Mainly portrait and fashion photographer, also in charge of photography at the Thessaloniki International Film and Documentary Festivals! Nevertheless, I met him at the studio, during a photo shoot for olive-oil products, one of those sessions that can last up to three hours…
Let’s start with the Thessaloniki International Film and Documentary Festival. How did your cooperation with the festival begin? Meaning, how did you get the position of photographer in charge at the festivals?
It was a year that they wanted to change photographer and a girl who was not in the administration suggested me. The girl had nothing to do with me taking the job. They were just doing research because for three, four years things have generally changed in the festival, and now work in a meritocratic way. Everything is really done through competitions…even the hotel that they will choose for the guests to stay in. They were examining portfolios at that time and they had heard of me and a girl who worked at an office there suggested me. I went there, left my portfolio, they saw my pictures, met me, liked me and this is how I got the job at the festival.
And what did you think of the 16th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival?
The documentary festival is a little different from the film festival. It has got an aura but the film festival is a greater event. And it is organized at the harbor, a place that becomes a hangout during these days. So, you can feel that the vibes are different. The documentary festival takes place at Aristotelous street and with all the people passing by, you feel a bit ‘lost’. Thus, the atmosphere is unlike. Either way, whichever it may be, both festivals are great. As for me, I am looking forward to the next one each time.
As far as the documentary festival this year is concerned… to tell you the truth, the sad thing is that I am there, from morning till afternoon, taking photos and then, having to send them the very same day and simultaneously, having also other things to do, so, I almost always end up not watching any films. Something which is tragic you know (laughs) because I used to watch! When I got this job, which I wanted so much, I was so happy because I thought that I was going to learn which are the good films and watch them etc. but eventually, I haven’t been able to watch a single film. At least not this year. However, each festival is special due to the fact that, you get in touch with foreign cultures while taking photos of all the directors and guests, and even talking with them briefly can be an experience.
Do you take photos of them under certain circumstances? I mean do you do the shooting in a studio?
No, no, the shooting takes place at a location near the festival. In this case, at some place near Aristotelous street. And it’s portrait photography…not photojournalism. Everything is set: lights, studio flash etc. etc. The appointment for the shooting is fixed for a specific time and it’s not done in a studio, because it’s difficult to explain to everyone where to go and so on. There would be confusion with all the appointments, I guess. And I, personally, like doing shootings outdoors more, because it’s easier trying more things.
You don’t interfere with the festival’s photos.
Up until now, out of all the directors and actors you have met and had their portraits shot, who would you describe as your best experience so far?
Jim Jarmusch. While growing up and slowly starting out photography as a hobby, I used to watch his movies – Jarmusch is considered one of the best alternative directors in America. I used to observe his frames for instance, how he directed several images. Those were some of the elements that affected me and I looked up to him. So when I was told that I had a photo shoot with him, I was ecstatic! I mean, he is a man I admire, you know? Plus, he is awesome as a person, a really cool man. We laughed a lot, had a great time, and it was an amazing experience.
I also had an incredible time and laughs with Alexander Payne. Our photo shoot took place two years ago when he was a guest of honour at the Festival. He was truly funny and cool, and he also won the Academy Award the same year, making our encounter an important ‘plus’ for my portfolio. Regardless, I really like him as a director.
Hence you like anthropocentric photography.
It is clearly my main subject. Clearly.
So how did the oil project come up?
It’s called work!
That’s it? Only work?
Basically, I never see something as solely work. If I did that, then I wouldn’t be able to do it at all. I think that an object, also, has its charm. Commercial photography, although supposedly incompatible with photography as art, in the sense that they are considered somewhat rival camps, can also be approached through an artistic view. If there is something I don’t feel I can photograph, I won’t do it. I will say so from the beginning that I cannot do it. For instance, I can’t shoot hotels.
Throughout your collaboration with the Festival and your acquaintances with directors etc., have you ever thought of becoming involved with cinematography?
