By Maro Vasiliadou
One of the Benaki Museum’s last exhibitions launched in 2018 offers visitors to its Ghika Gallery, near Syntagma Square, the chance to travel back to that same central Athens plaza 114 years ago.
Locals are likely to often experience a sense of deja vu in the show, with plenty of familiar scenes, as well as others that evoke wonder at how much they’ve changed.
In this sense, the exhibition “Alexander Lamont Henderson: 1904 Holiday Snaps” – which presents images captured by the British photographer during a visit to Greece – is important, as it constitutes a rare archive, a treasure for anyone interested in the city’s history, and in photography.
Alexander Lamont Henderson (1838-1907) spent several months in Greece at the start of 1904. He was on holiday after retiring as royal photographer, a title he had been awarded by Queen Victoria. What he saw was a young capital in the process of evolving and in his snapshots we see not just the hand of a seasoned and skilled photographer, but also the casual glance of the traveler.
Henderson did not train his lens on the usual stereotypical images of that time, he did not capture the city’s archaeological monuments and sites. Apart from a set of panoramic shots of Athens where we can see its first neoclassical buildings all clean and new, the British photographer focused on documenting the city’s cosmopolitan character and life in the street. He trained his lens on well-dressed ladies strolling along the beautiful Belle Epoque promenade at Neo Faliro on the southern coast, and on working-class peddlers, shoeshiners and acrobats in Syntagma Square.
Enjoying access to the higher echelons of society, thanks to his royal association, Henderson was able to take some exceptionally interesting photographs of the royal palace in Athens – the present-day House of Parliament – and that of Tatoi, north of the capital. These are the first of their kind depicting the inner sanctums of the royal residences – their decor, murals and furnishings – and were taken before the palace at Tatoi was ravaged by fire in 1909.
A part of Henderson’s archive was destroyed in World War II, but thankfully his son-in-law was able to salvage around 4,000 snaps taken during the photographer’s vacations in his final years. Among these were the 86 glass plates from Greece, which are now part of the Benaki archive.
This article was first published on ekathimerini.com.