Photography over a drink ep. 1 – What does it take to exhibit your photos in a museum

Photography over a drink ep. 1 – What does it take to exhibit your photos in a museum

December 5, 2019 1 By Peter Engel


What’s up everyone, so today is our first episode of “photography over a drink”. Today we are talking about what does it take to take your images into international museums We’re doing this talk with Michael Pappas and please enable English subtitles as the talk will be in Greek. And… Guess what? We’re not doing this talk over here, so fly with me to the French Riviera! (singing) everything is recording for us… – a bit further
– Here? – More I think
– Here? – Cheers
– Cheers – Imagine it’s gone sour – No I tried, it’s good – Ahh – It has a good sour to it – So we are at an old studio of photography, from the 19th century inside the Fragonard Museum in Grasse, France Grasse is a town near Cannes and this studio is not accessible to the public. It is a “secret” of the Museum. We are here because we have an exhibition about Greek costumes Greek women’s costumes which have been found here in this beautiful Museum so we would like to discuss about how we came to be here and what was our path so far that brought us at this level and we get to be at this nice place drinking this fine wine. So actually I remember that we have first met in person at Messologgi – We have talked on Facebook first
– Yes we talked on Facebook – Then I saw you at St. Simeon feast, I was having an exhibition there, a dreadful one with photos from India
– OK, you have to start somewhere – So I’ve seen you somewhere, I guess I figured it was you by the beard so I thought to myself, this must be Michael so I came and spoke to you – You were there for the festival right?
– I was there to make photos during the festival, yes Then I can’t remember how we continued meeting I think we met again in Athens downtown for a coffee – It is interesting that I was not there for the festival but the organisers thought that since they were having this photography festival, they thought to make it at the same time of the St. Simeon feast days. – Yes, it is a good idea, I think they do it every year.
– Yes – Good idea. – So I went out to see what was this St. Simeon feast I had heard about what they do, these Roma baptisms…
– What kind of exhibition? what kind of photos did you have there? – Well, in my last job I used to travel a lot to India
– Oh yes – So I started taking many photos because of that – So it were photos from India and other places – Just India – This is what really got me into photography. I had started since I was young when I was 15, I really wanted to get a camera but not too much to take photos, I just liked the camera as a machine thus I wanted to buy one. So I finally managed to get one with my pocket money – What kind of camera?
– A Kodak, a compact one Just one button, with film, press it and it decides whether to use flash or not and I was intrigued when I sent my my first roll to the developer, he told me you have an eye for it I thought, what does he mean? I just look into the viewfinder and take a photo. so this made me to start looking more into it and liking it. At the same time I really liked to play with Photoshop
– Yes, I also enjoyed post processing but I overdid it orange sky, purple nothing to do with what we do today.
– If you learn a new toy you get really into it. – I remember seeing photos in albums family albums, and I always used to say that I want to make photos like the ones in the albums The result looked very realistic, so I wanted to make these kind of photos photos that don’t look fake Then I bought a film camera by someone in my village. – What kind of camera, super automatic, or did it do more? – No it was a normal film camera, manual but I had nothing to do with photography I was going down the beach at my village on a bright day field, tree, a nice minimal frame I take the picture, nothing, everything burned I didn’t know about settings something here, something there…
– Everything white – Yes, some settings here, some there I sent them off to the developer, at Chalkis (nearby town), because there was none at the village so this was taking too long so I though I should get a compact camera. And I did but then you can’t adjust the metering. I was taking the picture of a tractor for example, releasing the shutter the tractor went through, he went home, had a shower and then I was taking the picture and I thought what’s that? next one. Then I bought a Pentax – A film camera