To be honest, no. I see it as a completely different subject of work. OK, maybe not completely different but there are major differentiations. You have to work on it, just because you are a photographer does not mean that getting involved in cinematography happens automatically. Surely, you have a base for your frames etc. but the moving image is a different subject, and if you decide to deal with cinema photography you must do it right. It is not an amateur video. No, I haven’t thought about it but it could be interesting.
According to my research, you became famous overnight. I mean, from a point of complete anonymity until 2006, you showed up in a fashion week. You did some photo shoots, people became excited, and a year later your pictures ended up in Vogue magazine.
Actually it was less than a year later…
During this time, from someone who, in theory, had no previous ‘professional experience’, you were propelled professionally. How did that sudden change happen?
It happened like this: I was involved in a different profession, something I had studied; this was not my career back then. I was working with hand-made jewelry, something I did for ten years and then stopped. But my great love has always been photography, as a hobby. Back then, I was working in a goldsmith’s workshop in the mornings, and as a bartender at night. But I had a camera with me always. I mean, I was going to work and when I had a spare moment I would take pictures of bottles, glasses, people passing by…like that, I was the ‘crazy one’, lets say. And they used to laugh at me…you know, the usual stuff… ‘just like the Japanese’, etc. And they saw me with the camera, I had paid good money for a very nice semi-professional digital camera. My manager at the bar happened to be a musician and he said, joking around, ‘come on, take some pictures at the concert’. And I went and took pictures which he liked very much, he was thrilled. OK, that was it, up to that point. Anyway, this happened two or three times, and as he was a good friend of Anna Kapsali, who was in charge that year of the first Fashion Forward in Thessaloniki, he told her ‘I know this kid, –I was 27 then, mind you, not a spring chicken! And he said to her, I have this guy in the bar who takes beautiful pictures, he’s very talented. Take him with you to shoot a couple of nice pics for free. And I went. I took the pictures, felt quite like a fish out of water…I was clueless, had no idea where I was going, what I was doing, what to shoot! I asked her: ‘what should I photograph?’ And she said ‘shoot what ever you like, what ever you find interesting’. So, I went there, and took pictures from backstage, and a bit of the catwalk, from the Mi-Ro show. And I am backstage, and there are big names taking part, like Evelina Papantoniou, OK? And I am in there, frozen by fear…and I say to myself, what happens now?!
Anyway, I shot what ever meant something to me, without a clue, not even the faintest idea! I give her the photographs and Anna says: ‘you are a talent, these are amazing pics!’ I didn’t take that seriously, as I was not that young, a bit streetwise, in the sense I knew I shouldn’t get too excited with what this woman is telling me out of politeness, as she took me on without a fee, as an intern, for practice…I said OK. A couple of months later, she calls me and says, we are off to Sofia, Bulgaria, for a show. We did go, we came back, got reviews, and a few months after that, two or three months, can’t really remember, could be less than that, as I remember these things it all happened very quickly, she calls again and says, we are going to Rome with Nestoras Yianakis, MI-Ro and others for a four-day fashion show. It was then that I realized I must be doing something right (laughs) as in Rome it was not without a fee anymore, she did pay me to go to Rome with them.
Your first fee was for Rome, then.
Yes. Yes. Anyway, I went to Rome, took pics, and they liked them very much, and it was those images that were published in Vogue. So, I came back and had this in my portfolio, Anna had a part in this, as she suggested me to SOUL, to Glow…some would call that luck. I don’t generally believe in luck, not at all.
So, the start was random…?
No, I don’t believe this was luck, I don’t believe in luck. I just believe in chaos theory: I mean, if I was not crazy enough to carry my camera on me at work everyday, my boss would have never said ‘come take pics at the concert’. And if I hadn’t taken good pics at the concert, he wouldn’t have suggested me to Kapsali. Do you see my point? One could say, OK you happened to work at a bar where your boss played music and knew Kapsali. OK, yes. In general, I choose not to believe in luck. I think that it all depends on one’s own behaviour…whatever you do you get back accordingly. That’s my belief.
