Christian Stemper has been traveling to the Greek island of Paros for 20 years. And for just as long, he has been fascinated by the old fishermen who drink coffee out on the harbor, waiting for the wind to die down.
“Even before I started photographing the fishermen, they impressed me,” Stemper explains. He wanted to know more about them, but the approach wasn’t easy. “You cannot just go and talk to them, they will turn away. Most of them, they don’t talk much, it’s just them, the sea, their boat, and that’s it.”
So the Austrian photographer started by documenting their boats. He bought a telescopic rod, installed a small camera on it, set the timer to 10 seconds, and swung it over the colorful kaikis docked in the harbors. Only a few pictures came back sharp and centered, but back home at his computer, Stemper saw the potential for a larger project.
Upon return to Paros he bought a jib crane with a 23-foot boom, and then a few months later, he found a truck rigged with a crane that could place him 82 feet above the boat. He was finally happy with the results.
“In 2012, when I returned to Paros again to continue the project, I realized something strange,” Stemper explains. “Half of the boats that I had photographed did not exist anymore.” Faced with the impossible task of competing with industrial fishing boats, many of Paros’ fishermen had turned in their licenses and sold or destroyed their boats in return for compensation from the government. Greece offers 200-3,000 euros depending on the size of the boat, and according to Stemper, about half of Paros’ kaikis disappeared between 2010 and 2014.
Stemper decided to document a lifestyle that was disappearing fast. He approached family members and eventually was introduced to some fishermen. “We needed to find some point of entry, something that they liked to talk about, so we asked them all the same first question: what was your biggest adventure with your boat out on the sea?”
After photographing 99 boats and 31 fishermen, Stemper published the material in his book “Lupimaris.”
If I do not see any sea, I do not live. If I had to stay in Athens, I would not even survive a whole 24 hours. I would go crazy.