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How did you get involved in art?

I studied Law in Athens and Political Sciences in Paris, and from the early 1970s I started practising law. Being a lawyer in those days was a good profession, but it offered me no personal satisfaction. The Arts were always my main interest, but I had never thought I could be seriously involved with one of them in particular. Photography seemed to me to be the easiest and most accessible art. I quickly started acquiring equipment and taking photographs, and buying books, in an attempt to educate myself. After six years of passionate involvement in photography I decided to abandon the practice of law and to devote myself to photography.

Tell me about your studies. What did you gain from them?

From my legal studies very little. I may have learnt to organize my mind and my arguments better. But, contrary to what most people think, legal studies offer very specific and not generic knowledge. From my brief and ad hoc involvement with political science I gained my independence from this. In the few months I spent in America attending photography seminars I debunked some famous photographers, but was fortunate enough to get to know Garry Winogrand, a very important photographer to me. However, the real studies are those each one does on one's own. And one does well when one realizes what great joy this personal educational adventure may bring. I owe a lot to my parents, who did their best for me to grow up in a home where literature, music and intellectual discussions were always present. From then on it was obvious for me to try to fill the rest of my life with these cultural delights. I owe what I’ve learned so far to people I admired, whose thoughts I read or heard with respect, as well as to my contact with works of art which filled me with joy.

You have taught and still teach. What are your main conclusions from teaching?

In 1980 I started teaching some of my female friends, in my law office, my technical and other knowledge about photography. I needed to do it, in order to consolidate what I was learning by reading. I soon realized that this unprecedented (perhaps also primitive) teaching experience gave me great pleasure. I realized too that I had a bent, and probably a talent for teaching. The following year, in a small studio I had rented, I started teaching a group of friends, as well as a group of foreigners attending an annexe of an American university. These experiences made me realize I had to abandon the practice of law, or I would be betraying both my clients and my students, and that I had to broaden my photographic library, since this was my main source of knowledge and teaching. My move to America for a few months was my need to meet other photographers more competent than me and to celebrate my transition from practising law to photography. I was under no illusion, of course, that attending seminars for a few months would make me wiser. My teaching activity snowballed rapidly. From 1984 to 1990 I taught concurrently or consecutively at the University of La Verne, at Moraitis School, at the Athens College (to pupils and adults), at the U.S. base in Nea Makri, at the Panteion University (Department of Media Studies), at the Focus school of photography. At the same time, I was travelling all over Greece giving seminars on behalf of the Ministry of Culture to photographers-instructors in Adult Education. I realized, however, that there was a risk of spoiling my joy as a teacher, firstly because of the multiplicity of objectives and secondly because it was very important for me to be chosen by my students rather than to be imposed on them from above. And this happened only in my own photographic department. Therefore, I decided to dedicate myself exclusively to this. The main seminar which I have been giving continuously since 1982 is entitled “Introduction to Creative Photography” and includes technical instruction (one-third of the total time) and art teaching, namely history and aesthetics of photography, and critique of the participants’ work. The seminar is held throughout the winter (every Wednesday evening from November to June) in collaboration with the Benaki Museum, at 1 Koumbari Street. A second more advanced seminar is held in the first ten days of July on the island of Syros (my home for the last nine years), focusing on everyday photography and critique. A third seminar for even more advanced participants takes place for a full weekend each September on Syros, dealing with the critique, the organization and the presentation of one photographer’s oeuvre. My only other teaching activity is a few four-day seminars (Friday to Monday) of total duration twenty hours, in provincial cities and in Cyprus, held at the invitation of local agencies. People of all ages and from all educational (and photographic) backgrounds participate in my seminars. This is extremely important because it fuels fertile discussions. The fact that the seminars do not aim at vocational rehabilitation or creating an artistic career (even though these words sound annoyingly odd) ensures that the link connecting the students is simply their love of and their curiosity about the art of photography, and their aspiration to improve without any other tangible benefit. After all these years of teaching I am convinced that proper teaching can work miracles. I' have realized too that talent is secondary and in any case is not controllable. Most importantly, I have ascertained that motivation, knowledge and methodology are cultivated to a great extent, and that in combination with passion and intelligence can produce better results than talent, when this is unsupported. Through my classes, I have helped many young photographers in Greece to make the best use of their value and their quality. And when I say I ‘helped’ them, I mean this in an artistic and educational way, and not in terms of promoting them, something which is not my field. At the same time, I think I have contributed significantly to creating a photographically cultivated audience, which previously did not exist in Greece.

