Nikos Pilos is an award-winning photojournalist currently based in Athens, Greece. He has traveled extensively to document war, natural disasters, poverty, and socioeconomic struggle.
Since his first assignment in Lebanon in 1988, Pilos has covered major historical events such as the overthrow of Nicolae Ceauşescu in Romania, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the conflicts in the Balkans, and the war in Iraq, where he spent 100 days among Iraqis, without being embedded with the U.S. Army. Most recently, he covered the antigovernment protests in Turkey, and for the past three years, his long-term project has been documenting the consequences of the Greek economic crisis.
Pilos’s work appears regularly in international newspapers and magazines including Die Zeit, the New York Times, Stern, Time, XL Semanal, ZReportage.com, and other media outlets.
His awards include a gold award in the press category for people/personality at the PX3-Prix de la Photographie Paris (2013), and also a silver award in the press category for people/personality, and a bronze award in the press category for feature story (2012). Pilos’s The Ruin of Greek Industry has also been honored at the China International Press Photo Contest (2012).
His work has been exhibited in Belgium, China, France, Germany, Greece, and Turkey, among other countries.
In 2008, when Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy and other large American banking institutions struggled to stay afloat, Greeks thought their economy was secure. Their country hadn’t bought any toxic assets, and they comfortably watched the news of the U.S. economic meltdown on television.
A year later, the financial crisis hit Greece and left the northern region of Thrace with fewer than 10 working factories and an unemployment rate of 50 percent. Thrace’s industrial zone—once a constant stream of activity—was now littered with abandoned buildings and factories.
Today, Greeks are trying to survive their country’s fifth economic recession. The destruction of Greek industries has resulted in unemployment levels of up to 27 percent and youth unemployment of 65 percent. Millions of jobs have been lost and thousands of businesses have closed. My hometown of Corfu has been deeply affected. The crisis is impossible for me to ignore.
I decided to show this catastrophic loss by photographing abandoned factories in Thrace. It is a place where businesses were created overnight with state subsidies, but with little planning and supporting infrastructure—like roads and railways—to transport goods to markets.
The industrial boom in the northern region of Greece started in 1976, when the Greek government subsidized the construction of hundreds of factories. The goal was to entice Greeks—particularly large numbers of 18- to 50-year-olds—to not emigrate to Germany and the United States for overseas employment. From 1982 to 1994, seven government development acts invested approximately one out of every four euros in the region. More than 370 businesses applied for these loans, and the government estimated that this development would create nearly 27,000 jobs. Banks also provided generous loans, and the emigration problem was temporarily averted as jobs became plentiful.
With the huge influx of money, the region’s image changed completely. Thrace’s industry boomed, supported by laws that boosted development. But it was growth without strategy or supervision. Many opportunistic people arrived and took the money without building businesses, and few places in southern Europe have ever experienced such rapid deindustrialization.
Thrace now feels more like a cemetery, or a place of ruins. Like a ghost town, buildings are empty of people but still contain decorations or office equipment, evoking the feeling that the employees left in a hurry with little forewarning of the crisis to come.
—Nikos Pilos, January 2014