– No digital so with the digital I learned faster self taught I thought these buttons must do something. It would get darker one way brighter the other way, so we are going somewhere so I figured it out myself and I was shooting for 10 years landscape, self portraits I couldn’t take a photo of another man I couldn’t lift the camera in front of someone so I decided to study photography there is no other way. I have to learn the secrets of photography. I didn’t care to work It didn’t occur to me at the time what I could do with photography. this came at a later stage – I think this is the only way. It starts by you wanting to take photos. – The process. In love with the process – Photography is not something you can just say, oh good I can do this as a profession – Yes it’s impossible – Because if you are thinking you want to make money, then photography is probably not the right thing – I see it as pleasure I want to enjoy it first and if I do, I get a good result – This is a key I think If you are not enjoying what you do, you cannot get a good result so eventually no one will care to see it – A good result for myself, maybe others won’t like it. So I have to first enjoy it myself and it is a good result for me. After that… but in order to have a good result you must have a theoretical background we have seen photography we have studied old master photographers, the history of photography so we can come to the conclusion that having this knowledge, our photo has also a place in the world – True, seeing many photographs is so important and I also think that this is when my work started to sky rocket before that, I had no idea I didn’t know who Bresson is, or anyone else and at some point I started learning about them and thought to myself, look at what you can do with photography I begun looking at many photographs, and then I though about my compositions that comparing to what I saw, mine also may have a place among them so everything starts to make sense after that point it is then when you can say: Now I have a photograph – The best advise I got at photography school a holy advice was to see many photos from great photographers from Magnum Photos I went into Magnum, and dug into it I also saw other agencies and more photographers, and according to what I saw, I figured out on the result I wanted to have. So I think that the result I now have has a certain base, a background, it’s not just my taste so if it fits to what I have seen and like I enjoy it and I think I am doing something right. – Along the way you understand that it is not just photography that inspires you you may get influenced by painting, cinema Painting is also an image based art so composition is similar in painting – Theotokopoulos (El Greco) for example Goya, may influence you Goya’s contrast
– Fragonard Let’s advertise him, since we are at the museum
– What was Fragonard? – A painter
(laughing) When I was little I was inspired by National Geographic I made a dream out of it, that one day I would be a photographer for them going around the world, making these images now it doesn’t inspire me that much anymore – We got into the trap that everyone gets into To see pictures from To have as a standard on what photography is, from magazines like Playboy when we were young, and you think, this is photography. We hadn’t seen Magnum, Economopoulos
– Right You see the standard model photos, or the lifestyle ones – At most you would see a photo by late Bechrakis at the newspaper, John but still, you didn’t understand what this meant, what kind of work he put in It was until I went to photography school when I first heard about Bresson, Economopoulos and all of these photographers so people get into this trap, to have as standard the photos they see at these magazines It makes sense – What really sparked my interest in photography, was travelling because at my last job I was travelling a lot all over the world and so it happened to have a manager who was also into photography and he had a Canon 5D MarkII DSLR It was the first time for me to get equipment like that in my hands – Is that why you bought this camera?
– Yes I was very impressed and since with this work I had a few money I thought ok, I should spend 1-2 month salaries to buy a 5D to myself. This is when I started since travelling continued and I had a new camera so I was shooting all the time so by working on it you start to realise whether you like it or not. Then I tried to figure out how to make it better what else is there to it? This is when I started studying and I saw some YouTube channels actually, For example one is ‘the Art of Photography’ by Ted Forbes, that focuses more on the art of photography, rather than the technical part so I started realising that there is more to it this is when I found out about the Master photographers So that is when I entered Magnum, bought books and seen a lot of photography and started to become better and better. Equipment eventually is not that important, as I used to have the 5D at the beginning then I got into this syndrome of buying new equipment new lenses, I thought that if I buy this lens I will make better pictures… So finally, the camera I use today I bought it as a second one the Leica and since the first day I got it, I left the other one that was so bulky behind so you must realise what kind of equipment you need for the work you are doing so you must first start working and understand what is it you want to do and then you decide on what equipment can help you achieve that. – Yes, people ask me all the time, what camera should I buy? You cannot tell them for sure, what camera to buy I tell them, buy the cheapest one you can afford – Yes, if you have to ask what camera you should buy, you’d better buy the cheapest one. – Buy the cheapest DSLR camera, so you can learn light metering and the technical