In a world where its limits have been drastically minimized mainly because of the Internet, it has become a true struggle for one's work to be recognized since it has to face a constantly evolving competition. Under such circumstances however, Bill Gekas, a Greek-Australian photographer, managed to stand out due to his talent and love for photography. To this he had the undoubtable contribution of his adorable daughter Athena, who is also the main model for his work. It is highly likely you have already heard of his name or your glance may have lingered long enough over one of his projects, trying to distinguish whether it is a photograph or a painting. In between tough working schedules, time difference and many, many greek-english emails, Artcore magazine managed to steal some of his precious time and discover the man behind the lens.
Looking at your bio, I see that you are a self – taught photographer, taking pictures since the early 90's. Are you self – taught by choice or due to certain conditions? Have you ever thought during that time of taking a leap towards the so called professional path (for instance taking courses given by famous photographers)?
I've been into photography since the mid 90s when I was shooting and developing film using traditional film slr cameras. I always had an interest and appreciation for the visual arts and because I couldn't paint or draw, photography was sort of the logical step for me.Self taught in that I never had any formal studies in photography or art and it was simply by choice wanting a more relaxed informal approach to the craft. In the earlier days I learnt the technicals of photography from books and I appreciated and learnt the aesthetics of art simply by looking, studying and admiring great works from painters, photographers and other artists that used the visual medium. Even more recently the internet has been a great tool of educational resource. I don't think there's any excuse these days for not having the resources to be self taught to a certain extent. If you truly love the medium you'll learn it.I can't see myself taking any specific courses from anyone in particular at this stage but I do give a bit of mentoring and give portfolio reviews to other photographers when time permits.
You are characterized as «fine art portrait photographer» and you have been awarded for your work many times! What made you follow this special path? Beacause your work is not ordinary! Have you ever taken upon other kinds of photography or are you planning to do so?
It wasn't until about 2005 or so when I settled on portraiture being my chosen genre. The funny thing is, before that, since I started photography I never considered portraiture and I was shooting a bit of everything from macro to landscapes, street etc. I really connected to photographic portraiture when I viewed some of the great works by Diane Arbus, Irving Penn, Yousuf Karsh and others. The subjects in those portraits although I didn't know and were complete strangers had somehow in an eerie surreal kind of way connected with me. It was at this point I knew I wanted to shoot portraiture with a fine art aesthetic, to fuse the atmosphere of the works by the old masters using the modern medium of photography. Although I appreciate and respect all other genres of photography I really can't see myself going down the other paths as there's still a lifetime of exploration for me in portraiture.
It is obvious that you are fond of painting , particularly the 16th - 17th century era masterpieces of great artists such as Caravaggio, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Raphael... Have you ever thought of taking upon painting? How was the idea of the photographical representation of such paintings conceived?
I really can't paint or draw but have a very big appreciation for the works by the old master painters. Their works have stood the test of time and for a good reason. It's the light, colors, emotive expressions, compositions and overall atmosphere that make them masterpieces. Heavily inspired by these works it was only normal for the style to wear off in my own stylistic approach, to create works where the viewer must take a second look only to then realize that they are photographs and not paintings. Many people when seeing these photographs believe that they are recreations but in fact except for a few they are my own works where I may have combined ideas, props, lighting from a number of different paintings to create something that is my own. It's really about recreating the atmosphere the old masters works were known for rather than recreating any specific paintings.
Your basic model is your six year old daughter, Athena. How did this «collaboration» begin? Have you ever had second thoughts on her public exposure? Did it affect her every day life, her future choices (since she is very expressive as a model) or your father – daughter relationship?
When Athena was almost 3 years old myself and my wife wanted some more classically inspired portraits of her for ourselves and our family. We made a few and when I showed them online to my photography colleagues the images became very popular. Over the coming months we made some more and as time went on it slowly became a body of work where it was no longer a simple portrait of our daughter but more a portrait of a universal child, any child. Although there are about sixty or so portfolio images of her many people seem to get the wrong impression that she's always in front of the camera but the reality is these images have been taken over a 3 year period. We only shoot a project on average once a month and her time in front of the camera is only about 10-15 minutes at most. The majority of the work is in the pre-production that myself and my wife Nikoleta prepare for days or weeks before. The time during the shoot is the fun part, we are collaborating all together as a family having fun creating the next award or portfolio image. The important thing is that it has to be enjoyable and the truth is any young girl would see herself as a bit special trying on different costumes, having her hair done and acting in a scene. The welfare and care of our daughter is the most important thing to me and my wife and although the works have had a lot of worldwide exposure she's just a normal child in her everyday life that has her friends, goes to school and acts like any other child her age. The fact that the works are a fun, artistic, family collaboration doesn't leave any room for regrets, if anything the future may give her some extra opportunities because of it.
Can you tell us a few words about the route you follow when you begin working on a new project, from start to finish? How you come up with the idea, the conversations you have with your daughter, the time needed, the technical details...
Every project is pre-visualized well in advance, sometimes even weeks before. I always believe that the shot has already been taken in my mind's eye and then it's just a matter of execution of the shot or clicking the shutter to record it. I usually keep a sketchbook with rough drawings of ideas and lighting diagrams of potential concepts that may materialize in the future. This sketchbook really helps even in times when I am in a creative slump as I will refer to it and then come away thinking how an idea mixed with something I have seen or heard can work in a concept. On that basis it's all pre-planned from the art direction to the technicals and lighting set-ups, nothing is left to chance. Due to the complete control I have as artistic director and photographer there is also no excuse for error, output from camera must be as close to perfect as possible before any digital post processing. The actual shoot time is only about 10-15 minutes and it's very short considering all the hours or days spent beforehand planning it all. My wife Nikoleta also plays an important role as assistant and costume designer. If the costume isn't available for purchase she's very good at making it or putting something together to make it look like a costume. As soon as our daughter is all ready for the shoot we'll just goof around laughing and taking photos before getting a bit more serious. I'll show her an old painting and ask her to give me a sad or curious expression like the image i'm showing… between all the laughs we usually get it from her and all it takes is to capture one frame from 30 or so. The rest of the time is in the post processing which can take a few hours from camera file to finished image. The whole thing is a planned process which at the same time is very informal.
Which is your favorite project and which is your daughter's?
My favorite project is always my most recent one until the next one. My daughter's favorite project was a recent image called 'Eggs'. We brought a chicken into the studio and that was a hilarious time we had. Usually shooting children and animals at the same time is the hardest thing to accomplish but this image worked out as being a more contemporary type image than a more classically inspired one.
Have you got a new project in the works for the time being?
I have many projects and concepts I want to shoot this year and I want to shoot some larger on location outdoor scenes. Again classically inspired works that I can give my own twist to. My sketchbook has many ideas I would like to execute and my biggest hurdle these days is finding the time to shoot them. I think 2014 will be more a year of reflection, I don't necessarily like long term plans…
INTERVIEW: Eleni Mark
EDITING: Kelly Pilalidou