ANTONIS THEODORIDIS. WAYS OF ESCAPE
by Georges Salameh


What was your first memory with photography? How did your interest start out?

Anthonis Theodoridis (AT): I remember how thrilled I was when I got my first camera - a cheap plastic 35mm point and shoot - not because I was envisioning myself as a photographer at the time, rather because I felt this single-use device handing me over some sort of power I never had as a child before. That very fundamental sense of authority to choose what is important to document and what is not. It might be really hard to explain this idea to a modern kid... It was almost two decades later when I decided to fully engage in photography, but this feeling is still present in a way.

Tell us more about those early works: 'The Notebook' (2012) and 'About a Journey' (2013)

AT: During those years I was studying at Stereosis photography school, in Thessaloniki. We were very traditional in a technical sense, using all sort of film formats. I was experimenting with long exposures at the time, being more interested in the night-light itself, as an aesthetic form, rather than the actual scenes I was photographing. Looking back, this flaneur lifestyle we were pursuing, photographing in an almost collaborative manner, created a sense of community that boosted my interest in the medium. I think my early work captures some of this energy, a peculiar wanderlust and a strong curiosity about the place and the medium.


© Antonis Theodoridis from the series 'The Notebook'


© Antonis Theodoridis from the series 'The Notebook'


© Antonis Theodoridis from the series 'The Notebook'

Tell us more about your educational path and your experience in the U.S. How did your studies impact on your own narrative and lead to the body of work 'Newspaper from the American West' (2014)?

AT: My whole experience started when I moved to New York as a Fulbright scholar with a research proposal, back in 2013. It was basically to understand how contemporary documentary photography - for the lack of a better term - functions as a form, following the long tradition of American photographers from the early 70's up to today. My work 'Newspaper from the American West' embodies this experience. I was drawn to the West, as most photographers are, like moths to the flame. I think the work was mainly informed by this curiosity, how the documentary mode can still be valid today with the vast volume of imagery, consumed daily through the media.


© Antonis Theodoridis from the series 'Newspaper from the American West'


© Antonis Theodoridis from the series 'Newspaper from the American West'
 

How is your general research process for your projects and what are your sources of inspiration? Any mentor, teacher or anybody else that has had an impact on how you understand your work?

AT: In most cases I feel that every research process for a project falls flat, before I can get some input from the pictures themselves. I was lucky enough to be mentored by artists who's work I have been admiring. I am currently pursuing the Hartford Photography MFA and the line-up of faculty and guest lecturers is truly stunning. What impacted me the most was to observe how they think, how they move and how they photograph, rather than them "enlightening" me about my own work. It is a rare form of interaction and could be a counter argument to those who claim formal education in the Arts is futile.

How was it to start photographing in troubled times for Greece? Why did you choose to focus on Athens in your latest project: 'Ways of Escape' (2017)?

AT: It is hard, the situation has been disheartening at times. I am reluctant romanticizing the crisis and presenting it as an opportunity for artistic boom. There is a massive increase in suicides, a vast majority of the population is struggling to survive, which I don't think has been addressed by artists in an honest and effective way. Documenta 14 tried to play around with that idea, but what I think happened, instead of creating a discourse, it highlighted the gap between everyday reality and an exclusive, highly intellectual status of the Arts.


© Antonis Theodoridis from the series 'Ways of Escape' 


© Antonis Theodoridis from the series 'Ways of Escape' 

My interest in Athens is not necessarily related to its current situation. I actually think it is important to slightly remove ourselves from it, to be able to effectively discuss the idea of Athens as a city. Think about how and why it is portrayed as a birthplace of the western culture, or beyond that, how the western world chooses to portray itself. I am interested in observing that game of power. Look at how major government buildings or bank headquarters are using the ancient Greek aesthetic to project their sense of authority in the public space. Public art frequently serves this purpose too. This use of Greek (and Roman too) imagery is highly class related and basically contradicts the fundamental values of every ancient thinker, who we still praise today.

