Enri Canaj

Shadow in Greece


The centre of Athens, as I first remember it, was full of life.

During the period before the Olympic Games, there was great development. New hotels appeared in order to host the visitors, shops, restaurants and cafes kept sprouting out, it was full of people everywhere. All this happened within a few years. It was as if the city put on new clothes. During the days of the Olympics, the city was clean and well-guarded. You would not see street- merchants, drug-addicts or immigrants, just tourists and people who came in order to have a good time. In my eyes, it looked like another place.

As time passed, the city started deteriorating and gradually recovered its previous character: the everyday life that we all knew, with the junkies, the street-merchants, the the immigrants and the prostitutes.



Time passes fast. The city is now fading. Some people abandon it due to the crisis. Many shops and hotels have shut down, the centre is now almost deserted. People fear they will get ripped-off, they hear that this happens all the time. They no longer feel like going out and wandering about like before. They even fear seeing all the poverty and destitution, they drug-users who will rip you off for their shot, the women prostituting themselves.

But for me, those people were always there. I found them all there when I first arrived as a 9-year old child. They were always there when I was growing up. They are somehow trapped in their lives, subsisting in terrible circumstances, in squalid houses with insufficient hygiene.

The immigrants live in small rooms that they rent, many of them together, without much hope. The women prostitute themselves even in the streets for 5€. You don’t want to run into them in the street. Yet, hanging around with them has been my daily routine. This way, it was easier to approach them. They are sensitive people with a lot of problems, with ruined families behind them. Sometimes they give the impression that no one has cared for them. As if they want someone to talk to, as if they want to get out of the misery they are in. For some of them I had the sense that they were almost looking for someone to open up to and take it all out. Like confessing. What made an impression on me was that they often opened up and talked as if they knew me. Sometimes they talked about difficult things, about what they were experiencing, as if they were talking about someone else. Almost as if they felt better this way.

I would only shoot when I sensed that they were more comfortable, after some time had passed. Sometimes, unexpected things happened, and made me change the plan I had in mind. Other times, things just happened spontaneously, and I was just following along. The images I have selected are stronger for me, because I know the story behind them.

I have been working on this project since 2011. My work is still in progress. When others looks at those pictures I want them to feel respect and dignity for the subjects. Like I do.




Enri Canaj was born in Tirana, Albania, in 1980. He spent his early childhood there and moved with his family to Greece in 1991, immediately after the opening of the borders. He is based in Athens and covers stories in Greece and the Balkans.

He studied photography at the Leica Academy in Athens. In 2007 he took part in a British Council project on migration, attending a year-long workshop with Magnum photographer Nikos Economopoulos.

Since 2008, he has been a freelance photographer for major publications such as Time Magazine Lightbox, Newsweek, Le monde Diplomatique (German edition),TO VIMA, TA NEA, Tachydromos and VIMAGAZINO. A sample of his work has been exhibited at the Cultural Foundation of the National Bank of Greece in Athens and Salonica, at the Bilgi Santral in Istanbul, the European Parliament in Brussels and the Athens Photo Festival.

He has been working in the Balkans, mainly Kosovo and Albania, as well as Greece, focusing on migration and the recent crisis.


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Enri Canaj


30 thoughts on “Enri Canaj – Shadow in Greece”

  1. Proud to see you here ,in 1st page,
    Cover of Burn mag , Enri…you totally deserve it !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    great body of work…
    especially when it comes to photos/essays, from greece , im extra sensitive coz i know the region very well, i know the “codes”, as Nikos says , i can relate…
    Again im very happy you’re here…
    Hopefully more exposure could lead to more help , more funding etc , to continue this body of work..
    See u in Athens sometimes soon?

  2. Pingback: Shadow In Greece | Greek Left Review

  3. tonyhayesimages

    Great work. Important topic to cover at any time but particularly now given the situation in Greece and wider Europe as the politicos play fast and loose with peoples lives.