When and why was the “Photography Circle” founded and what is its relation to “Photohoros”?

When I ended my career as a lawyer, the thought crossed my mind that I might become involved in photography professionally. But I soon realized that I would be replacing the client-lawyer relationship with the customer-photographer relationship, at probably lower fees and the additional risk of being disappointed by photography too. I decided then (1984) to earn my living by opening, in collaboration with some good friends, a shop selling photographic equipment, “Photohoros” on Tsakaloff Street, from which I gained two advantages: firstly, I met most Greek photographers, and secondly, I learned that commerce should be undertaken by skilled salespeople who know how to make a profit. I lacked this ability and in 1990 I closed “Photohoros”, accommodating on the same premises the “Photography Circle”, which I founded with my students in 1988. The “Photography Circle” was founded out of a desire to keep in touch with my students when the seminars were over and to share what we all needed: a dark room, a library and an exchange of opinions. The “Photography Circle” was very active. It organized several group and solo exhibitions (in its own small gallery, which was named “Photohoros”). It published a periodical, once again named “Photohoros” – only 13 issues were produced due to lack of funds, and approximately sixty books, theoretical books and photographic albums. Every Thursday, since 1990 we have been presenting the work of young photographers. Since 2003, my photography workshops and the Thursday presentations have been held in the auditoriums of the Benaki Museum (at Koumbari St. and Piraeus St. respectively). The “Circle’s” library, consisting of 4,000 books was donated to the Benaki Museum, and the dark room was abolished since everything is now digitalized. Thus, the “Circle’s” life continues through its collaboration with the hospitable Benaki Museum, where the “Circle” celebrated its twentieth birthday last year with a major innovative exhibition, where twenty computer screens were used instead of the standard picture frames.

Tell me about your personal photographic work.

Before becoming a photography teacher, I started taking photographs, fascinated by the work of great photographers, which I was gradually discovering. However, now I feel that my activity as a photographer is secondary, since teaching is not only more important to me, but also preoccupies me more. I still take photos out of joy and to renew my deliberations about photography. I find it difficult and, moreover, consider it unnecessary to define my influences. I know the history of photography so well and I admire so many photographers, to the extent that thankfully I no longer know who has influenced me the most. But I am equally influenced by artists I admire, directors, choreographers and painters. People’s influences are complex and enriched over the years, while in a strange way they also become clearer. Probably because as we grow older we evoke influences based on our inclinations. I am not guided by a specific photographic deliberation or by any ideology. Metaphysical and emotional problems affect both my life and my art more than anything else. My aesthetic proposals are attempts to reconcile what I see with what I feel and believe. My photographs, the ones I take and the ones I support, hate messages and illustrated concepts. I believe in subtraction and hope for transcendence. But I do not aim at anything. Photography has the gift of its poverty. It is an immaterial image that is reproduced indefinitely and identically in many different ways and by many different means. This is what I attempt to highlight and preserve. I try to avoid anything that would supposedly make it more valuable than it really is.

You exhibited photographs in the Nees Morfes Gallery. What are your main conclusions from this?

