When I first met Thodoris Markou I was left speechless. We were attending a ‘fashion photography workshop’ and he constantly moving around and taking pictures with his cameras which seemed like outer space gadgets to me. Then I realized the guy has hundreds of those gadgets, and he moves around pretty much everywhere taking amazing pictures. For it is the great outdoors that Thodoris captures best. Once he asked me what feeling I got from his pictures. And without second thoughts I answered: freedom. It’s amazing to be able to capture that with your camera. It really is. But, apart from all the talent that’s been put on the guy, he is probably the most laid back person in town, famous for his endless hours spent in this bathtub, his laundry that influence the weather, and his mother’s pastitsio. In this session, Thodoris Markou, shows both talent and coolness, in a very inspiring interview and through some very amusing pictures.
Do you remember the first picture you ever took? The first camera you used?
I really can’t recall my first picture, but the first camera I toyed around with was a Zenit that I’d borrowed from my brother. It was during a summer spent in Rethymno, Crete, back in 2001 or something, and I think I took pictures of insignificant things, some buildings, the moon. I was really impressed by the fact that I could change the lenses on that camera, and I kept putting on a 135mm lens and gawping at the way it was “bringing distant things closer”. Needless to say, I had no clue about photography.
But what made you want to really get involved with photography? How did it all begin?
In 2005/2006 I was serving in the army at the island of Lesvos, and everybody knows that the army days are the days that you have a lot of time in your hands and nothing really interesting to do with it. I had bought a Nikon SLR camera when I was studying in the UK, and I decided to give it a spin. I shot three black & white films during some snow-ridden days. When I came back to Athens I developed the films, only to find out that I really sucked and I had paid a lot of money for some crap photos. That’s when I decided I should buy a digital camera and try to learn about how to properly use it. Two years later, in 2008, I got back in the analog game, only this time I knew a lot more about cameras and how to use them. I also thought I knew a lot about photography – it took me two more years to understand that knowing about cameras, digital or analog, does not necessarily mean you know anything about photography.
What is it that you love capturing in your photos?
People’s emotions. The rain. The wind. Roads. Emptiness, absence, distance. Suburbia. Other common things. Lately I’m into rooftops, but the winter cold has brought this project to a standstill.
You are involved in many fields of photography, one of them being covering concerts. Do you have any interesting stories to share about the concerts you’ve covered? Which bands are most likely to get the best shots, due to their live performances?
It’s a bit hard to remember. I must have covered more than 500 concerts in the past six years. Metal bands are a sure hit when it comes to concert photography. Both the musicians and their fans are impressively dressed and they always make the most of their concerts. Once, I was taking pictures of Iron Maiden or some other band and I was right in front of the stage with all the photographers – we were waiting for the band to come onstage, when the fans behind us started protesting that we were getting in their way and could we fuck off or something. When I turned around to face them, they instantly stopped whining and started striking poses for the camera. That was really funny – and proves how metal bands and fans guarantee good concert photography.
Photography is an art that is easily misused and misunderstood by the public. With cameras being super automatic and easy to use, instagram and social media, it is believed that everyone can be a photographer. What are the most common mistakes people make, when it comes to this form of art?
The most common mistake is that everyone believes photography is an “easy” art, because you can easily and cheaply buy the necessary equipment. All you need to do is buy a digital SLR, and you can call yourself a photographer. Well, did you ever see people call themselves poets or writers because they got a pen and some papers? No one mistakes the tools needed to write a poem or a book with the difficulty of actually writing one. It’s the same thing in photography. Just because an image can be produced with just one click, doesn’t mean that you are automatically producing art. I keep saying that an image is easily produced, but a photograph is not. There is a notable difference between “maker of images” and “photographer”, and it has a lot to do with studying and education, and nothing to do with equipment.
Film or digital photography?
