by Steve Bisson

© Petros Koublis, ‘In Dreams’, Alsus. Through the cold perfect night whisperless to mark

Tell us about your approach to photography. How it all started? What are your memories of your first shots?

Petros Koublis (PK): Everything started from a coincidence. It’s 15 years now since photography found its way into my life but today it feels like it was with me the whole time. I always had a tender relationship with painting and as I was growing up I used to imagine that this was going to be the path I would eventually follow. I could feel inside me the impulse of a sensitivity that permitted frail aspects and discreet sides of the world around me to become visible. Throughout my childhood I was constantly feeling that I had to protect this sensitivity, to refine and keep it safe and alive inside me, no matter how hard it could be at times. This became the medium through which I was addressing the world and it became the language that was giving shape to my thoughts. With photography I found a more direct and intimate way to approach a world that was generating all these emotions inside me. When I found myself with a camera in my hands it felt natural and familiar. Looking back at that period I think it was photography that found me and not the other way around.

How did your research evolve with respect to those early days?

PK: My research is mostly an organic process, it’s something intuitive. In order to put together a body of work I have to embrace it with an honest and sincere heart. Some patterns remained constant and in many ways I do practice photography the same way I was doing it when I first started. My images are the result of long, extensive walks and this is the way I still prefer to make images. In that sense I could probably say that my research is mostly the outcome of a peripatetic process. I let ideas flow freely inside me as I experience the world around me. Then I attempt to put them in order, but not before I have fist exposed them long enough to my feelings. Further research could gratefully offer a foundation for my thoughts, it can enrich my project with more aspects and facilitate a conversation between my work and the ones of those before me. But in the end everything is coming down to the heart. I could never find the passion or the precious devotion to follow something that was conceived in my mind and not inside my heart.

© Petros Koublis, ‘In Dreams’, Prudentia. All in an agreeable land

Few months ago you told me you were working on a new body of work that focuses on the way we perceive this world through our senses. You mentioned the importance of books and ideas written by ancient Greek philosophers. What did you learn?

PK: Reason and logic unfolded gradually through the centuries. Going through the philosophical schools of the late Hellenistic and early Roman period, is something really exciting. Logic first tried to methodically express everything through unified theories that were including rational conclusions about the physical world and philosophical assumptions about the intelligible one as well. These unified theories were attempting an ambitious balance between a mere scientific way of thinking and the metaphysical ideas that dominated the world during the ancient times, resulting both in what became the foundation of modern science but also in a complicated corpus of mystical allegories and obscured interpretations over the human experience. We can still hear the echo of this transitional period. Psychology, for instance, could offer a wonderful example. It is the only science that within its very title contains a metaphysical conception that can’t be scientifically proven: the existence of the soul that is. Psyche is the Greek word for the soul, equivalent of the Latin word Anima. Psychology actually means the study of the Soul and, regardless of how rationalists could justify the context of that meaning, I still find this to be impressive, especially because of the deterministic prevalence that rules sciences today. It does make sense, I guess, that some of the greatest contributors to the study of myths were psychologists, like Freud or Jung. Freud in fact described myths as the distorted vestiges of the wish-fantasies of whole nations, the age-long dreams of young humanity. This is a dimension of the human spirit that my soul can easily relate with.

© Petros Koublis, ‘In Dreams’, Illatebra. And whatever’s hidden further than dreams

Let’s talk about ‘In Dreams’. What I see in this work, as in other previous works you did, is a mythological perspective leading to a primordial narratives. How do you developed this series? How did you construct the narrative?