part, and you will then figure it out yourself, as I did You will understand, what focal length you need If you need a faster camera, a bigger one or a smaller one, you will figure it out yourself These 2-3 years that you will spend on learning photography with this camera, you will understand, for example I want to do reportage, so I don’t want large equipment I need to be more agile. So that’s it And we have so many options When you have too many options and you do different things you don’t get good results. So in this sense, I have one camera, one lens so one focal length, being 35mm, 28, 24, 20? You choose one lens One camera, one lens One subject Will I make black & white, or color? Everything must be just one so that you have a way to go. Or you get lost in the options. Also post processing. Just choose one Photoshop has so many tools Choose 2-3 that fit your style – The more barriers you have the faster your work gets better. Think about it In the old times you had these barriers whether you liked it or not. Even if we go before photography, in painting There was a period when they first discovered the blue colour. The colour to paint with. So if you wanted to use blue in your paintings, you had to either be very rich, or have a very rich patron to commission the painting so you only had a certain palette to use you had to make your own colours so what colours you made depended upon what you had around your place so you had too many restrictions. Also in photography, when it started, it was only in black & white. You couldn’t choose between the one or the other. but you see these people could develop their skills much better than today so today we could do the same thing virtually. We can put the restrictions to ourselves. – Yes, this is very important. We have to put restrictions, there is no other way. You cannot do everything You get lost You must wake up in the morning and say I have my 24mm lens, this camera, this is my subject and I make colour, or black and white you cannot do everything. The photography I do, the decisions I made have brought me here, there is a result. They have brought me here, in Fragonard, France. I think about it and I am laughing I do what I want I do what I personally feel will have a result, I just do what I want actually and there is a good reception What is missing from the history of photography is the photographer himself – Yes It is the unique way you have to see things around you and your perception of the world – Everything has been photographed and will be photographed again. what has never happened before in the history of photography is myself, it is you… Customs and tradition has been photographed before. But not by myself. – There is no such thing that many think when they start that will find a subject, an idea, that no one has thought about it before. – There is no such thing
– There is no such thing Everything has been done before. There is nude, there is weird nude, Festivals have been photographed, landscape has been photographed… everything – There are exhibitions with white boards just white images, with nothing in them or just black, or… there is a dance, where someone is supposed to dance without getting up from the chair there is a chair and someone is sitting on it. And he calls it ‘dance’ Even the craziest thing you can come up with to make photographs of has already been done The only thing that has never been done before, is to have is photographed by you. Your view is missing. so if you think about it, we have a unique spectator seat in the world. not just in art, but in our life too. We see things in a unique way. No one sees them the way we do. – Yes. It is something unique each one of us possess and we just pass it. We try to find something unique to create. But you are already unique. – So we have to look more inside us that is our obsessions, because each one of us has been raised in a certain environment. A neighbourhood, a village, a city, someone in a mountain, another next to the beach, so we have to look inside, our obsessions and this is what we should bring to the surface. What is missing is our obsessions – Art is essentially communication. So in the end what you communicate is what you are so the more unique and special you are, the more you have to say this is what the world needs, this is what everyone wants to see – So essentially the more true it is, the more unique. The more honest, the more unique because you bring out your truth. There is no other truth in the world. No one can say this truth. Not Bresson, or Goya, or no one. They have told their truth. So the more truthful I am, the more unique and the more breakthrough I can become. Someone asked me, during some lessons I was giving, he asked, how can I be breakthrough if I also photograph customs like you do, or Economopoulos did You will photograph with your own truth. The more truthful you are the more breakthrough you will be. So you must be truthful. That is the trick. You raise your camera, and bring out your truth. – As Bresson (Henri-Cartier) said, your eye, mind and camera must become one. – The decisive moment – The decisive moment The next subject is how we get to be here. How we