I believe that a photographer should be ‘exhibited’. But it is very important where, when and how. Nees Morfes was a gallery with ethos and quality. It was my first major solo exhibition. And it was the first time I decided to sell my photographs. Obviously I do not live from selling my photographs, as is the case with other Greek photographers. Nevertheless, since a photograph is today regarded as a product on sale, I too, as a teacher, had to take a stance. I set four conditions for this exhibition, which the gallery accepted immediately with great kindness, even though all four went against the flow. I would not make very large prints, like the ones currently in fashion, because I believe that the photograph, being immaterial, should be printed in accordance with the exhibition space and viewpoint. Everything else is cunning. I would be exhibiting many photographs, because since people make the effort to come, they should have the pleasure of seeing more. I would set the lowest international selling price. And I would not have a limited number of copies, which I think in the case of photography is a classic hoodwinking of the innocent public. So, I exhibited 120 photographs of approximate dimensions 40 x 50 cm (most panoramic or square), which sold at a very reasonable price and in unlimited copies. If, on the contrary, I had exhibited five or ten photographs at most, with dimensions of a few square meters each, a five-copy limit and at a price of a few thousand euros (as usually happens), I would have followed the trend, I would have sold more ‘name’ and fewer photographs and, worst of all, I would have seriously damaged photography. What was most gratifying was that, in the words of the people from the gallery, around three thousand visitors visited the exhibition, many of whom did not even know where to find the gallery, while I myself became a witness to many moving questions from people who had no idea what a photograph can show and say.

How is photography affected by the art ‘stock market’?

Putting the words “art” and “stock market” next to each other both surprises and repels me. A photograph may be sold for a high price because it belonged to someone famous, or because the photographer died a long time ago. It is probably rightly sold and rightly purchased. This does not make it more important than others and in any case this process should not concern people involved in art. I understand that it should concern those involved in the stock market.

Does creative photography exist and if so why?

Photographers have safeguarded their right for photography to be considered art by using it in ingenious and very personal ways as an artistic language since Julia Margaret Cameron’s days. Once someone realizes this (and I’m sorry to say very few in the arts have realized this), there is no question and there is no why or because.

What are the most important exhibitions you have organized both for yourself and others?

Apart from the exhibition in Nees Morfes in 2007, I have not had another significant exhibition and I most likely will not prepare one for a long time. However, I have organized a number of in my view important group exhibitions for members of the “Photography Circle”. During the 1990s two exhibitions, with more than 60 photographers and 600 photographs, were held at the Arts Centre of the Athens Municipality (former Military Police Headquarters). The same exhibitions were also presented at Mylos in Thessaloniki. Another exhibition in 1998, to celebrate the “Circle’s” tenth anniversary, took up all three floors of the House of Cyprus. In recent years I have tried to exhibit the work of important foreign photographers, which is particularly difficult due to the high cost. Of course, I never agreed to host a prepared exhibition, as is often the case mainly due to reduced costs, because I feel I would have no reason to have my name involved, since I would not have been engaged in the selection of the works, which is the only reason for having a curator. I mounted a major exhibition on fashion photography at the Athens Concert Hall, in which the photos by the greatest fashion photographers of all time were exhibited. I presented the work of the great American photographer Bruce Davidson at the Hellenic American Union, and drawings by the great Italian film director Federico Fellini at the Theocharakis Foundation. For all these exhibitions I collaborated with art historian Elizabeth Plessa, one of the few art historians who have knowledge of photography.

What is your relationship with the cinema?

