created which offer a courtyard that can fit up to 50 people. An average wedding here has relatively few guests, they could be just 4-5 people, because they are people who may have come from the other end of the world.
The chaos of phones and cameras during the sunset hasn’t abated, nor is it likely to. But it is interesting, in and of itself, to observe the relationship people have with photography. The Chinese, for example, go everywhere with a camera hanging around their necks. I understand them. Santorini is for them the trip of a lifetime, they only come once. Imagine ourselves at the Great Wall of China!
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