Not long after returning from a trip to Greece—cradle of Western civilization and birthplace of democracy—Eliot Wright shakes his head and muses aloud that maybe it was all a dream.

“I’m going through 2,500 images on my computer and it feels like they just appeared there,” says Eliot, a Roloff Beny Photography Scholarship winner.

The $5,000 scholarship allows successful applicants who are studying photography at NSCAD to carry out ambitious projects. Eliot used his scholarship money to travel and create an exhibition. Observations from an Odyssey runs January 23 to 28 at the Anna Leonowens Gallery.

Interested in social documentary photography, he arrived in Athens in the midst of great upheaval. The financial crisis of the late 2000s hit Greece particularly hard. The combination of high public spending, widespread tax evasion and crippling debt sunk the country into a deep recession. A bailout provided by the member countries of the European Union, predicated on drastic cuts and spending hikes, pushed people out into the streets in protest.

And Eliot was there with his camera, snapping away.

“You live with both eyes open in Greece,” says Eliot, from St. John’s, Newfoundland. “Athens is overwhelming visually; there’s all the graffiti, the garbage, the people everywhere … it’s so fast-paced and big. I found I had to leave Athens for a week and go to the islands and then come back feeling refreshed.”

Eliot’s eye sought out the contradictions and drama: a photo of a row of police in full riot gear set next to a photo showing a row of majestic columns; a photo of cement foundations of unfinished houses next to one of sun bleached ruins dating to Greece’s Classical period. He took to reading Aristotle’s Poetics and the great philosopher’s ideas on the tragic hero, the hero’s tragic flaw, reversals of fortune and narrative storytelling—the rise and fall of action—seemed to be manifest in front of his very eyes in the very place these concepts were born.

“There is really so much to explore … from seeing the site of modern Olympics games sit empty to experiencing the optimism and pessimism expressed by the protests, these masses of people coming together out of anger and distress and yet hope for the future. On the surface, things appeared to be solid and yet so fragile at the same time. It’s a fascinating place and it was an incredible time to be there.”

Eliot Wright, Observations from an Odyssey (Observation #16), 2011–12