Nashville based photographer Jessica Wardwell recently found herself in Greece for a professional project. There she discovered magic in its architecture, landscape, and people. Read on to discover her full story.
Hello! I’m Jessica Wardwell and I am a video producer and photographer living in Nashville, TN. My career started in music video production but in recent years I have started to produce more photo and video content abroad for documentaries and travel brands.
How does photography influence the way you travel and see the world around you?
I love telling stories through a series of photos. When I am in a new place, I am constantly noticing and mentally documenting all the pieces that create the story of that place. First I start to notice the smaller details, the actions happening, the emotions and the conversations. Then I take a step back and take in the bigger picture that the vignettes tell. That is how I see the world while traveling. Similarly, that is how I like to photograph new places.
What sparked your trip to Greece and how did you come to work with a tour company?
Greece is such a picturesque country, so it has always been on my list. Go Ahead Tours sent me there this summer to photograph the street life and culture I encountered during one of their organized trips. They wanted to send me based on my previous “street life” photos from trips to Israel and Cuba.
Which cities/regions did you visit? What are their biggest similarities and differences?
I visited Athens, Mykonos, Santorini and Crete and each place was so unique. They all share a rich Greek history and mythological influence, but each place’s history is completely different. Athens is a big city where locals live full-time. They also have a large immigrant population so the food scene is pretty diverse. Mykonos is built completely on tourism. The island is dry and arid; nothing grows there. Everyone who works on the island lives there during high season and then back on the mainland during the winter. Santorini is similar but they have a few industries, like volcanic wineries (my favorite)! Chania, on Crete, looks more like Italy than Greece with its Venetian inspired architecture.
What advice do you have for people who are interested in becoming travel photographers/ traveling with a purpose?
I rarely plan adventurous or excotic foreign vacations. Most of my travels have been for work or an exchange for photos, and I prefer to travel that way. I am a video producer, so planning a shoot in another country can be difficult but it forces me to dig deeper while I am traveling and meet people I never would have met otherwise. For those traveling on their own, I would just encourage you to dig a little deeper. Get to know the locals and ask their advice. Go to places off the beaten path. That’s where you will find the best stories, which ultimately make the best photos.
Travel has a tendency to look very glamorous, though that is not always the case. What challenges did you have during your travels and how did you overcome them?
Honestly, my trip to Greece was one of the more glamorous of my travels. Everything was planned out for me. We stayed in beautiful places, ate fresh seafood every night, and wine was always flowing. The one thing I was not prepared for was the weather. This particular week, Greece experienced an extreme heat wave, which was not normal for them. It was well over 100 degrees every day and lugging camera gear around in the heat can really stress your body over the course of two weeks. I had to pack very efficiently every day, keep hydrated, and stretch well every morning and evening.
Share some recommendations for future travelers interested in having a similar experience (places to see, things to do, foods to try, etc.)
If you are traveling to the islands, take a ferry and not a plane. Traveling through the Aegean sea is so beautiful! If you go to any ancient sites, be sure to hire a good, knowledgeable guide to make the most of your visit—my favorites were the Minoan ruins of Knossos on Crete, and Akrotiri on Santorini. If you aren’t a picky eater, try everything, especially moussaka, saganaki, kolokithokeftedes and greek salads. You will see frappes on the menu at every coffee shop or rest station—this is a cold instant coffee drink, so coffee snobs beware! For good photos ops in Mykonos, try getting to Little Venice around 6am while the streets are empty. While in Oia, it is difficult to take a bad photo, but don’t be afraid to get lost while looking for that perfect picturesque rooftop.
Tell us about your travels to Santorini and Mykonos, and how the islands differ from the mainland.
Many of the young people I met in Greece told me Santorini is the island for lovers, where people go to get away and relax, while Mykonos is where you go to party until the sun rises, which was definitely true. Both of these islands feel like an escape from the real world of the mainland. The sun is always shining and people are just happy. You can see the economic struggle Greece has experienced while on the mainland, but the islands appear to be flourishing.
What is something you can share that people seldom know about Greece?
Nothing crazy comes to mind but I was surprised by a few things. The islands are REALLY expensive despite Greece’s economic struggles, so be prepared to drop some money on accommodations, food and drinks. When visiting the islands, don’t be surprised if you stumble upon a few nude beaches—nudity is acceptable at every beach really. Greek people are incredibly friendly and hospitable, so don’t take that as a sign of someone being disingenuous or too forward. They are usually very authentic and I really appreciated that.
Please share the story behind your favorite image from this trip.
This is by far my favorite image from the trip! We stopped for an hour in Pyrgos in Santorini (definitely worth a visit!). This town sits inland, beautifully perched on a mountaintop. I was wandering up the steep, stone walkways and heard some beautiful greek music. I followed the melodies through a tunnel and gateway to the entrance of a church. These two young men were playing and singing while a group sitting around a dinner table clapped. I thought they were just live entertainment for a restaurant patio, so I stepped through the gates and snapped a few photos. The boys saw me and started grinning. The moment couldn’t have been more perfect, the light was gorgeous, the backdrop was breathtaking, and the subjects were captivating. After I came out of a minor trance, I realized I had very obviously crashed a wedding reception and quickly fled the area out of embarrassment.
What’s next for you?
I am heading to Africa for the first time in November and I’m so anxious and excited! I will be shooting videos with a non-profit called World Relief for two weeks in Rwanda, Malawi and Kenya. After that, I am not sure!
Images courtesy of Jessica Wardwell
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