Since childhood I have been more involved with the cinema than with photography. I frequented both film clubs that existed in Athens. During the summer intensive seminars I showed my students, among many documentaries about various arts, some very difficult and important films too. I realized then that without help almost no one understood them. I gradually started writing notes to explain the films, the notes became two large books (I am now writing the third) and I started to organize seminars on directors I know and admire. The difference in my involvement with cinema as opposed to photography is firstly, that the cinema classes are addressed to my students of photography (and their friends), secondly, that I do not attempt to teach anyone how to make films (since this is in fact something I know nothing about) but only to enjoy watching them (at least the way I see them), and thirdly, I do not waste my time discussing directors I do not admire, something I do with photographers I do not admire, for the sake of completeness of my photographic classes. To pre-empt your curiosity, my favourite directors whom I admire and (at least so far) know well are Federico Fellini – Yasujiro Ozu – Kenji Mizoguchi – Ingmar Bergman – Pier Paolo Pasolini – Michelangelo Antonioni – Luis Buñuel – Buster Keaton – Carl Dreyer – Andrei Tarkovsky – Jacques Tati – Luchino Visconti (included in my first book entitled “The Apparent Charm and the Hidden Emotion of Cinema”, Pedro Almodovar – Nanni Moretti – Wim Wenders – Fritz Lang – F.W. Murnau – D.W. Griffith – Vittorio De Sica – Ermanno Olmi – Ettore Scola – Elia Kazan – Frank Capra – John Cassavetes – Nicholas Ray (included in my second book entitled “No Interval”) and Roberto Rossellini – John Ford – Jean Renoir – Victor Sjostrom – Douglas Sirk – Max Ophuls – Jacques Becker – Pupi Avati (to be included in my third book, whose title still remains unknown), as well as many young directors with a few films like Carlos Sorin – Alessandro D’Allatri – Alejandro Agresti, etc.

You write books. Please tell me about your most important books.

Apart from the aforementioned books on cinematography, I started writing books to assist my students in my photography seminars. The first was entitled “Photography” and contains all the necessary technical advice. A better title would have been “Photography Handbook” but I was warned that only a few people would understand that title. The latest edition of my book includes a large part written by my collaborator and former student Manos Lykakis on digital technology, with which I am still not very familiar. This was followed by a book commissioned by the General Secretariat of Adult Education, entitled “Monologue on Photography”. You see, I believe that in art there is little room for dialogue. If someone sees things differently there are no irrefutable arguments, logical or other, to convince him. He will have a different view on the world and life. I then wrote another theoretical book entitled “Thoughts on Photography” and subtitled “A Personal Reading of Its History”. This book includes one hundred photos by famous photographers with a few comments by me. In the meantime, at every opportunity I was writing various articles and texts for newspapers and magazines, which I collected and published in a book entitled “Texts on Photography”. Following a seminar in Nicosia, I published the transcript of the twenty hours of teaching under the title “An Introduction to Creative Photography”. This book contains many of the photographs to which I refer. At the same time, I always felt obliged, since I teach and urge my students to publish and exhibit their photographs, to do so myself, so as not to avoid exposure and criticism. Having participated in two small series of publications by members of the “Circle” (my albums were entitled “Light and Silence” and “Ruins”), I published a major photography album entitled Semicolon with a lot of photos from various periods of my work. Finally, I published a book entitled “50 Photographs - 50 Texts” which comprises fifty of my writings on photography published in the Press in recent years and fifty of my own panoramic photos.

What are your future plans? Tell us in detail about your immediate plans and those for 2010.

I hope to continue doing everything I do today, since I enjoy this. That is, to teach at the Benaki Museum on Wednesdays, to present photographers, filmmakers and other artists at the Benaki Museum on Thursdays, to continue holding my intensive seminars on Syros, in my home, where I have created a wonderful seminar room, to organize exhibitions on behalf of various institutions with the oeuvre of important photographers, to finish my third book on cinematography, to continue giving lectures on photography and cinema at the Hellenic American Union every October, like this year, and to be able to make another series of television programmes on photography (and cinema), as in the past. You see, television is the most powerful teaching tool. And if among all these activities I find time to take photographs, as I want and need to do, my joy will be even greater. As for my immediate plans, on 3 December, an exhibition I am curating will open at the Hellenic-American Union, with photographs by the American Leon Levinstein (1910-1998), while I have planned an exhibition with works by the American Saul Leiter for the same period next year, at the same venue.

What is your view on the modern photographic reality in Greece and abroad?

