Eric’s Note: I am honored to share this interview with Burn My Eye member Zisis Kardianos on his new book, “A Sense of Place” – an exploration of the Greek island of Zakynthos. As Zisis describes in the book:
“They suggest a tour, off the beaten track, where the personal exploration of my native island is shared in the hope you are left with an emotional awareness of the place rather than a literal understanding of a location. A sense of the place.”
If you want to read more about Zisis’ start in photography, what inspired him to make the book, and how he put it together – read on.
ZISIS KARDIANOS’ BIOGRAPHY
Zisis Kardianos, was born in Zakynthos Greece in 1962 and became infatuated with photography in 1982 after discovering the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson. He studied documentary photography in the Focus School in Athens but considers himself primarily self-taught.
His photos reflect locales visited in Greece and other Mediterranean countries where he feels equally at home and they have been published in Greek and foreign magazines as well as various on-line venues. What he strives to achieve is the making through his photographs of an imaginary world, where even the most prosaic situations can acquire a mysterious nuance and a meaning different from the one that they carry in reality.
He is a founding member of the international photography collective Burn My Eye.
BOOK DESCRIPTION FOR “A SENSE OF PLACE”
The photographs collected in this book, aim to take you on a personal path to a different view of Zakynthos. They suggest a tour, off the beaten track, where the personal exploration of my native island is shared in the hope you are left with an emotional awareness of the place rather than a literal understanding of a location. A sense of the place.
Photography, contrary to the common belief, is not real at all. It is an illusion of reality with which we create our own private world.
It’s impossible to objectively describe a place or the people who live there anyway. Every adjective suggests the opposite. Every description evokes a contradiction. In trying to document a specific place, to put it into context and to show what it’s really like, we photographers do not easily escape the traps of cliché and stereotypes. I hope that I have done my best to avoid them. Since this is a personal exploration, many aspects of life in the island have been ignored.
These images reflect my past and present, my memories and emotions. They form an anthology of random moments, selected from a limited spectrum of public places, events, religious fairs, beach resorts and locations. Most were taken in the last few years.
The photographer Tony Ray-Jones had made an insightful remark when he said: “Photography can be a mirror and reflect life as it is, but I also think that perhaps it is possible to walk like Alice, through a looking-glass, observe the puzzles in one’s head and find another kind of world with the camera.”
1. Zisis wonderful to have you. To start off this interview, tell us about your background, both personally and in terms of your photography.
Nice to be here Eric. I was born in 1962 in Zakynthos, a small island in Ionian sea which, during the last years, is among the most visited Greek islands. I have spend most of my life here and a significant part of my photographic work has also been produced here. I was hooked in photography when I was in college. I have some formal photographic education but I don’t think I owe much to it, I consider myself self-taught.
I have been photographing since then on-and-off, but the last years have been the most productive by far. I owe this in part to the internet photographic community. It has provided the audience for my work that I never had, but I also have been immensely inspired and learned from like- minded photographers, photography writers and critiques.
2. You recently published a book, “A sense of place”. Can you share why you decided to publish the book, and the process of editing, sequencing, and layout?
I thought it was the right time to do it. I felt I had sufficient work in my hands, I had something to say and in addition I wanted to put all this work behind me. I thought the best way to materialize that is by lending the work to the book form and I manage to find the courage and the resources to do it.
I am a photo-bookaholic and collector. I believe that the printed book is the ideal vehicle to present photography and especially the kind of photography I like to watch and make. The contradiction we are experiencing in recent years is a photo-book flourish in the midst of a widespread collapse of printed media and books. I don’t overlook of course that the vast majority of the photo-book readership are photographers themselves.
The edit and sequencing of the images took me about six months. I made countless rough sketches of the book. I wanted to come up with a sequence that surprises and challenges. That links the photos together conceptually and visually. The flow and pace of the book was of prime importance and also dictated the inclusion or exclusion of some images.
The size of the book and of the photographs was another concern. Even though I tend to like more vertically oriented books – are more reader-friendly – most of my photos are horizontal, so it seemed natural to me to follow this orientation. The kind of work demanded a more or less academic layout but I decided to break the monotony of the one- image- per- page by accommodating the idea of varied image sizes on facing pages and varied border space. I find that this format enhances the strength of the bigger image, the one I wanted to give more emphasis to.
At the end, there is always something that you could have done differently but I’m happy with the results and I think all the parts fit together nicely. By the time the photographs find their place in a book , lose their own autonomous photographic character and become parts of a wider dramatic event which is the photo-book.
3. One of the reoccurring themes I find in the book includes a sense of loneliness and alienation. I see this through the darkness of many of the images, as well as solidarity of your subjects (such as the woman with the eyelash looking away and the boy with his face covered with his shirt). Is this a self portrait of yourself or rather your feelings about Greece?
I think is a bit of both. I have no doubt that the photographs we make are projections of our inner selves to the world outside. Photography is balancing on a thin line between the rendering of the subject and the personality of the maker. The thinner this line the more engaging is the photograph.
I always felt a kind on ambivalence towards the place that I live and I guess to a certain extant the photographs of my home island are reflecting my feelings against Greece in general.
4. In your book I love how you combine not only humans, but animals (the dogs on the beach and the woman in the water surrounded by fish). Can you share why you decided to incorporate them into your book?
People and animals, when ingeniously observed, unintentionally disclose in gesture and movement, hints of the nature of their living experience.
Animals have style. I have seen dogs with more style than men. Animals can convey emotions that we relate to the human experience in a more profound and humorous way. They have always been a favorite subject for street photographers – we are both creatures of the street, there is a certain affinity between photographers and dogs and cats in particular.
I’m attracted to the animals because of the symbolic and whimsical content they can bring to the image.