Was it easy to learn photographic techniques?
Very easy. I learned everything from a book in a week.
Both digital and analogue photography? Do you have an analogue camera as well?
I haven’t worked with an analogue camera…
Ever been in a dark room?
Once or twice.
Didn’t you like it?
No. I guess you expect me to say it was very seductive and brought back memories from the past. But I never went into the dark room, as it doesn’t remind me anything, to be honest.
Wouldn’t you like to try it at least?
I do think about it, yes. I am thinking I should get an analogue camera, at some point, and shoot. Of course, on the other hand, do you know what the thing is?
The mere process…
Yes, yes, there is something charming lets say, I do shoot in film. Yes, OK. Perhaps, someday. It’s simply that I as a professional I was too late for film, and the thing with
film is to work on development. Shooting and then going to develop my image somewhere else, is, I think, half the work. The prerequisite is, then, to set up a dark room here. It’s not a matter of expenses, it’s just hard and time-consuming. At present, while working, I find it impossible. Perhaps in the future, if I have more free time, at some point, perhaps I will do it, yes.
It’s an enchanting process…
I guess, I don’t know. When I do it, I will call you and let you know. It will either be enchanting, or it will get on my nerves, one of the two.
Are you a romantic, as a person?
Are you patient?
It depends, if I like something very much.
Do you like surprises? When you take pictures there is an element of surprise, at least to a certain degree.
If one is a good photographer, there is no surprise. I think. I don’t know! Never done it! But, I think, if you are a good photographer and know what you’re doing, time after time you reduce the chances for surprise, don’t you?
How long have you been doing amateur photography for?
Since I was a kid, I have been taking pics, but I should say this again, I was not using professional cameras. It was just my thing, since I was very young. Can’t say I was roaming the streets of Thessaloniki to take pictures on my own.
Do you like street photography?
Yes, I find it very interesting. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time to do it in Thessaloniki, you know how it is. So many time, because you live in this city you take things for granted a bit, OK, right…Fortunately, I travel there often, and I really enjoy it very much.
Great. In street photography, for me at least, the most difficulty thing is, lets say, approaching people one wants to photograph…a stranger you just walk up to and ‘shoot’. Do you have this ability, the guts to do that…?
Yes, very much so.
You just walk up to someone and…
…You ‘shoot’. That is the case in all kinds of photography that deal with people, regardless of whether it’s street photography or portrait. When you are working on a portrait, for example, it won’t go well if you don’t communicate with the subject. No question about it.
Absolutely. But in that case you talk with the person, they know they are going to be photographed, while in street photography, if I am waking down the street, you come there and click away! I am not sure how one would react, in that sense.
Well, yes, naturally there are many factors at play then: eye contact, gaze, the way you look at the world, your mood, body language, so many things. Also, in portrait work, although one knows they are going to be photographed, it is up to you to make them feel relaxed or not, how you will go about it matters. Because, one might know it’s going to be a portrait, you may give him a very bad impression, the portrait might come out awful, and they might just stand up and walk out. I mean, there’s a chance the sitter may not bring out in you what they could.
Are you done with your jewelry work?
Yes, yes, completely. Not going back there, thank god.
Didn’t you like it?
I did not love it, you see? I mean, if there’s no passion for something you do, you do it almost mechanically. You just do it to make ends meet.
I have heard you have worked for the BBC recently. How did that start? Could you tell me a bit about that collaboration?
