The same Casso festival in the 60’s and today through the lens of Robert McCabe

The tireless photographer returned 57 years later for the presentation of his book “Letter from Casso 1965” published by Pataki.

Since 1954, when he first traveled to Kasos with the 38-meter motorship, “Dodekanisos”, in a boat with his brother, Charles and their company, the American photographer, Robert McCabe probably understood well how inaccessible and isolated it is (as if in his own world) is Kasos, this small island in the southeast Aegean, 52 nautical miles from Rhodes and 208 from Athens.

“At least I knew exactly where Kasos was and how difficult it was to reach,” he writes in the foreword to his book “Letter from Kasos 1965” in texts by N. Mastropoulos and research by M. Fragoulis Kedros (Pataki publications / Abbeville Press ) remembering that first trip to Kasos with the historic ship that had been sunk by allied bombers in Piraeus, had been raised, put into service as a transport and passenger only to be sunk again a few years after that dramatic trip.

The photographs in the book, however (except for one) come from McCabe’s second trip to Kasos, in 1965, where he photographed the island as an invitee of Ilias Kouloukountis. Photos that came out of the drawer about 40 years later to form the body of the book that was presented this summer in the gardens of the Gennadei Library and also on the island of Kasos this summer.

The portrait of the Kasiotian way of life, therefore, of the landscapes and the faces, is back where it started. The presentation of the special album took place at the Primary School in Fry (presented by Robert McCabe, Nikos G. Mastropavlos, Marilene Fragouli Kedros, Ann McCabe and Ilias Mastropavlos), while a few days later the well-known photographer had the opportunity to visit the August 15th festival on the island. And to photograph the same celebration in the same place – 57 years later… The reason for a true pilgrimage of the Kasiotes, a baptism with the lute of Mina of Laka, the violin of Papa of Deli, the leader of the feast, Savvas Perselis, one of the wonders of the South Aegean. A festival that continues to take place in the courtyard of Pera Panagia.

The Festival of the Fifteenth of August of Kasos in the courtyard of Pera Panagia (2022).
– You returned to Kasos after so many years since your last visit, and having written a book about the island. What are your feelings now – compared to your feelings then?
There are many things that are the same. For example, the feeling of isolation from the rest of Greece remains. There is no parade of ships and yachts in these waters, unlike so many other islands. And there were very few foreign tourists. At the spectacular Panigiri of August 15th there were no random tourists, only the Kasiotians of the diaspora with their families and a French family who became Kasiotian through a marriage. I wonder how many other places in Greece do you find this kind of devotion to the special homeland that Kasiotes from all over the world show every August 15th. There are now, as then, many abandoned houses in Kasos. We walked into one and it was like the owner would be back any minute. But (actually) it’s been abandoned for years. A riveting new look, however, is the car crowd. On my first visit to Kasos there was one car – a taxi. Today there are hundreds of cars but no taxis. The Kasiotian hospitality remains as enthusiastic as I remember it.

Snapshots from the same 15th of August festival in Kasos in 1965 and 2022.

– Are the 2022 photos from the celebrations for the same August 15th festival as in 1965?
Yes. I photographed the same festival, on the same day, in the same church – but 57 years later.
– What inspired you to capture mainly women’s dresses?
I said to myself, something has really changed here and I’m sure if an expert sees these pictures they will probably be able to tell us in the slick language of fashion exactly what’s going on.

The Festival of the Fifteenth of August of Kasos in the courtyard of Pera Panagia (2022).
– You are certainly not a fashion editor, but what would you have to point out about the dress code of then and now at the Kasos Festival?

It’s a bit difficult on the color dimension since I used black and white film on the 1965 Panigiri. But I would notice that there was a similarity in style back then—long dresses but not too long with modesty in every seam. This year everything was going! There were short dresses, even shorts. There were huge differences in styles. The colors and designs of the fabrics showed huge variations. But an expert needs to shed light on this. Perhaps these styles illuminate and reflect profound changes in the role of women in the remote Greek islands.
– What about the dress code for men? From jacket and tie to sheer casualness?
Great informality this year. In 1965, lots of jackets and ties – in the heat of the Fifteenth of August. Again: Everything was going. I remember asking Mr. Koulokundis in 1965 why he was wearing a jacket and tie on the old boat we were on. Answer: You gain more respect.
– You have traveled and visited so many Greek islands. What is the most special element that you experienced in the case of Casso?
It is beautiful to be on a Greek island that is not overrun by tourists, while the natives are so passionate in the way they love this place.

The comment of Elise Keys, fashion features director of Vogue Greece
The tireless lens of Robert McCabe returns to the Kasiotiko festival to meet the faces of the celebration. If in the past the festival was a place for many new acquaintances and prying eyes, today it brings together generations who innocently celebrate their tradition. And perhaps this is reflected in the dress codes of yesterday and now. The tight bun, the clean silhouette that hugs the female body, the men’s suit and the “luxury” children’s dresses of the 60s refer to a day, a night when we “wear our best”. Today, when the stylistic codes are broken, a pair of jeans joins a relaxed, resort dress and an unruly long hair to lead, together, the dance on the festive dance floor.
R. McCabe, “Letter from Casso 1965” in texts by N. Mastropoulos and research by M. Fragoulis Kedros (Patakis / Abbeville Press)


The article is in Greek

Tags: Casso festival #60s today lens Robert McCabe

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