Interview with George Tatakis, who is a well-known photographer whose work has been shown and published in prestigious institutions and publications throughout the world, including the Benaki and Fragonard Museums, the New York Times, National Geographic, and LFI.
Why did you choose to pursue a career as a photographer? When did you realize you wanted to pursue this as a career?
Since childhood I had an inclination for arts. I played the piano, drew and painted, and created scale dioramas. I was first attracted to photography since my teenage years, maybe because I used to see my mother all the time with her camera taking snapshots of the family. I was intrigued by the camera as an instrument, and wanted to explore it. However I never had the idea of becoming a photographer, as I thought that art related endeavors were not to be considered as proper professions. I thus studied Electrical Engineering and worked as an engineer for about 10 years. In 2015 I realized that my real passion never switched from the world of the arts and especially photography. I had been buying a better camera whenever I could afford it, and I started studying the Masters and the history of photography. I even had a darkroom in my bedroom and was listening to photography podcasts during my communion to work. It was about then I realized I should be pursuing my passion in order to be happy in life and, one day, I just showed up at work and announced that I had decided I would become a photographer.
How does it make you feel to win this award?
It is always good to have your work recognized, as it gives you more fuel to continue. Pursuing any art related venture can be psychologically exhausting, as it is very difficult to stay afloat in the sea of the art competition. The artistic concern is a constant thundercloud over creators’ heads, and this kind of rewards help dissolve it.
What do you feel makes your work stand out, that drew the judges’ attention to it?
The result of my work comes from a significant effort for many years, on my side. I do feel that the quintessence of sacrifices is very satisfying to any viewer. The priority for me is for my work to give pleasure to myself, but if it pleases others, that is certainly a plus. The photographs themselves are not that very important to me, when compared to the act of shooting, so satisfying others is a good use for them.
How did the idea behind your winning project come about?
When I started pursuing photography more actively in 2015, I started by visiting rural Greece to make images during local traditional events. After a few years, I presented this work at the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture, one of the most significant Museum Organizations in Europe. The show was titled “Ethos – Another Side of Greece”. The Fragonard Museum in Cannes was exposed to this work and requested an exhibition over there, only this time focusing on the traditional female costumes. That gave me the initial idea, as Greece is home to a vast wealth of such costumes. I had also visited an exhibition in London at that time by Alex Prager, consisting of staged photos, which made me reconsider staging the photographs to achieve a result that would better resonate with my thoughts. This is how “Caryatis” was born.
What do you see as the most significant difficulties and opportunities in your current job/industry?
As I say to my students, if you decide to follow photography for the money, you are in the wrong profession. Art is probably the most difficult industry as creators don’t compete only with living competitors, but with dead ones as well. One should only follow art if they have an inner drive on the verge of obsession. This is the only way to be as consistent and persistent as necessary. Even then, you are still probably going to fail. Sad, but true. At least, if you are obsessed, you won’t care.
Tell us a bit about your creative process. Where do you find your inspiration?
Currently, I am working exclusively on my project Caryatis. I now pick a place in Greece I want to visit, do a little research about the local costumes, and if I am happy with them, I just go there. I have a scientific advisor in Athens who will provide me with local contacts and arrange the shootings on the spot. I would start with location scouting, which is most of the work, and then arrange the day for the shooting. I will be inspired for each image on the spot and use whatever props I will find available around, to create my scene. I only use natural light, so I need to set up the scene in such a way so that the light complements the scene and the subject.
What impact does your background have on your work?
I think that personal backgrounds define the result of any creator’s work. That is why if you place 20 photographers around a single subject, you will end up with 20 different images. Any image has nothing to do with reality, it’s just a projection of the photographer’s thoughts. So anything you read, listened, saw, studied in your life helps create the resulting work. My engineering background helped me in understanding the mechanics of photography and light. My drawing skills helped me understand the importance of light, shadow and contrast. Studying the Masters of photography, important painters, watching good movies helped develop my composition skills and overall aesthetics. Currently I find most of my inspiration from reading books. I am sort of a bookworm, and I get a lot of inspiration when I create images in my head from what I read. Art is a form of communication. You first need to learn the ‘language’ in order to be able to communicate with it, but then, you have to have something to say.
Who or what are your biggest artistic influences?
I do have one too many of them. In photography, I could narrow it down to Costa Manos, H.C. Bresson and Josef Koudelka. From painting I would pick Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Dominicos Theotocopoulos. My favorite writers would be Nikos Kazantzakis (by far), Ernest Hemingway and Alexandros Papadiamantis. In music, S. Rachmaninoff and J.S. Bach. In cinema, Theo Angelopoulos, Andrei Tarkovsky, Stanley Kubrick and more. I could go on and on.
How has your own style evolved over time?
When I started I would do anything. Black and white, color, different lenses, different cameras, different subjects, different post production, you name it. The first artistic dough was created when I decided to impose restrictions on myself. I decided I would use one camera and one lens, work solely in black and white, have horizontal images and never crop. After you create this initial dough, it only gets bigger and better shaped. That comes with personal evolution in any discipline. A significant milestone came when I switched from my first project ‘Ethos’, to the one I am working now ‘Caryatis’, i.e. the snapshots versus the staged photography. I think that once I present a work to a significant venue, I then feel I have to slightly deviate from that path.
What are your long-term professional objectives?
I am really happy with what I am currently doing. But I would also like to be the most important photographer of all-time!
What significance does your art represent for you personally, and for your audience?
I feel that Greece hosts a significant wealth of traditions, that includes customs, fashion and events that can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks. Don’t get me wrong, I do not suffer from the illusion that modern Greeks are the immediate descendants of ancient Greeks, but we do breathe the same air, see the same mountains and sea and feel the same sun on our skin. To me this era represents the peak of global human civilization. I think that these traditions should be actively communicated to the populus and inspire them through a new perspective. Unfortunately I believe that this wealth is now mostly in the hands of greedy, narrow-minded, obsolete dinosaurs. There are only but very few examples of actual work being done towards the mentioned direction. I don’t know whether I can make any difference, but at least that is my true aspiration. I am a strong believer that art should actually make a difference and not be created for the sake of art itself.
How do you envision the future of your industry? What do you see as the most significant difficulties and opportunities?
People will not pay money to experience art, in the sense that we do not buy records, we do not buy paper photographs, we do not pay for tickets to the cinema. Our main currency is time. Creators strive to keep their audience looking at their work for as much time as possible. The work that gathers the most ‘time-tokens’ floats on the surface, due to the business model of today’s social media and search engines. Unfortunately, the niche that has a lot of time to waste is young people, children and teens. So most of the work created today targets that audience. We thus end up with tons of shallow work.
Of course, on the other hand, there has never been a time when creators could be so easily exposed to work from around the globe and be inspired to create something themselves. It is important to me to see more finely curated platforms that present meaningful work to the trained senses.
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