It’s a BBC show, not exactly comedy, but like a television report, where they go round various European cities and each time they hire a local photographer to do backstage and some still frames to use in the programme, etc., and they hire someone for a day to follow them around. You just go with them and take pictures. Still frames, staged and not staged as archive material. How did that happen…
The BBC production company behind this show, was looking for a photographer in Thessaloniki. The same production company did the video of the Ergon guys. Ergon is this deli and restaurant in Thessaloniki, which recently opened a branch in London. It’s owned by Thomas Douzis together with his brother George, and Dimitris
Skarmoutsos. Thomas and Dimitris like my work a lot, and we have become friends. As the production company knew these guys were from Thessaloniki, at least Thomas and George are, they took them out for dinner and asked them ‘which photographer from Thessaloniki would you suggest?’ And both Skarmoutsos and Thomas said in unison ‘Rammos!’ In unison! And they said, OK, we guess that guy must be good. Naturally, as they do operate in a fair way, they called me up and said, ‘you have been suggested to us but we would like you to send us your portfolio to see your work…’. And so, I send them my portfolio, some images, and they visited my website, we talked contracts, and that’s how the deal was made.
What was the content of the project in terms of subject matter?
They were going around the streets of the city, different places, they had with them two UK celebrities– I didn’t know them, but they are celebrities there. There was a presenter and a comedian. I had to take pictures of them all day long…backstage, while they were talking to people, or when they went into different stores etc, and some staged photographs to be used in the show, to ‘open’ the show, some staged stills of them. Like portraits.
Apart form all these, you are also a fashion photographer…
Do you like fashion photography?
Yes. I just consider fashion photography something above what happens, at least in Thessaloniki. I mean there is a totally different mindset. As a rule, in Thessaloniki, we all do portraits merely with some more care. Fashion is not your frame, fashion is the whole aesthetics. Fashion photography is something completely different from portrait. The concept is different, the staging is different. More surreal, I mean; I think the difference between portrait and fashion is like the difference between photography and painting, almost. If I am allowed to use this parallel. Photography is realism, what ever you shoot is what you will get. What you see. In painting, you can paint surreal things, what doesn’t exist, right? I am not talking about photoshop with which we can now make illustrations etc., this is about photography, what ever it is one shoots. With painting one can paint what ever can be imagined. Photography, portrait, is what you see. Right? I mean, you are recording a mood, anything, an expression. Fashion is more surreal. It doesn’t need to be portrait. Fashion photography can be very surreal. The logic is totally different.
You also undertake personal photography, i.e. a person comes to you and asks for a series of pictures? Portraits. Do you do that?
That has never happened before, I think. Royal photography, lets say, that kind of thing? (laughs)
Lets say, for example, a young actress wants to have her portfolio done, do you do that?
Yes, of course, that goes without saying! Generally, whoever comes to me and says I would like to have my portrait done, I will take their picture. Definitely.
Did you ever have a bad collaboration? Some unpleasant experience?
Yes I had. Very few, thankfully, but I had. Not going to tell you any names, won’t discuss that. But it has happened to me that the sitter decided to leave the shoot because they got bored, you know, that kind of attitude. We had to do three takes, and by the end of the second he says: ‘guys OK, I have an appointment and need to go’. I mean these takes are good enough for me. I won’t give you a third for backup…we always want two, but you do a third to have more choices. After the second he says, ‘OK’. I say ‘what do you mean OK’? And he comes back ‘That’s OK’. There are people like this. Like I will never forget last year at the festival, I had to photograph a great director, not as well known as Jim Jarmusch. This one had unending appointments, one on top of the other, all day long he was being interviewed, filmed on video etc. And we had an appointment for the shoot. I go there and I see him giving an interview and he takes a break for 5-10 minutes to have the photographs taken and then go. I say to Nikos, my assistant, ‘set the lights and we will do the test on you’, he says ‘why’, and I said ‘something is not right here’…We set the lights, I test the frames, the lighting, the guy stands up and says to my assistant, in English: ‘where do I sit’? Nikos explained and he stands in front of the camera, not yet looking at the camera, but I am shooting already because something does not feel right. So, as soon as he stands in front of the camera, not looking at me yet, he takes a cigarette out of his pocket, lights up, and then he glances at me, takes a drag, and says, in English: ‘if you don’t have it already, you’ll never have it’. And then goes.
