Photo Essay: Varvakios Agora, Athens

By Easton Kawawaki

After exiting the downtown metro stop, walk into the heart of Athens until you arrive at Varvakios Agora: the city’s central market. Your vision is painted by the varying displays of fruits, nuts, fresh olives, and spices. Rows upon rows of lamb carcasses and slabs of meat hang above you. As you pass between the fish stalls, the scent of the day’s catch tugs at your nose. Silver sardines and fresh octopus glisten on beds of ice. Varvakios Agora arrests your senses until you are both overwhelmed and delighted.

Since 1886, when the central market’s construction was completed, Athenians have flooded into its narrow alleys to gather their daily supplies. Vendors stand proudly next to the products they worked hard to grow, catch, butcher, and prepare. The food speaks for itself, but what narratives can these faces tell?

It is this story that peaked my interest. How often do we gaze up to see the faces behind a product? As I took these photos, each vendor offered a unique expression: friendly, playful, proud, or curious, faces drawn with wrinkles and years of hard work. So often hastened by our own daily tasks and motives, we forget to look up or to recognize where a thank you—that simple acknowledgement of personhood—is deserved.

Nations works to uncover stories of beauty in overlooked places, from war-torn villages in Iraq to a crowded market that smells of animal blood and fish. The market is a stop of the daily commute for many, but a lifetime of work for others. I hope these photos illuminate and honor the individual behind each product.

Follow us through each section of the Varvakios Agora market: produce, olives and nuts, poultry, meat, fish. These images are shot on Portra 160/400 speed film.

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