PK: The project started coming together quite naturally, almost intuitively, as a response to the recurring tragedies of our days, the continuous drama that so many people are suffering, here in Greece and all over the world. Although I feel this work to be a reaction to the pains of humanity, nothing in this project refers to the narrative of violence and desperation. I have chosen to go the opposite direction, not to cause a reaction against the stories we see on the daily news reports, but to discreetly address with a whisper our childhood innocence, when our dreams were giving shape to this world, when our mind was prone to tender imagination rather than strict logic. With ‘In Dreams’ I tried to put together, image by image, an alternate world, one that our mind would find to be strange, distant, unfamiliar, like a sequence of fragments delivering from a forgotten myth. Plato was claiming that myths can convey meanings that are hidden from our mind and can only be reached through our intuition. When we put our mind in doubt then other senses become more alert, revealing concepts that are free of words and definitions. This is, I want to believe, the heart of this series.

© Petros Koublis, ‘In Dreams’, Aliento. All of a sudden all suddenly all

There are limits to our perception, therefore we are not able to fully perceive what is essentially mind-independent, free of form, shape and definition. We are bound to keep addressing a mental version of reality, limited within the confines of our understanding. Through Mythology the human spirit could philosophically approach those remote areas of a system much bigger than what we are able to perceive. As if through Myths, our spirit is able to overcome the boundaries of the mind and expose our intuition to a much greater reality. In this context, I regard ‘In Dreams’ to be a confident act of Romanticism, a hope that maybe the dreams we had as children can question the reality we live as adults and they can open a passage towards a better future.

The landscape. Tell us about your relationship with nature and the places that photographers.

PK: My work focuses on nature because I prefer to be there, I find that urban areas lack the harmony my soul can relate with. I feel a warm calmness inside me when I revisit places I had already seen before, so all of these years I kept coming back to certain areas. The familiarity I was developing with these places helped me search deeper, be more abstract, overcome the first impression they impose and explore more my own deepest emotional reaction to them. Through the years I put together my own geography of feelings, composed by the places I was visiting in search of some emotional state. The mountains, the sea, the forests, the marshlands, they all wake certain feelings inside me. I kept going there exploring more of their emotional influence on my soul. Everything left a mark inside me. My instinct constantly drives me towards the ideas of pantheism so I approach everything as a fragment of a unity that contains as all. Then Nature becomes a form of philosophy on its own, both a cosmological and a teleological one.

The sea. The cliffs are a recurring subject. They work slowly on our perception. And then it becomes possible to grasp a metamorphosis. The rocks become something else…

PK: I have been always finding the human experience to be a captivating story, thrilling and enchanting in a touching and profound way. A long journey through the centuries and the millennia, addressing a universe that gets to be interpreted and experienced in a whole new way every time we manage to push the boundaries of our understanding a bit further. The metamorphosis of the world is a recurring phenomenon, as both the concept of things and the context of their universal structure is constantly changing in our eyes. We will never be able to look at the sky the same way our ancestors did, for neither the sun nor the stars have the same meaning to us as they did to them. These are the foregone realities of our spirit, lost in a distant past, beyond any knowledge that we could ever hope to regain. 

© Petros Koublis, ‘In Dreams’, Ululo. For whatever’s awake out in the waves

There are some reappearing subjects in my work, like the cliffs or the rocks, but they’re more like the leitmotif of my soul’s narrative, things I identify myself easily with, regardless of my ability to explain it. On the other hand, the occurring metamorphosis constitutes the emotional narrative I wish to unfold. It’s not about the transformation of the subject matter into something else, but the transformation of our own approach towards it. The metamorphosis occurs only in our perception. I’m not after any optical illusions, the transformation I am looking for occurs gradually, discreetly, slowly, it reveals itself the second time we look, not the first one. This is why, I believe, I always return to Mythology to satisfy the thirst of my soul. Myths continue to echo a signal sent from the very first pulse of humanity, like a dream hanging between the oblivion of a distant past and the revelation of a secret future, in a world that breathes life into a new reality every time we look at it.