5. You are part of the candid collective “Burn My Eye”. Can you tell us why you joined the group and how the members have supported and helped improve your photography?
“BME” was formed out of a small private group in flickr that operated like a critique circle. Once invited by an existing member we could invite other photographers whom we appreciated not only for their photographic merits but also for their critical competence. I was lucky to be in the right place on the right time.
During that preliminary stage, many people came and gone and at a certain time we felt that the remaining photographers were forming a coherent enough group – both in our practice and our notion of photography – that could evolve into a public photography collective.
So far the rewards of belonging in the group have come in the form of greater exposure, some recognition from venues and institutions outside the internet, shows and even some commercial assignments. I couldn’t say that the group has impacted my photography and that of the others in any tangible way.
Now we are in a turning point and there is an ongoing discussion about how the group should evolve, whether we will be heading towards uniformity or disparity, how the collective thinking and practice can more energetically stimulate and improve our photography. Indicative of these decisions will be the choices that we are going to make for a very few new members that will join the group soon. I would personally like to see the group pursuing collective projects.
6. Geometry, silhouettes, and brilliant light (as well as darkness) are dominant in your work. Please describe your “way of working” when you are out on the streets and what you look for.
I try to remain open and be receptive to whatever comes my way. “I expect nothing but I’m ready for everything” (I think Meyerowitz said that). I avoid to be aggressive and confrontational (I hardly ever use flash) and I would really like to distill my photography a more mellow and restrained approach. I don’t shot with a project in mind but with a very few exceptions – the series “still going” and “off-season” which evolved out of a more deliberate kind of work.
I am attracted to geometrical patterns, rich textures, perplexing reflections, strong light and deep shadows. I think b&w photography is more directly concerned with light and darkness than color photography as well as with geometry and structure.
7. From your book, can you share the story behind your 3 favorite images?
“The stairway” photograph was taken on the side wall of an old hotel in Zakynthos town, part of the famous XENIA hotels chain that were built in the sixties, the forefront of the tourism industry of Greece back then. Now they are all abandoned. I was attracted by the rich and complex shadow graphics thrown on the wall and of the stylish but indicative of another era, windows with the square pattern.
I had to climb somewhere to have a more frontal view of the wall and as I was framing, here it comes out of nowhere this man and started climbing the stairway. I took several shots of him climbing all the way up, but this is the one that all the elements fall into place nicely and a small intrigue is created.
The “empty sheet hanging from the trees” photograph was taken during a country fair. This is a sheet that is used for olive-picking and it was hung there to provide shadow for the picnic. Sadly no one appreciated the spot and the sheet remained to throw its shadow on the empty ground.
The man behind is a known character, more like the village idiot, whom I had tried few times before to photograph him but I always met his discomfort. That moment it was like a gift sent from God. Just on the spot to animate the scene and in line with the window and far enough not to be annoyed by him being photographed.
The “two dogs on the beach” (I have written about this photograph on another occasion so here it goes):
“I was attracted to their wild game because I felt that there was something sensual in the play of these two dogs. In scenes like this, where there is a lot of movement and uninterrupted action, I delve into it and play along, circling the subject and clicking without much thought or fiddling with the composition. The odds for something coherent are usually minimal but I was lucky on this one, grabbing this quirky frame that conveys the vividness and rawness of this peculiar choreography. The deserted beach and cloudy sky add an ominous backdrop.”
8. The Greek street photography scene is currently booming, with many talented photographers creating outstanding work. What do you think are the reasons behind this?
I’m surprised about this diffusion of street photography in Greece myself. I cannot figure out the exact reasons behind it. Certainly the current economic crisis and the consequential inversions that brought to people’s lives, together with all the maladies has released a steam of creative spirit not only to the existing artists in all fields of art, but also to the “common” people that had never attempted to do art before.
For these people, who had been nourished on photography by the internet just before or around the same time, the streets seemed the obvious and the most direct pressure valve, where they could unleash their expressive potential and the social tensions they were suffering. At the same time the stark social reality in Greece and especially in Athens where street photography thrives, is working as the backdrop that lends this photography with additional levels of meaning and a documentary context.
This proliferation however wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t met with some tolerance and the silent acceptance of the Greek public. The nasty or even violent reactions are not all-together absent of course but not so frequent given the tensions that are burdening people’s lives.
9. Who are some people you would like to give thanks to and photographers you recommend us to check out?
As I already said, I owe a lot of my photographic education to the internet photographic community and I want to give thanks to all my friends, contacts, bloggers and instructors like yourself, magazine editors and of course my colleagues in BME.
Some of my personal favorite photographers, names outside the canon of street photography, but very important to the shaping of my sensibility as a photographer and of my visual syntax, which I recommend our readers to check out are, Leon Levinstein, Charles Harbutt, Philip Perkis, Mark Steinmetz, Jean-Pierre Favreau, Bernard Plossu, Tom Wood, Paolo Nozolino, Clement Krass and Nikos Economopoulos.
10. Any last words you would like to share?
Yes, I would like to close this interview with the words of a person much more cultured than me, the painter and set-designer Vasilis Fotopoulos. These words ring so true today in Greece, but everyone with an artistic pursuit can relate to them:
“The instinctive needs come first and then follows the luxury of the “unnecessary”. However it is the unnecessary which defines the human. It is our soul, the proof of our spirituality. It is what lifts the man up on his feet again.” - Vasilis Fotopoulos
Purchase “A Sense of Place”
Support Zisis and add this superb book, “A Sense of Place” to your personal library. Each copy is only 15€ (~20 USD for us Americans) and can be ordered from Zisis’ website. Also if you ask, you can get an inscription directly from Zisis himself!
>> You can order “A Sense of Place” here.
Do you have any more questions/feedback for Zisis? If so, leave it in the comments below!