In grad school, I had a close friend, Yiorgos Katsagelos, who came from
Greece to the to study
photography. He was an extremely
talented photographer which was evidenced by the quality of his work and the
respect granted him by the photography professors in the USA . The photography students were somewhat at a
disadvantage at Brooklyn College because, hoping to impart some general
knowledge about color theory and composition, department administrators had
determined that photography majors had to take some core courses in painting
and drawing. Yiorgos was concerned that
he lacked the skills necessary to perform at a post-graduate level in these
areas, and I lamely attempted to provide a little guidance to him. In truth, I think I spent more time ribbing
him with lines like “Photography is not an art form!” and “People who can’t
paint become photographers!”. Greatly to
his credit, Yiorgos would always laugh at my jibes, recognizing that my
comments were truly meant in fun and that I greatly admired his abilities. Art Department
This photograph was taken at that time and shows me and a friend, Patti Lohrs, standing on a street in
waiting for the light to change. What
often amazed me about Yiorgos’ abilities is how deceptively effortless his
process appeared. In the fleeting moment
we stood on that corner, before we had an inkling of what he was up to, he had
his camera out, framed and focused and squeezed off a shot. Years later he mailed me the photo from and I
was stunned to appreciate the quality of that “snapshot”: the dark/light
balance, the depth of field, the complicated composition, how he transformed an
everyday instant into something iconic. (By
the way, this image, as with many of the pre-digital images included here, was scanned
from a rather small print. Some
distortion and graininess resulted during scanning which was not evident in the
original image.) Greece
, Yiorgos has had
a very successful career. He’s had solo
shows in Brooklyn
College Greece, the United States, Hungary,
Italy, France, Germany,
Slovakia, England, Turkey
and Sweden and participated
in numerous group exhibitions scattered throughout Europe and North
America. He’s been teaching
photography since 1987 and currently serves as the Dean of the at Aristotle University of
Thessaloniki. When asked for permission
to include his work here, Yiorgos graciously and generously provided me with a
large selection of work from which to choose.
If you are interested in seeing more of his photography, please visit
his website at www.katsagelos.gr. School of Fine Arts
In spite of all my railing against photography, after grad school, recognizing that I would be regularly making slides of my work to submit to galleries, I purchased a decent manual 35mm Nikon SLR. Almost immediately, I became fascinated with the potential of this device and began experimenting with all sorts of techniques and effects. Early on, I explored time-lapse photography, particularly images shot outdoors at night in low light.
I took the photo immediately above solely by low lantern light. I asked my model, my future wife, to remain perfectly still while maintaining a natural expression, a pretty tall order. The exposure time was well over a minute. Mary did great, not even blinking once during the process.
I find keeping up with the accelerating pace of technological innovations and format upgrades to be burdensome. Often these changes offer the user illusory benefits and tangible deficiencies. I have a friend who calls me a Luddite. So, you can imagine my reluctance to purchase a digital camera even once the technology was proven and commonly available. Over a period of several years, my wife would now and then suggest to me that I should get myself a decent digital camera and I would agree, my only caveat being that I had to do some research before deciding which camera best met my needs. And, inevitably, I did nothing. Eventually, she got me an affordable Nikon Coolpix camera for some holiday or another, and I had no choice but to master the new technology. It became clear immediately that the advantages of digital photography are manifold. Since there were no processing costs, the new camera encouraged more spontaneous shooting, greater experimentation and the taking of multiple exposures. And the editor that came with the camera permitted me to get successful images from problematic exposures. Finally, digital images are readily copied and shared and can be conveniently stored and backed-up. The only downside to the new technology came with printing images; the process was frustrating and expensive, and the results were not consistent and permanent. Of course, this is all common knowledge today (and I’ve probably lost half my audience while expounding on these rudimentary observations), but at the time these discoveries were revelatory. Eventually, I bought a respectable digital SLR which takes high quality photos. It has lots of menus, buttons and switches and tons of options which I seldom use and takes very clear pictures with loads of pixels. Which is great. But I still commonly use the Coolpix. It’s so portable, not so precious and takes a very decent picture.
As with most people today, I take a lot of pictures simply to record family events, vacations, trips and our pets or to use as a resource for my paintings. From the moment I got my first camera, I also tried to take “photographs”: images that were carefully thought out and composed, that presented technical challenges for me, that were intended to deliver an emotional impact. Many times I’ve risen with the sun to catch the early morning light which I prefer to all others. I’ve lain on my belly in the snow or climbed out on a precipice to get the right angle to shoot a landscape. I’ve sat at my window for hours hoping to get the perfect shot of a bird at my feeder. Since I lacked training and never considered exhibiting my photos, I never thought about intent and made no attempt to establish a cohesive body of work. As I searched through about thirty years of work, selecting the best images from my serious work to include here, I was surprised to see a theme emerge. A brooding moodiness seemed to infuse nearly every image. Within the “everyday”, I was finding suggestions of the otherworldly, a tinge of mystery. And, strangely enough, the themes I address in my photography relate to the intention common to most of my mature painting: to present images that embody a momentary duality when the benign and ordinary could transform into the unexpected. My approach is very different from Yiorgos’. While I’m seeking to record moments when the objective suggests the subjective, Yiorgos strives to document reality in such a way as to heighten our understanding of his subject matter. In doing this, Yiorgos has chosen to seek out realities that are unfamiliar and often inaccessible such as a cloistered monastery or a gypsy district. In his work, he’s traveled to many countries and visited many unusual locales. Yiorgos has an easy warmth about him which helps him in his work. He can establish an instant rapport with strangers, which permits him access to private spaces where his camera captures his subjects at unguarded moments.
I consider myself a pretty mediocre technician with a good eye. I do put an effort into my photography and take pride in my accomplishments but recognize, of course, that it is pure hubris to present my photographs for consideration to a wider audience than family and friends. Furthermore, it is absolute madness to juxtapose my images with those of Yiorgos Katsagelos, a skilled and talented photographer who has devoted his life to mastering his craft and perfecting his art form.