Donkey Handler, Santorini—2006

The Story Behind the Photograph...

This is part of series I titled, “The Human Race at Work.” I am perpetually intrigued with the many ways we spend our lives. This is a companion piece to another series I’m also working on titled, “The Daily Commute.” It’s all part of the same gestalt… both series are a work-in-progress and both are part of my attempt to understand the current state of the human condition.

I took this picture on the Greek isle of Santorini. Santorini is a crescent shaped volcanic island in the Mediterranean Sea. Inside the center of the crescent, where the sea laps up against the sheer rock walls that help make Santorini so famous, that’s where the center of the volcano once was. That volcano last erupted in 1,650 BC. Today, all that the remains above sea level is the outer rim of the volcano – and that’s where the famous white and blue houses and churches live.

To get to the top of Santorini means scaling 1,000 vertical feet of sheer rock face. There are three ways to do this. The easiest being to take the tram. The next easiest is probably walking up the switchback trail. And perhaps the most treacherous is to ride atop one of the many donkeys that you can mount about as easily as climbing into a cab in midtown New York.

I spent several days in Santorini back in the Fall of 2006… and in between photographing the architecture and landscape, I looked to find images that would convey the tempo of the island, the life that the locals lead when the tourists aren’t looking.

Technically, this image presented the challenge of shooting into the shade, especially since light dappled in from the left and from above. But I was undeterred. Most of the donkey handlers I saw were hard at work… they were hawking their rides or loading tourists onto their mules. There were plenty of opportunities to photograph them in action.

This scene struck a different chord and that’s why I wanted to capture it. To this day, this image intrigues me. It’s an image that draws me in and invites me to imagine the subject’s day-to-day life. Real or imagined, I feel a compelling level of understanding about this man. And, at some level, I can easily identify with this moment of rest.

I’ll add that I tend to appreciate images where the subject and the camera are connecting, images that include eye contact with the lens and subsequently with us, the audience. I think one of the reasons I am so intrigued with this particular image is that it runs completely counter to this and the image still works, still leaps off the page and grabs my attention and my imagination.

Finally, as it relates to the varied lives we all lead and my series “the Human Race at Work” – in many ways, this image tells me a lot more about this person’s day than another image, not shown, of a man leading a donkey and a tourist down Santorini’s famous stepped trail. The image not shown would be literal… this image, on the other hand, invites us to engage and fill in the gaps with our imagination. Perhaps that’s why I can look at this image every day and never get tired of it.



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