exhibited at the Benaki Museum before, and how we did these exhibitions. Because it is one thing to do a good work To be truthful and make work with actual meaning, such that the world wants to see it and even if this is the most important part, that you definitely need it but you also need other things to take your work into a significant place, to show your work to the world. Because that is the goal. Since what you do is a form of communication, and you don’t communicate it, what is the point, if you are just the one to see it? Take Diane Arbus as an example. People noticed her at the point when her work came into the light. – Yes, this is why I have her as background everywhere. Not just because I like her images, Her thinking, her way of life, taking pictures, without showing them, or even seeing them herself, that for me is another level, it goes to sanctification. You take the photos without even seeing the result. She was this much in love with the process but… as you said, by seeing our path, you can understand that this is not enough. Want it or not, this is not enough – Essentially you must create work that has a meaning, you need a presentable body of work, and then you must take it out so that you can show it – This is what they told us at the photography school. You must have a volume of work You must work and then take it out. I couldn’t understand it at the time. What our teacher, Tsevas, meant You must first create a significant body of work and take it out, door to door. show your work to people Nowadays with email, email to email. It became easier. – The problem is that when most people start, they expect to have an overnight success. Or maybe they will take just one picture that will be so good, that they will be very successful, like the McCurry (Steve) example that many see it in a wrong way, they believe that he did a good picture (the Afghan girl) that got to the National Geographic cover and that was it It was not just that. The truth is that he had a huge body of work from many years, – He even takes photos today. – Yes. And it so happened that he became known to a wide audience after this photograph. – Which is not bad, because, being widely accepted to the audience, people start to see more into the rest of his work. Work that is equally important and interesting. So at the beginning, when we can’t wait like in my example, as I did the exhibition about India in Messologgi. You can’t wait to show what you are doing and expect a quick success. and you try to find spaces to make an exhibition. Truth is that to do an exhibition is not that difficult. If you just go to a nearby cafe and tell them you want to have an exhibition here, they will probably accept. They will think you will bring some nice photos, bring your friends along to see them it’s only a positive thing for us, there is nothing negative to it. so maybe, if we want to go down this path, we must be very strict from the beginning, on where and how are we going to expose our images. If we can’t manage to go where we want to, then, just leave it. Maybe it’s not time yet to show your work. – That is also… we have it as people in general. We want with little work, to have great result, a lot of money for example with little work Little work, great result That is impossible. Especially photography is the other way round. You need a lot of work and you don’t even know if you are going to have any result. – Yes, you know the problem is that we confuse simple with easy. That is, in order to have this result and even have exhibitions and create a significant body of work, is simple, and what I mean is that I can give you the recipe on what you need to do to accomplish that. But is not easy. It doesn’t mean that if something is simple, you can do it with little work, or without labor without investing too much of your time So simple is different. It is simple, but it is not easy. – It’s just three steps See a lot of photography Take photos all the time, and study Study Kazantzakis, Lountemis, – Yes, literature
– Literature Why did I need to know… But I figured, that if I study 8 hours on photography, for example, someone else who studies 10 hours, will do better – It’s true
– These two hours over time will make a difference so the more I work, the faster I will reach a desired outcome. The same with books. When I got into the photography school I had only read Kazantzakis. From then on… which had a positive impact on me as a person. And, ok to take pictures all the time was easy for me because this is what I wanted to do, take pictures all the time. – You know, many people say that they have no talent, or someone else has more talent than me and he does better. Talent essentially is a very small ingredient to achieve what you want There is a good chance that someone is a very good photographer with no talent It’s more important to work hard than being talented. Actually some times, talent can even be an obstacle. Because you can get to believe that since I have the talent, I don’t need to work hard. – I don’t need to go to Messolongi, or Karpathos, or Kastellorizo – I will just make a few photos,