When I am working on a commission and I need to turn it in fast, then I go for digital. I have no problem admitting that digital has surpassed analog in certain fields. However, I always use film on my personal work and on other commissions where I get full artistic freedom and a reasonable timeframe. It’s not a question of which one, film or digital, is better. Each one should be considered a different medium. The thing about film is that it is… alive. It has a soul, it has a personality. Film has whims, flaws, a character of its own. You have to try hard to get film to be your friend, but this friendship can make you a better photographer, and a much better person. Moreover, with digital cameras dominating the market, you can easily have access to cameras that were a midsummer’s night dream back in the pre-digital days. In the past years I have acquired a number of medium and large format cameras that cost me, in total, less than the cost of a middle-tier digital SLR camera. And these cameras will never age. Sure, you have to buy films, and chemicals to develop them, but really, the cost for any kind of photographic work apart from photo-reportage is less than the drinks you pay during a Saturday night out.
If you could change people’s views on photography in Greece, where would you start?
I would start with the view that when you commission a photographer for a job, you commission his equipment, to be used as and when you see fit. Well, it’s not about the equipment and the skills required to use it. When you pay a photographer for a job, you actually pay to use his eyes and his mind, his style and the way he looks at the world. That’s why you look at a photographer’s portfolio, to get a look at his style, not to say “he/she’s good”. So, the first and foremost question should not be “is he/she a good photographer?” but “does his/her artistic style match my aesthetic requirements?”
And I am guessing that they don’t very much appreciate the art of photography, nor do they understand it.
It’s like William Eggleston said: “I am afraid that there are more people than I can imagine who can go no further than appreciating a picture that is a rectangle with an object in the middle of it, which they can identify”. The namedropping is not random. William Eggleston is considered the father of color photography, yet I am sure that his name is relatively unknown to the public, and I have actually hear people say “why are these considered to be good photographs?” when they look at his work. However, I’ve yet to hear a single person question the works of Picasso, Van Gogh or Monet. They might say “I personally don’t like it” but they never say “it’s not good”. Our education starts the day we are born, and we get a fair deal on the important painters, writers, poets, maybe even the directors, architects, sculptors, but the photographers get no attention at all. If I ask you to name five painters, you will, and most of them will be quite important. If I ask you to name five photographers? You’ll start by Helmut Newton, some other fashion photographers, a couple of photojournalists and some guy who photographed the Amazon River that you saw being featured in a news site. You see, in people’s minds photography is all about shooting weddings, wars, riots, famous people, fashion, beauty, national geographic. In people’s minds, good photographs are images that make you go “wow”, and that’s as far as it goes. Well, really, that’s not what photography is all about – and a discussion on this subject can really go on forever.
A picture is objectively or subjectively good?
I will have to subjectively declare that a picture can only be objectively good. You see, a discussion on how to judge any art could also go on forever. Thing is, you should separate your subjective from your objective opinion when discussing a work of art. Your subjective opinion is the part of you that can identify with a picture and feel “I like/don’t like this” or “this really moves me”. Your objective opinion is the part of you that has to be trained on appreciating pictures, and should be able to instinctively think “this is a good picture because of this and this and this reason”, only you don’t get to name the reasons, you just understand that they all blend together to create a good picture.
A few comments on the things pictured and said above:
For the shooting, Thodoris lent me his camera. I am in love with it. Serisouly. / The books shown on his bedroom floor are Joel Meyerowitz’s ‘Cape Light’, making friends with a Yashica Electro 35 GSN and a Minolta Minoltina AL-S and Michael Ackerman’s Half Life, making friends with a Mamiya C220f. / When I asked Thodoris how many cameras he owns he said: let’s put it this way, I have a closet full of cameras. And he does. I think his favorite moment of the whole interview was when he opened the closet’s doors, only to reveal a sea of cameras inside. / Fashion-wise Thodoris is famous for his red swimsuit shots in the Greek countryside. He was wearing that, when photographed in the bathtub. / The camera Thodoris used in our walk on the ‘urban prairie’, a five minute drive from his apartment, is an Omega View 45D. / The pastitsio was heaven on earth. We drove up to his parent’s house and consumed it there. And it’s been a real honor to get a piece from his hard to share most amazing food in the whole world. I’ve been promised some more after posting this.