  4. @Enri Canaj/ Burn: fantastic set of images! your subjects are quite interesting and I’d like to know more about them if that’s alright. any chance of there being captions underneath the images as to describe the situation?

    thanks! :-)

  5. Pingback: 04.17.13 digest – #summer #slowjournalism and faster news for #pulitzer | ArtEO Digest

  6. LOVE the picture of the accordian sleeping on the floor bathed in a spot of light by the window and its ghost-musician’s shadow watching on the wall! (#4), and then the sequence which follows (5, 6, 7) which established the real heart of this story….the interiors are my favorite, the play of light and shadow and somehow seem more rich and more telling as a story of ‘immigration’ and the attenmpt to find a place or home or space among the shdadows…how hard it often is to really find a home, especially when in a country or language not your own, in the very place which imagine it easiest to find (the place inside of which we dwell)….those interiors, whether dark and solitary or lit bright by high-key light, are the significant ones and tone its rich melancholy….

    a soundingly sad story, when one begins from the beauty and joy of that wonderful first image of excitement and hope and dream-like moment (child skipping a rope of light) and then unfolding into such sadness and weariness and broken all…..april is the cruelest month….

    congratulations Enri for your intimate and powerfully growing work…..


  7. Great work! I love the pictures.
    It gives me another angle to the Athens, I perceive in my work environment, up to the North of Athens,
    where life seems to be less tackled, than in the centre. Where I perceive life only from the work environment.
    Thank you!

  8. Very strong series.

    LOVE every one except the accordion image :)

    As you mentioned, “classic B/W docu style is not dead” but what is interesting is that many, if not all,
    are photographed, originally, in color and work equally well in that mode.

  9. tonyhayesimages

    Panos, I had not seen the BBC link. Thanks for that. Crazy stuff. Think there’ll be more of this and not just in Greece, as time, austerity and fascism continue their journey.

  10. a civilian-mass audience


    oime…what a timing WITH THE “Blood Strawberries”


    “To be one, to be united is a great thing. But to respect the right to be different is maybe even greater.”

    Thank YOU and a big thank you to ALL THE PHOTOPHILOSOPHERS …cause with your eyes and lenses together we can do miracles…or at least we can Wake up and do something !!!

    the Greek Fighter

  11. Racism racism everywhere : Greece , America , the Moon , Mars and on and on.. Bunch of tweaked out individuals decide for everything .. To hell with all human race … Rats

  12. Sometimes I feel that our “god” ( yeah that shameful controlling lil creature ) is really on the side of war photographers … And that’s the main reason I refrain from War photography .. Too easy and too predictable

  13. Tony yea,
    Austerity mixed with the uneducated MASS ..
    Fear and Desperation turns one human against another…
    Nothing new…
    The slaves get abused, the farmers make millions.. Same in the USA , same everywhere ..
    And then after slaves are done working , deportation and or a killing awaits !!!
    Shame to our refined western civilization !!!
    I hate to say this but we ended up being products of our hateful religion ..
    Thus said , no I don’t believe in coincidences …
    Nothing happened by accident..
    We are products of our Ignorance

  14. This week we live under the shadow of DOMESTIC TERRORISM here in the US..
    Americans killing innocent babies in a marathon..
    Really who needs enemies when we have citizens of that kind?
    Is it North Korea the danger? Or our uneducated citizens????

  15. All this time Civi and Panos have been warning us about what is happening in Greece. Now you bring it home in the most grim manner, executed excellently.

  16. Maybe I missed something, but some reactions are confusing. I do not see this essay as illustrating what Greece has come down to (greece is just one of many locales around the world and 2011 just one year in many other years), especially since maybe only one picture seems to have greek characters written (and upside down, maybe it’s still english actually) but the perennial condition of emigrants struggling with poverty, condition which is never contingent to economic crisis, or even caused by politicians in the destination country (the indifference, ignorance bestowed upon them can but only be coming from the population at large. When some say they feel invisible, I sure take it they don’t mean invisible from politicians, but everyone of us, in the real world). Enri says as much, actually (“they were always there”)

    Where I live at the moment, South East Asia, economies have been, are, and will boom for a long time, yet, the plight of economic refugees, can easily be as graphically daunting as Enri’s images.

    These images can only REALLY matter if we acknowledge that the plight of economic emigrants is a global one, and that, like the Kingdom of Heaven (Hi Panos!) they are spread upon the Earth and men and women, us that is (not some fascists,politicians and whatnot), do not see them.

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