The photo documentary ‘LUPIMARIS, Wolves of the Sea’ began in 2010 with an art project on Paros, a small Greek Island. I had always been fascinated by the islanders’ traditional, wooden Greek fishing boats, or Kaïkis, and I wanted to photograph them from a new perspective.
In 2013 I returned Paros again and realized that half of the boats I had photographed in 2010 did not exist anymore. They had all been destroyed, abandoned, or sold to tourists. The few boats that are left today will soon be gone too, not only on Paros, but across all of the Greek islands. None of today’s younger generation are interested in becoming fishermen, and the traditional Greek fishing craft, a millennia-old practice, is dying.
During October of 2014 I traveled to Paros with a camera crew. We captured the work and life of the fishermen — the ‘wolves of the sea’ — and spent time with the only remaining boat builder on the island. I took thousands of photos, collected hours of interviews, and shared many moments with the old fishermen on Paros, listening to their stories. These fishermen really are the last of their kind. They are threatened with extinction.
I hope that LUPIMARIS will create a lasting memory of the Greek fishermen and their traditional colourful wooden boats, the Kaïkis, and help to preserve this history and stories for future generations.
In this story I will share some of the images that capture the lifestyle, the traditions, the adventures, and the endangered future of these last Wolves of the Sea. You can explore the full book at www.lupimaris.com.
Greek fishermen have a special relationship with their boats, and they are traditionally often given the name of their wife or daughter. A logical consequence, because the Greek word for boat, βάρκα, is female. It is also common to give the name of a saint. These names have an extraordinary importance for the fishermen, and reflect a special relationship with their spiritual namesakes, or honour the memory of an important person.
MYTHS, LEGENDS, STORIES, LIES
The life of Greek fishermen is full of fantasy. They spend days, weeks, or even months with the same visual and auditory impressions in permanent solitude on the seas. This stimulates the imagination. The myths and legends they tell develop on one hand from their need to come to terms with dramatic and traumatic experiences at sea, while on the other hand it is often an attempt to explain or idealize their intimate relationship with nature.
It is common for the fishermen to describe their fellow fishermen as untrustworthy daydreamers or even liars. The results are usually funny or naughty defamatory nicknames, but are sometimes meant more unkindly. Nevertheless, there is a strong code of honour. Older fishermen who have more experience are respected and their stories will not be questioned.
FAITH & SUPERSTITION
No matter which religion or which country, fishing and Faith have always been close-knit. Greece is no exception, and rumour says that the islanders are generally more religious than their fellow residents on the mainland. The majority of fishermen from Paros are religious and this is reflected in the plethora of icons and crosses found on their fishing boats. Icons of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors, and Saint Andrew, the patron saint of fishermen, can be seen on many boats.
The most impressive monument to their faith can be found at the entrance to the Bay of Paroikia, where the fishermen of Paros built the church of Aghios Fokas. In addition to faith, superstition also plays a big role in their day-to-day lives. Certain events are interpreted as good or bad omens for a trip out to sea and will often influence the decisions of the fishermen.
There are enormous problems with dolphins, seals and migrant fish. Dolphins and seals have always existed here, but due to the over-fishing of the Aegean Sea they often tear fish from the nets and damage the nets or themselves, so that the fishermen not only lose their catch but also have additional expenses such as laborious net-repairs that must be made.
In the past fishermen hunted the animals with guns or dynamite. Today, this practice has been discontinued due to the efforts of environmental and animal welfare groups, so that the populations have recovered and even more dolphins and seals will hunt for prey in the fishermen’s nets.
Another threat are migrant fish species such as the silver-cheeked toadfish (lagocephalus sceleratus) which came into the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal. This particular fish is toxic and strong enough to damage the nets. Since it has no natural enemies, it can multiply unchecked — at a great cost to the local fish population and fishermen.
Greece has the largest number of fishing boats in the EU — mainly due to the numerous individual fishermen. However, by European standards, the catches they make on each trip to sea are rather low.
The collective fishing fleet of the EU member countries is too simply large compared to the fish available to be caught in European waters and their capacity exceeds a number that would result in a sustainable maintenance of resources. One of the central elements of the Common Fisheries Policy was the reduction and rejuvenation of the fleet.
The self disarmament of national fleets was a key element of the European fisheries policy. The EU developed programmes and put money at their disposal. The precise implementation was determined by each country. The Greek Government developed incentives for handing over fishing licenses (mainly for amateur fishing) and at the same time fishermen had to destroy their boats. As a result, thousands of boats have been destroyed since the 1990s, mainly the traditional wooden boats owned by individual fishermen.
In reality, what all fishermen want instead is the maintenance of these boats. There were at times programs aimed at the preservation of selected boats (for example, special boats with a socio-historical value) but the results were rather sobering and there was no significant implementation of these projects. Instead of destroying the boats they could also have been converted for tourism purposes, but this practice too was hardly implemented.
The Greek reality, and the Greek bureaucracy, has led to the destruction of many traditional wooden boats and to a part of national identity.
An interview with Petros Aliprantis, the owner of the boatyard Naoussa.
“I have built seventy-eight boats. These are all my boats. Although I have sold them, I still call them my boats because I built them. They are all in the Cyclades, some in Crete. I do not use plans, it’s all in my head. I learned the craft from my father and my grandfather. There are no offices and no ties. If you want to make a living out of it, you have to work day and night.
But there is no interest in such boats anymore. This has something to do with the crisis, but I have seen it coming for some time that we will not survive much longer. Most people buy plastic boats. Besides that, there are no young people interested in learning this craft.
It’s hard work, without rosy perspectives and without support from the state. When I retire, it’s over with the shipyard.
There are only a few of us left, and also only a few wooden boats.
Now come the plastic boats.”
Christian's great passion is to tell stories photographically reinterpreted. “LUPIMARIS, Wolves of the Sea” is one such photo project, and you can learn more at www.lupimaris.com