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Frédéric Boissonnas, The Photographer Who Fell in Love with Greece

Self picture of Swiss photographer Frédéric Boissonnas
Self picture of Swiss photographer Frédéric Boissonnas, 1900. Credit: Wikipedia/Public domain.

The Swiss philhellene Frédéric Boissonnas was the first foreign photographer who took it upon himself to tour Greece to exhaustively photograph the landscapes and people of the country.

Boissonas was born on June 18, 1858 in Geneva, he directed his father’s photographic studio from 1887 to 1920.

His intention to find unusual landscapes made him travel several times to Greece, ended up staying in the country for about thirty years, pursuing his single-minded passion to document the beauty of his beloved country.

His many adventures included the first-known ascent of Mount Olympus in 1913. He visited most regions of the Greek mainland and sailed to many of the country’s islands as well.

The Swiss philhellene Frédéric Boissonnas was the first foreign photographer who extensively toured Greece for about thirty years in order to photograph the landscapes and people of the country.
Kakkalos, Boissonnas and Daniel Baud-Bovy on Mount Olympus. Credit: Wikipedia/Public domain

Boissonnas’ prominent career

Boissonas’ work was key to the evolution of photography in Greece during the 20th century; he managed to attract a great deal of European attention to Greece in the inter-war period by his striking photographs.

The well-deserved recognition and the awards he garnered during his career made him a favorite among European royalty, who flocked to his Paris studio for their portraits. Among his most famous technical achievements ever was his photograph of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe, which he took with a telephoto lens made in England.
It was to be a photo which went around the world.

Greece Through The Mountains and The Valleys

A few years later, Boissonas was commissioned to do something similar in Parnassus, Greece. He and Daniel Baud-Bovy, the dean of the School of Fine Arts in Geneva, started off from Corfu, then traveled to Athens and on to Mt. Parnassus.

The photographer created an album in 1910 from his trips around Epidaurus, Attica and Meteora. Entitled “En Grece Par Monts et Par Vaux” (“Greece Through The Mountains and The Valleys”), it was soon sold out, winning praise from prominent Greek statesman Eleftherios Venizelos.

Parnassos shepherds, Attica, 1903, Frédéric Boissonnas.
Parnassos shepherds, Attica, 1903, Frédéric Boissonnas. Credit: Wikipedia/Public domain.

In 1911, Boisonnas visited the islands of the Aegean. After photographing the isles of Skyros, Tinos, Mykonos, Delos, Naxos, Amorgos, Santorini, Sikinos, Sifnos, Paros, and Ios, he ended his idyllic tour on Crete.

He returned to Greece in 1913 to tour the northern part of the country, after the government finally agreed to fund his project of photographing the regions of Epirus and Macedonia. The resulting book “Epirus, the Cradle of Greece” was a masterpiece of photography which clearly delineated the ties of the region to ancient Greece.

Over the years, Boissonas’ work and his collaboration with Greek diplomats greatly assisted in the understanding of how Greek history figured in the overall context of European history. This was especially vital during the time of the Balkan Wars.
His work “Touring in Greece” includes rich photographic material from his trips around the country, with text from the photographer himself.

More of Boissonas’ photographs can be seen in this video.

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