We are intrigued by the images and deep thoughts of Demetrios Drystellas, a Greek photographer looking to unify being an artist and an artisan. Despite having a variety of images and work, such as expressing portraits, cool fashion photos, beautiful shots from cities and places, polaroids and filmwork, Demetrios is often being pigeon-holed as an artist mainly doing nudes. “It is easy to get criticised for shooting nudes and the interesting thing is that no matter how many other things you might do, frequently people remember just the nudes. I do not know if people consider them to be better than the rest of my work (I hope not), although I believe that it is to do with the mores of western societies, which suppress nudity, in essence turning it into something shrouded by a “forbidden” element.” For the past two years he has also been working on an illustrated book, with images inspired by the greek mythology and its nymphs. We can´t wait to see that!
Why do you love photography?
I do not love photography in itself, I love the visual arts in general, especially painting, engraving or scuplting. Simply put, I could not practise any of the above, so here I am. Photography is “easy” art to me and I am perfectly aware that my opinion upsets people, especially since this is what I do, photography. This is the reason I love shooting film with manual cameras, it adds a challening element, all the stages demand skills in a different way, even simple things that today we take for granted, like focusing prove tricky. Not that I hold digital in disdain, in the end its the image that counts, not the medium. Let´s not forget that shooting film has become quite expensive and time consuming. It only pleases me personally, when I get an image I am proud of, and know that it was not just a click. That it was not luck. In each session I take around thirty to fourty 6×7 or 35mm film images, usually no more, many times even less than that. You have to shoot, develop and then print, hoping nothing goes wrong in between.
When is a woman beautiful for you?
From a visual perspective, when she appears distant yet welcoming, fragile, but powerful at the same time. This sweet sense of melancholia. A lot of models, these really striking women, are usually full of insecurities and most people do not understand this. Then again, most people forget or do not know, how superficial the fashion industry is and that modeling life has an aspect that is not glamourous at all, competing based on your looks. It is good when people outside praise you because of your looks, but in castings with so many different models, dealing with rejection from clients, usually with unpleasant remarks in a language you do not understand etc takes its toll. So in essence a woman is beautiful to me when she becomes transparent, dropping all masks and showing you her true self, being exposed.
You do a lot of nude stuff. What inspires you on that theme?
Trust. You have to earn somebody’s trust in order for them to take their clothes off and show their skin; to become exposed. In essence you can not ask anything more of a person, they can not be more exposed, especially people (not just models) that sit for me nude, bare, totaly exposed. All insecurities we have with our bodies instantly become evident. No matter how good an actor you might be, if you do not like a body part it shows (and everybody has an issue with their bodies to complain about). It is a really wondrous moment, the breath most people take before they undress in front of someone. I really observe all these small details. So you could say I am interested from a psychological perspective too. However I do love the human body and this is what intrigued me the most. Whether female or male it is work of wonder, especially when you meet people with bodies of a sculptural quality.
To me nudity is our natural state. It is amazing how similar we look when naked, how garments and clothing in general puts us in stereotypes according to social conventions. Nudity in Greece, where I am currently located, is not an easy thing, Society, being quite conservative still, associates female nudity with playbody and does not differentiate between the different types of nudity. So you have girls willing to pose nude but they tend to be on the glamour side, which I avoid, and girls that appreciate the beauty of the human body and would like to be shot, but they are deterred by the comments and criticism that will folllow. On the other hand, money always loosens people’s morals. We all have our price and it is quite interesting to see “prude” people who regard nudity with contempt, being willing to take their clothes off for money. I avoid collaborating with such people. As a quite successful model friend told me a couple of years ago, her mother asked her not to pose nude unless she is paid, to which the girl replied “I will take my clothes off, when I want, under my terms and with the photographer I select. Strippers undress for money and I am not one”.
It is easy to get criticised for shooting nudes and the interesting thing is that no matter how many other things you might do, frequently people remember just the nudes. I do not know if people consider them to be better than the rest of my work (I hope not), although I believe that it is to do with the mores of western societies, which suppress nudity, in essence turning it into something shrouded by a “forbidden” element. I always test my nudes with female friends who do not like nudity at all, lets call them prudes; if I can move them a bit every now and then with a nude image and they like it a lot, it means I m on the right track. I never care what men say about nudes, they are prone to make cheap something beautiful, only my female audience matters. They can usually judge better what is decent and/or tasteful. And of course beautiful models who trust me and pose for me, actually this is the most gratifying; models that travel the world, coming to Athens as intown models, and honouring me with their trust, both in myself as a person and in the images they will receive. I recall this amazing girl, a student in a very prestigious US university, who later told me of all the work she did in Greece, the nude images we shot together is what she´ll remember, precisely due to her own participation and freedom to express herself in the project. And of course, when you are commissioned by women themselves for such images, it really means something, at least to me.
All the models looks so self-confident in your images. Is it important to have a good connection to the model for you to get this strong images?
I always strive to make models feel comfortable and beautiful during a session. I cannot stress enough how important it is to establish a bond of trust between you and the person sitting for you. You have to make them feel empowered. Most models really appreciate it and I usually get what I want from the session. Others might misunderstand this effort as weakness on your part and try to exploit it. When a model feels uncomfortable for any reason, it is reflected usually on the end result; their expression is lacking and as I said in a previous question, in order for them to become exposed to you, their trust must be won; make them feel it is ok to open up, that there is no need to hide behind anything whether it is an assignment or a personal shoot. Again, the more people present in the shoot, the more difficult this becomes; when I feel tension, I try to discover what is wrong and I leave the rest of the team a bit behind, so it is only me and the model.
You are working on a book right now – what can you tell us about? Or its a secret? :=)
Since I can remember, I was always fascinated by mythology and this particular project is a reflection of this passion. So it draws from greek mythology and its nymphs. A very small sample you can see here, I have been working on it for over 2 years, proved more difficult than I had expected, mainly tanlines on the models hahaha no matter how good the makeup.
Where do you see yourself in a few years?
While this is very difficult to predict, if there are no unfortunate events and everything goes as planned, I see myself doing documentaries of historical interest. Currently I am in the preproduction stage of a couple of short films. I love photography and will not stop pursuing my goals there, but the more time passes I am shifting towards older techniques, i.e. at the time I am doing research about wet plate photography. Then I will be content that what I do demands you to be an artist and an artisan simultaneously.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
An archaeologist… I love history, linguistics and ethnology. Not that I regret my academic studies so far, international relations are quite interesting. In retrospect though, I might have studied archaeology straight from the beginning.
Interview by Christine & Sigrun Guggenberger