Did you have it?
I did have it. (laughs). Then Nikos says: ‘How did you know?’, and I said ‘don’t know!’. Something told me he was going to pull something! You know it won’t take long; that he will be there for a minute and then go! And that’s exactly what happened!
Are there some photographs in your career you really love?
Oh come on!!
Some you think are very special…
I am one of those people who every every five months, three months, two months, a year, I either like my pictures very much or I just say that I havent’ shot anything great up till now. That is why you don’t see any photographs hanging around in my studio, not a single one. I am always thinking I should hang one, and after a week I say nah, I don’t like it. Then I take another one to hang up, same thing. I mean, I don’t know, there could be a period when I am saying I love my pictures, and then I say I haven’t taken a single great photograph in my life.
A friend once told me, when I started photography, that he used to take photographs and stopped doing it because he felt he was losing the moment. When you are behind the lens all the time, you lose the moment, you don’t live in the moment. I remember this professor who once told me he went to a concert in England twice, first time to take pictures, and the second to see the actual concert. Have you ever felt you are missing out on things? Because you are always behind a lens?
No. This might be true. Not might. It is true. Look, first of all it depends on the moment. To go to the concert to take pictures, maybe you are missing the moment, you’d experience it differently, you’d live it differently, if you weren’t taking pictures…You focus on other things, thinking whether the frame is right, if the lighting is right, but from that point on it depends on what ‘pleasures’ someone, right? Maybe the moment I would live without the camera wouldn’t be as good for me as much as it is to take pictures. It depends on the person…For me, pleasure is to have the camera.
<strong style="line-height: 1.4em;">Besides portraits and fashion, do you work on any projects of your own?
Is there something you are working on right now?
Yes, as a thought, I am on to something.
But you don’t wish to talk more about it…
You know what? I have not reached anything yet. It is not even born, lets say, it’s just in the incubation period. (laughs).
What is your greatest dream? What would you like to achieve as a photographer?...
Two things come to mind: the first is to take pictures for National Geographic –
since I was a little boy I wanted this.
Have you ever tried to send them your photographs?
I came close. But they wouldn’t hire a photographer from Thessaloniki. I was with the publishing group that owns National Geographic, working for all other publications except National Geographic because they wouldn’t get a photographer from Thessaloniki. As a rule, because the Greek NG edition does not set up expeditions abroad, all the content from abroad is sent by the American NG. Only if they needed pictures from Athens, for example, they would send a photographer from Athens. They never happened to need a photograph from Thessaloniki, so I never took any for NG.
The second one?
The second would be to see my pictures exhibited in a big gallery abroad. London, Berlin, NY, Japan, wherever, don’t know. I would like to exhibit abroad. Internationally. Both things I mentioned I consider feasible. If you channel all your energy towards something– not that cliché that if you want something really bad it will happen!
That the universe will conspire…(laughs)
Nobody will ever conspire in your favour, nobody! That thing doesn’t exist. It’s simply that when you really want something, because you do your best it is much more likely to achieve it.
And a final question: How many hours per day do you spend behind the lens?
It depends on the job, this is always a factor. 8; 10; I don’t know. Something around that. It depends, I may spend up to sixteen hours, may spend four. Like that. But that’s not the issue, the time one spends behind the lens, the issue is how much time per day you spend thinking about the picture.
You must think about it all the time! I imagine you see frames everywhere!
Naturally! Goes without saying! Everything is a frame. That happens in all kinds of jobs. It’s like a filter, the image comes through the frame. That’s a given for all photographers, and for all the people who do a specific job.
Have you reached this point when you say I need a break, I don’t even want to hear the word camera, photography, anything related?
No, never. I mean, if I weren’t a photographer I don’t know what I could have been. It is my dream job, don’t you see?
I think we covered that, already. (laughs)
INTERVIEW: Eleni Mark