What do you think about photography in the era of digital and social networking? Mostly a technological era still as you said «A world without observers is a world without definitions»…

PK: A world without observers is a world without definitions and therefore things are defined not by the way they appear but by the way they are. Infinite and incomprehensible to our senses. We have been always defining things based on their appearance, the way we could perceive them through our senses. For Aristotle, for example, the earth was standing still in the middle of the cosmos, with the sun and the rest of the planets turning around it. It does appear to our senses to be like that indeed but now we know it just isn’t. Yet, even though our mind has surpassed our senses and today we are able to handle concepts that are fundamentally unreachable by them, like infinity, relativity, or the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics, we still define things based on the coherent appearance of an appropriate mathematical model. Appearance is not a property of the subject matter, but a property applied to it by its observer. The world, the way we know it, exists only in our own mind.

© Petros Koublis, ‘In Dreams’. Adveho. If once carried the wind

If we approach this suggestion from a different angle, we could claim that since the ones who observe are the ones who define things, an increase in the number of observers would also increase the number of the possible alternate appearances that some subject could have, at least until they all settle for a while in a dominant definition and a single appearance.

Photography never had so much attention paid to it till this day either. Among all arts, photography has to be the one that aligned itself the most with our digital era. From an activity of devoted artists, serious amateurs and benevolent memory worshippers, making photographs became one of the most common activities in the western world and sharing these images with the global community became the most natural thing we could do with them. There are many approaches to this phenomenon, and I have frequently heard photographers, scholars and academics expressing different opinions about the meaning and the importance it has. I have also witnessed them changing their mind about it, subscribing themselves to a different approach every now and then. In the same time, I have the feeling that many of the classic books on photography’s aesthetics and semiotics have became somehow obsolete, fragments of a near past. That thing alone convinces me that photography has certainly entered a redefinition period, which started with digital imaging and continued with the effects of social networking. The actual nature of Photography right now is only an hypothesis.

© Petros Koublis, ‘In Dreams’, Abrazo. If a body’s an effortless nest

I have often argued and wrote these years that photography is a philosophical exercise. In this sense, it serves more to those who do it rather than to those who view it. So I fully agree with what you wrote your work: «a little effort to challenge the authority of the mind. […] Not a passive denial of reason but a conscious rejection.». Can you comment on this statement…

PK: Every art addresses the whole of our senses. A melody can be as soft as a caress, or an image as hard as a rock. All arts somehow coexist in one another, since they all deliver from the vast space of our senses rather than the narrow path of our instincts. An image, however, can provide us with a more accurate description of how a moment feels like. Not the moment that takes place within a specific space and time, but the one that lies inside us in the most personal dimension there is. In every culture and language around the world, when we express the deepest of our needs or desires, we always place that wish within a single moment. When we’re sad we ask for a moment of joy, when we’re tired we wish for a moment of rest, in our pain we beg for a moment of relief. We never ask for a specific amount of time, only for that single moment. In other words, we always crave to release ourselves from the confines of time and space. It can only happen within the time period of a moment, for this is where lies the deepest expression of our existence. And if our mind is bound to time, our soul remains always free, within the intuitive eternity of this very moment.
I’m interested in the way we perceive this world through our intuition, when we find the courage to challenge the authority of the mind over our reality. It is because a sincere evaluation of our reality inevitably reveals the inequalities of our world and the imperfections our society. Logic and reason are not sufficient enough on their own to reveal the most tender and unique aspects of the human experience, the ones that gave shape to some of the most precious achievements of our spirit, like love, solidarity, compassion and equality. Logic can easily explain why Sophocles’ playAntigone is a masterpiece, but in order to understand, feel and identify ourselves with the heroine’s acts, one has to abandon the mind and rely on intuition, to go as far as to defy reason in favor of a sincere and profound humanism. This isn’t a passive denial but a conscious rejection or reason.

© Petros Koublis, ‘In Dreams’, Usque Quaque. Sea is an innocent always

What are your planning to do with this project and with the next future?

PK: I keep my heart free to dream and open to receive and I let things come their own way towards me. I think it’s more honest and simple like that. Future exists only as a possibility. All of our existence hides itself inside a single moment.


Petros Koublis