The question of heritage in Greek image making has inspired many discussions in the past. Wondering about the influence of Greek culture in my own work, a statement from an artist friend recently stuck into my mind: “We Greeks grow up surrounded by history and ruins of the past, and we carry myth and drama always in our souls”. This idea of “greekness” and the sentiment that comes with it, felt very relevant when I first saw “Murals”, a photography project by Thanassis Raptis.

By Dimitra Ermeidou

Thanassis revisited the place of his birth, Livadi village, near Thessaloniki, and photographed the abandoned buildings that had turned into ruins. In a culture so familiar with the concept of the beautiful ruin of antiquity, he turned his gaze to ruins of our own era instead: poor, demystified houses, full of memories. These old houses left behind are part of the typical image of modern Greek history, as vast numbers of villagers left for the big cities or abroad.

Thanassis went on to combine these photographs, through traditional darkroom printing, with masks and costumes used in plays of Greek Drama. Intrigued by the magnetic, surviving power of Greek Drama, he let the heroes escape from the mystagogy of the stage into a life of their own. In “Murals”, a series of black and white photography diptychs, ruins and heroes activate each other into a haunting play of presence and absence. Despite the contrast between the derelict buildings and the idealized figures, it is striking how natural this relationship feels. It is as if the tragic heroes return back to their familiar places – or as if they never left.

Thanassis has been working on other projects that deal with more contemporary themes as well. I recently had the chance to ask him a few questions about his work, his activities and the Greek photography scene:

Dimitra: How did you first become involved with photography and what is your personal history with the medium? Any great lessons you have learned that you’d like to share with us?

Thanassis: I first became involved with photography by chance, about 22 years ago. Since then, I haven’t stopped taking photos and organizing photography events. All these years I have learnt to look at life in a totally different way.

Dimitra: Are there any recurring themes in your work? What interests you most?

Thanassis: There is a common belief that the artist makes the same kind of artwork throughout his life. I prefer working in different series, finishing my take on each theme, because I usually want to get rid of it! It is painful for me to go back to a previous theme. That ‘s why every new body of work is totally different from the previous one, with a couple of exceptions…

Dimitra: Let’s talk a bit about your Murals project. How did you get the idea for it and what is it that you photographed? I see you are connecting ideas of space, presence and time and there’s an overall theatrical mood. Is this what you were going for? How do you want the audience to look at these photographs?

Thanassis: I wanted to create a fantastic world of space, time and human life. This brought the idea to use theatrical objects and therefore evoke a theatrical mood. I want the audience to enter this magic world, to feel as if they were the audience in a Greek Drama.

Dimitra: How is the photography scene in Greece? Do you see any changes due to the fiscal crisis? How are photographers responding to it?

Thanassis: Nowadays Greek photographers are part of the European and the world scene. Some of them are very well known. Especially the European audience has the opportunity to see contemporary Greek photography in big festivals, in Arles, Paris, Hamburg, Madrid etc. I believe that the fiscal crisis has a creative effect to the artists’ work. The photographers in Greece have stopped making photography for the market, because simply there is no market. They are more sincere and express what they really feel…

Dimitra: You are all doing an amazing job in the Photography Center of Thessaloniki. Can you talk about your role and experience in it? How has the Center evolved and what are your main activities and goals?

Thanassis: Photography Center of Thessaloniki is a non-profit organization. We all offer voluntary work and, in a parallel way, we make our own photography work. We have a good reason to come together, to talk about art, to show our photography works. We also have the opportunity to meet interesting photographers and audiences abroad.

The future orientation of the Photography Centre of Thessaloniki includes organizing important festivals and collaborations with prominent agents and festivals in Greece, the Balkans and across Europe. In this vein, we have created and successfully developed institutions, such as the Aspects of Balkan Photography, and contributed to the establishment of organizations, such as the Photofestival Union and the World Union of Photography Centers. We plan to follow this direction and explore its potential even more in the future.

Thanassis Raptis was born in 1962 and lives in Thessaloniki, Greece. He has been a photographer for the last twenty-two years. Besides his straight photography works, he often combines prints with other materials, or uses video, sound and installations. He has an interest in the outdoors as an alternative exhibition space, showing his projects in streets, gardens, forests, and archaeological sites. He has presented his work in ten solo shows and more than eighty group photography exhibitions.

As the Vice Director and a member of the art committee of Photography Center of Thessaloniki, he has curated numerous photo exhibitions, and organized photography happenings of ecological, political and social content, as well as a land art workshop. He writes articles about contemporary art in magazines of Thessaloniki, and a lot of his texts and photographs have been published in books and catalogues.