In a time when reality is misrepresented by the illusion of an artificial perfection, Greek photographer Demetrios Drystellas is in search of the truth that lies in the raw beauty of all things. In this constant pursuit, the inner sentiments of the human nature are captured in the most honest and genuine manner. A restless spirit, he is currently working on a new project inspired by the nymphs of Greek mythology. Chasseur caught up with him to find out more about this new adventure along with his view on realism and the truthfulness of his profession.
When was the first time you got your hands on a camera? Do you remember what your first photo was?
It was a quite slow curve, there was always a compact camera at the house, did pretty much nothing with it. I bought my first camera in the summer of 2003 and it was digital; how I regret the money, digital was at a premium then and I paid dearly. My first images were shot in the forest next to my house in Munich, Germany. Quite boring images I would add. I did not take photography seriously for a long long time.
It seems that especially in the field of photography, the notion of realism is being denounced. What place does realism have in your work?
There are two contradicting trends as I see it. One one hand, realism is ever present as can be attested by the snapshot style that Terry Richardson and others rendered popular. Compare this style with the meticulously executed ethereal work of the previous decades. On the other hand, the advent of digital editing has blurred the line between real and fake. Models with bodies and faces edited to unnatural perfection, composite images, etc, in essence, pictures closer to graphic design than to photography. This is not something new, but today it is overdone; it is cheaper and easier to do this now than it was in the analogue era. My preference lies with real, raw, images, where the ambiance may still enchant the viewer.
Whatever will make an image stand the test of time. This is the ultimate goal in my opinion, not the superficially impressive images that fade from memory soon enough.
It was once said that when you photograph people in color, you capture their clothes but when you photograph people in black and white, you capture their souls. Does that apply to you too?
This notion has been popularised because the “masters” shot in monochrome and most of the masterpieces we have from them are in such form. Well, they did not have another choice since colour films’ performance was quite problematic for a long time. Since, we are designed to see in colour, a black and white image appears to be inherently different due to the medium, maybe magic and otherworldly at times, yes. A picture however, whether in colour or monochrome, will be equally beautiful to me. Given the right lighting, both are able to pierce deep into the subject’s soul. Technically though, they are two different beasts and behave very very differently.
Looking throughout the centuries, the history of nude has always been such a controversial subject. Loved and praised by artists and artisans such as sculptors and painters and at the same time so misunderstood and even condemned by the public. What is your approach to nudity?
We are born naked. Clothing is artificial, a vital invention to protect against the elements. Nothing more, yet nothing less. The monotheistic religions shrouded the body, branded it impure. To me the human body is a temple of life and should be regarded as such. Granted, a body may inspire lust in someone; it may also be revered and admired due to its beauty. It all depends on the context and the nature of the viewer. Compare the morals of tribes who spend most of their lives nude, some adornments aside, to those of our Christian, Islamic, or whatever else, dogmas. I am quite sure that all who have tried nudism at a point at a secluded beach, by a lake or in a forest, have enjoyed and that they are hesitant to practice it due to societal taboos.
You have been working on a project inspired by Greek mythology and in particular by nymphs for quite some time now. What was the idea behind this project?
I love mythology and how nature is an integral part of it, usually as personified flora and fauna. How can one not be amazed by the story of Daphne who was turned into the laurel tree, Dionysus’ wounded dancer Kissos transformed into ivy, spiraling dancing up the trees and onwards to the sky, or Kyparissos, the boy that killed Artemis’ sacred deer and who asked of Apollo to be turned into a tree to symbolize his sorrow, the cypress? Nymphs, even though so pure, inspired almost always the lust in males, gods and mortals alike, so its tricky trying to depict that, therefore the whole project is progressing quite slowly.
What should we expect next?
More videos. While you might think photography can be technically challenging at times, lighting setups etc, when you start delving into film-making, only then do you realise that you have not seen nothing yet. After all Photography is truth. The cinema is truth at 24 frames per second.