Photography is in fashion both in Greece and abroad. This scares me. What also scares me is that it is used because it is the ideal tool of conceptualization, advertising, propaganda, and of the potential convenience associated with its production, sale and interpretation. Photography is difficult because it is easy, poor and simple. But for all these reasons it is also vulnerable. The photographs projected by the media are those from the art stock markets, which you mentioned earlier, and the applied images inundating publications. The barrage and abuse of undergraduate and graduate degrees all over the world will not improve the situation. We will simply have many bad artists with a degree. Nonetheless, good photographers exist and will continue to exist. It may be harder for them to become known, unless they play the dominant game. But this does not matter. Digital technology will also shuffle the cards for a while with its prattle, but ultimately it will help, because it will bring back the charming poverty of photography, which does not allow for exclusivities, giant prints and limited copies.

What is the artist’s role?

The question would have been pointless a few years ago, but not today. Art is nothing but the creator. Without the creator not only is there no art, but also there is no interest in art. Marcel Proust said that works of art move us because they reveal to us another galaxy, the creator’s galaxy, a galaxy that continues to shine for us for many years after his death. Today, however, there is a conscious attempt to downgrade the artist’s role, and furthermore to attribute to the opposing view the characterization of palaeolithic persistence. And this for the benefit of the other parties involved in the art market, such as art critics, art historians, university professors, art dealers (horrible term), cultural managers (another horrible term), expert journalists and, above all, exhibition curators. However, no one but the artist can create from nothing. But they try to deal with that, too, through the rationale accompanying the work, which tends to become more important than the work itself.

You are on the Board of Directors of the National Museum of Contemporary Art. What do you think its role is today?

Every museum is beneficial. A Museum of Contemporary Art promotes and facilitates the acceptance and the development of the art of the times, which the general public accepts with greater difficulty. International practice wants museums divided into periods, perhaps for practical and organizational reasons. This is also the case in Greece. So, in theory, the National Gallery includes works up to a certain period, and the Museum of Contemporary Art works from that period onwards. As a teacher I believe that the questions arising from works from various periods are more important, therefore a museum that would cover very long periods of art would seem to me to be more useful. On the other hand, I find it difficult to segment the work of an artist who has passed through several creative periods and indeed with a variety of styles, and on the other hand to exclude one who lives in contemporary times because he may have adopted a style expressing a previous period, but which could express a period in the near or distant future. I am also wondering how a Museum of Contemporary Art will cover for example the next two centuries? Should a new museum of more contemporary art perhaps be set up every so many years? I have also observed that all over the world contemporary art museums are overly influenced by what happens in private art galleries, instead of developing a policy beyond the market circuit. My questions are not related to the very useful presence of our museum, which, as I already said, follows the established international practice. In recent years, the Board has been mainly involved in the construction of the much-awaited building. We have been delayed by the inevitable bureaucratic problems and mishaps. Nevertheless, the Museum is increasingly making its presence felt by hosting many exhibitions, thanks to the initiatives of the director Anna Kafetsi. In fact, I believe that precisely because of the aforementioned relative uncertainty as to the content and the role of a Museum of Contemporary Art, the presence and the personality of its director is particularly important. That is why I maintain that everywhere, including the Museum to be founded, the individual (and obviously not life-long) artistic director must be able to put his own stamp on the Museum.

Are we living in the age of Modernism or Postmodernism?

Despite the fact that I am often branded as a “Theoretician”, it seems that I am not enough of a theorist to like art categorizations. I am more interested in the actual creation. If the term “postmodernism” pertains to the prevailing art of the past twenty years and “modernism” to that of the previous seventy years, then one can easily see that the balance of quality and gravity leans undoubtedly towards the past. But this is both logical and inevitable. I just wonder why we have to proclaim the death of one age in order to see the next one appear. Art’s greatest allure lies in the fact that, unlike science, a new truth will not necessarily eliminate the older ones. Therefore, I prefer to evaluate art on the basis of the artists and their oeuvre. And definitely with no concern about what theoretical constructs support it.