To celebrate summer, in the course of the following months I will be collaborating with various photographers and photography collectors to bring you exclusive stories from behind the lens. Whether travel photography or pictures from the movie sets, One Day That Summer is an invitation to discovery, to open your mind and eyes, to live life like you stole it.
Live simply. Be present. See the beauty in the everyday. Embrace the need to stand still. Find the freedom to move forward with your creativity. Australian author, photographer and designer Claire Lloyd seems to have found all these answers when she followed on a chance encounter and listened to her heart and moved to a small village on the Greek island of Lesvos. In her book, My Greek Island Home, Claire paints a very honest, heartfelt, authentic image of village life in Greece, the village that changed her life. It’s a life that demonstrates a fullness of simplicity and wholesome endeavors. It’s the Greece I have come to love throughout my visits there. As for her photography, the best way I can describe it is that it has soul. Claire has an eye for beauty and a visual curiosity for all things natural, which I believe comes from her love of the ordinary in the everyday and from having found her place to be.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Claire Lloyd to dig deeper behind her island life and the place that stole her heart, and to find out the story behind one of her photographs that not only vividly reminds me of the special beauty of Greece, but which has ignited a curiosity in me ever since I first came across it, years ago.
“I don’t carry my camera with me wherever I go.
I am an observer, it’s something I enjoy. I have to feel
the need to photograph and my head must be clear.
When I photograph, I am focused, nothing can stop me.
I work fast and I see many opportunities
to capture beautiful images.”
What is the story behind this photo?
This is an extract from my book, My Greek Island Home, about the picture: “We have begun to expect the unexpected on these excursions. Recently I came around a bend in the road to find an old chair hanging high in one of the acorn trees. I really could not understand why. It looked rather good, as if it had been placed there for a magazine shoot – not unlike something I would have set up in the past. The angle I approached it from was stunning: a dirt road led towards the tree and beyond it in the distance the countryside rolled down to the deep blue water, a brilliant azure sky overhead. It took me several days to find out why the chair was there. Gregory, a man who has recently come back to the village after living for most of his life in South Africa, told me that he kept the chair in the tree as it was a beautiful place to stop and enjoy the view. He has also made a wooden bird, which he has placed on top of the tree to show the direction of the wind. The bird is painted white; it has been crudely cut out and wide brushstrokes of red and blue stretch horizontally along its wings, resembling feathers. A handmade wooden propeller turns it with the wind, and it is attached to the tree by a length of what looks like wooden broom handle, painted blue. It is so charming and a little like outsider art.”
What inspired you to move to Lesvos?
I was inspired by my amazing homeopath and friend, Victoria Young. I went into her London clinic in May 2005 and told her I was feeling a need to reignite my creativity and to ground myself. Immediately she held up her mobile phone and on it was a photograph of a walnut tree next to a beautiful traditional stone house under piercing blue skies. The image stopped me in my tracks. She said to me ‘perhaps this could be your remedy’. She also said that when I saw the image my face completely changed. Within a week, I was on the island and, as soon as my feet hit the ground, I felt a deep connection to the beautiful Island of Lesvos.
In what ways has Greece changed your life and lifestyle? Would you do it all over again?
My life is now much quieter, I am more connected to nature. I have learnt to slow down and appreciate the simplest things life offers. Living in a village has made me appreciate the importance of community. It’s fantastic to be able to breath fresh, clean air, witness the changing seasons, listen to bird song day and night, and eat seasonal fruit and vegetables.
I would do it all over and over and over again.
You said Lesvos reconnected you with nature. You are an Australian who moved to London, and then to Lesvos, back to nature. Can an Australian – one could say that nature is in your DNA – ever adapt to a very urban existence? Where have you felt most at home? Do you think it’s important to feel that you belong to one particular place?
For me, I feel at home pretty much wherever I am. I love the difference between places because it’s exciting and stimulating. I am fortunate to have homes in 3 countries and I don’t rule out expanding on that. I love creating nurturing living spaces, I do this wherever I go. Nature is hugely important to me, maybe because of my Australian roots, I incorporate it in my life wherever I am. I think it’s up to the individual to decide where they feel they belong; it does not have to be one place, the most important thing is recognising the feeling of belonging somewhere and go with it. Even if it’s impossible to be in that special place all the time, it’s good for the soul to know it’s there and tap into it whenever you can.
What are the lows and challenges of living on an island? Could you tell me one unexpected thing (good or bad) about this kind of lifestyle that not many people know? Is there anything that completely takes your friends by surprise when they visit?
I think, for me, the biggest challenge is the winter weather, the winters can be harsh. Last winter it got down to -12 in our village, but that is unusual. During the winter, life becomes more insular. You don’t see many people around the village, they are hidden behind closed shutters. You know they are there because there is the smell of log burning fires wafting through the village. We had the mad idea that Greek Islands were always warm. Luckily, someone put us straight and we had central heating installed. We also have a couple of wood burning stoves. I am very lucky to head south for the winter to Sydney. So, for me, almost all year round is summer.
My friends are always surprised by the generosity of the Greek people, the authenticity and pure beauty of the island. Lesvos is the third largest Greek island, so the landscape differs vastly from one part to another. My mum and dad came from Australia to stay for a month recently, they have been five times now. At 6am on our way to the airport for their flight home my mum turned to me and said, “you live in paradise”. My response was “I certainly do”.
How has living on the island inspired you creatively?
It inspired me to photograph and write My Greek Island Home, which was huge. My strength is visual and I was never confident with my writing, but being able to describe what I was experiencing in everyday life on the island really helped me gain more confidence with my writing. It is such a pleasure and a privilege living in the village and being part of its community and capturing its authenticity.
Living here has given me space to contemplate and to decide how I move forward with my creativity. It has also started me painting again, although I’m going slowly with that.
Your photographs always seem to capture the small pleasures of life, the beauty of the everyday, moments you simply witness rather than prepare for, but you just happen to have the camera ready. Do you always have a camera at hand? Is it a challenge for a photographer to simply witness a moment without taking any picture?
I don’t carry my camera with me wherever I go. I am an observer, it’s something I enjoy. I have to feel the need to photograph and my head must be clear. When I photograph, I am focused, nothing can stop me. I work fast and I see many opportunities to capture beautiful images. I love making things beautiful, it’s a very natural thing, for me it’s instinctive. The simplest things for me are the very best.
What do you never get tired of photographing in Greece?
I am naturally drawn to detail, so I never tire of shooting beautiful details.
What is the most important lesson that Greece has taught you?
It has taught me to enjoy every day because it’s unique. It’s taught me it’s ok just to sit and be present like a cat. It has also taught me that nothing is ever straightforward.
You paint a very honest, heartfelt, real image of village life in Greece in your book, My Greek Island Home, very different from the Greek island holiday destination we have all become too familiar with. I myself look for the more secluded locations whenever I go to Greece, because I like to get a grip of the authentic life in the places I visit. What destination do you think best encompasses the beauty and authenticity of Greece?
Lesvos, the place that stole my heart.