– I will just visit my village, and chill, eat, drink with my friends… which is also good… talent does help, in all levels, – It helps in the sense that can get you too far ahead. For example, you can be a great painter, with no talent, just hard work, but you can be Picasso if you have the talent. – Or take soccer, Messi, who has talent if he didn’t work, he wouldn’t be where he is
– In no way. – Moreover, if you have the talent, it’s such a pity not to work harder. – Yes, exactly
– It’s stupid, to be talented and not work hard
– Talent should give you the motivation to work – But talent is not enough. It is the last ingredient. You need hard work. – Let’s talk now about how we got to be here. Actually we came to be in Fragonard because the saw our work at our previous exhibition at the Benaki Museum. So let’s first talk about how we got to be at the Benaki Museum. Which is also interesting. The proposal to the Benaki Museum came by ourselves. We started by sending an email We didn’t know anyone at the Museum or anything like that, our means was just the work we had so after the email, they agreed to see us at the beginning just to see who we are and what we do, at a short initial meeting, so we though to bring along prints of the photos we proposed for the exhibition. – Which proved to be a good thought – Yes. Actually at first the meeting was kind of… – Cold
– Yes, kind of cold, ok let’s see these guys… – Two or three more people are here to… …who think too much of themselves, I don’t know how they thought about it – Yes, I don’t know, but the important thing was that they sat and listened to us so bravo to them for being such open minded – Yes, bravo, because they are going to watch this, so bravo, bravo – So as we talked during the meeting, we started unfolding the prints on the table, so from that moment on, the discussion changed, the torque of the meeting had changed – On our side – Yes, on our side, they started looking more interested so what they told us is that OK, here at the photography archives we see it positively. We will therefore make a proposal to the exhibition department of the Museum, this is the process, so after you pass from the photography archives, you go to the exhibitions dept. and if they like it, they make a proposal to the board, and if they also agree, you have an exhibition. So, after this meeting we went past the photography archives, and what we understood after this meeting was that the exhibition would take place probably after two years, due to the Museum’s programming even if we could do it earlier, we would be notified at least a year in advance, and finally after two weeks we got an email from the exhibitions’ department, they asked us to go and see them. We prepared even better, we took more pictures with us to convince them, but when we met we understood that they were already convinced, and they even told us that the exhibition would take place after just six months, which was a very short period to prepare. But we finally managed and had the exhibition at the Museum, it was quite successful, we are happy with the result, and this is where people from Fragonard got to know us, who were working on a common project with the Benaki Museum. It was a common project because they have here a year dedicated to the Greek tradition, 2019 here in Grasse, at the Fragonard house, – Ah, that is why their shop here have the…
– Yes that is why they have all these collections So they saw our exhibition and asked Can we take this exhibition to France? So this is how we talked with them and agreed, and here we are, – Here we are
– In this beautiful place, – In a 19th century studio… – Where we sit, they used to stand to have their picture taken. They would stand over here… – Yes. Maybe they rest their hand over there, – Right, yes. – And so our images are now here in Grasse, – Actually this very moment, a crew is inside, hanging the images on the walls, – And we are drinking wine
– We are drinking wine… – Wine got me better actually,
– Really? You are not sick anymore?
– Yes, I got rid of the flu – Let me pour some more They had it open and it will get bad, so we should drink it because… It’s a pity, poor wine – Pity, pity. Grasse-e (krasee=wine in Greek)
– Grasse-e – OK It’s essentially just an exhibition. We shouldn’t get too excited by it We continue. It gives us the responsibility to continue not to get a result that is equally good or better, just continue what we like to do. – About the closing… how to close… That bulb looks crazy – A 19th century bulb
– Yes, yes – And here they were hanging…
– The sheep (laughing) – We are at an old photography studio
– You should be speaking to me – Oh, I wanted to make an introduction first, to our audience, who are eager to know – Where we are, if we are fine, if we are sick or dying (speaking in French) – Hello… we… – Ah, after after – D’accord (ok)
– Dacor, decor! – Ah yes, it’s for decor (It’s mine, the orchid) – It’s very beautiful We have a shooting – You should definitely include this
– Of course So the lady came because we’ve stolen her orchid so she was asking it back – But she liked it, she said ‘decor’, nice something like that… – No she said “d’accord”, not decor – Oh and I thought… ok people will laugh at us.