I tried tackling these ideas in my work 'Ways of Escape'. There are references to an ancient Greek aesthetic, but modern reality is clearly disengaged from it. My intend was to make photographs that function as riddles and manifest an enigmatic nature. Ideally the work allows the viewer to create a personal experience with the city. Visually, I found the warm Athenian light to be consistently present. Not to sound overly romantic, but if you think about it, nothing is more constant in time than the sunlight itself.


© Antonis Theodoridis from the series 'Ways of Escape' 


© Antonis Theodoridis from the series 'Ways of Escape' 


© Antonis Theodoridis from the series 'Ways of Escape' 

Do you have any comments on how photography has been or is evolving here? Is there anything you have observed in particular?

AT: There is indeed a growing interest in Photography in the city. It might be because many young people, in the face of staggering unemployment rates and lacking "better" alternatives, are motivated to follow a creative career. There is a strong sense of community too. The real challenge now, in my opinion, is to better engage with the international art scene.

You told me, you have changed formats in terms of cameras and opted for black/white for your new body of work, why and when you start a project you already have an idea of where you’re going, or do you let yourself be guided by experimentation, by the process itself?

AT: I think it is important feeling comfortable within ones technical restraints. I chose to shoot 'Ways of Escape' with a basic, mechanical camera, on color negative film. The way it described the light felt more unmediated. In a broader sense, I don't think working in a way of "knowing where you're going" works for me at all. I would rather see every photograph as a tiny step into the unknown. I wouldn't call it experimentation per se. I am just stepping back a bit, trying to learn by the process or by just looking at the pictures.


© Antonis Theodoridis from the series 'Ways of Escape' 


© Antonis Theodoridis from the series 'Ways of Escape' 

Do you have any expectation for how you wish your work to be perceived? How do you deal with the exhibition of your works?

AT: As long as my work evokes any kind of response, I feel it is successful. After hanging the work on a wall, there is always some surprisingly interesting input, usually from someone you least expect it. It is a good place to get feedback and learn. I think a well designed exhibition avoids being to loud, overshadowing the viewer's voice.

Is there any show you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring?

AT: I recently visited Pier24 in San Francisco with my Hartford MFA cohort. It is an organization with a distinct vision and passion for Photography. They created a quiet and contemplative space for viewing work. The show they had on the wall was called "The Grain of the Present". It is a group show of artists whose work shares the commitment of looking at everyday life "as it is".


© Installation view 'The Grain of the Present' at Pier 24, San Francisco

What do you think about photography in the era of digital and social networking? 

AT: I am glad about the fact that photography is constantly gaining popularity in the art world. We should acknowledge it as a great opportunity for the medium. Simply look at every major art fair; photography is embedded everywhere. However, I think it’s vital to distinguish that from the overabundance of mainstream imagery online. I am a bit concerned because, although quantity increases exponentially, our ability to look at photographs is growing disproportionally.

You are preparing a new book. Tell us more about how you envision transferring your work to this medium and share with us three books of photography or any other book that you recommend?

AT: My work 'Newspaper from the American West' was originally conceived in a book form. I am interested in the casual mode of viewing photographs in a newspaper compared to those in an art book. The differences between the two formats are obvious, but the nature of the pictures can be dubious. The work is also flirting with the idea of the American road trip, which is central to Photography, but in my opinion has been excessively romanticized. I am publishing the book with Agra Publications, one of the very few publishers in Greece who are invested in Photography.

One of my most recent photobook acquisitions was Mary Frey's 'Reading Raymond Carver'. Besides the fact that the work is absolutely magnificent, it made me turn to Raymond Carver and read a few of his short stories and poems. I find good literature truly inspiring. It seems there is a unique link between the two mediums. It could be that in some ways, they have to deal with the ordeal of everydayness in a similar manner.

---

LINKS
Antonis Theodoridis
urbanautica Greece