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I first noticed the impeccable imagery of Yorgos Efthymiadis in the Winter Solstice Show at the Griffin Museum of Photography in 2013. His color photograph of an immaculate, empty tennis court with a mountain range backdrop in bright sun had a taut symmetry that offset its airy serenity in a way that I found simply arresting. Soon, his work was catching my attention along “The Fence at Photoville” in Boston, in collaboration with Flash Forward Festival and in the Griffin Museum’s 20th Juried Exhibition (curated by Aline Smithson). More recently, his work was juried into “PhotoWorld 2014” at the NY Photo Festival and the Tirana International Photography Festival in Albania. A native of Greece, Yorgos currently lives in Somerville, Massachusetts and is represented by Gallery Kayafas in Boston. It is a pleasure to share my conversation with Yorgos about his distinctive architectural perspective and very human vision.
Elin: Your work has an overriding sense of geometry that hints at an architectural background. Can you describe the educational and professional path that brought you from Greece to the USA and to a career in architectural and fine art photography?
Yorgos: Growing up in Greece, I thought I made the right career choice by studying Tourism Management. But soon enough, I found myself working in a travel agency on the wrong side of a desk, planning trips for strangers. This was clearly not for me.
My older brother was a Fine Arts major so, from a young age, I was exposed to art. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an architect, but my drawing skills were abysmal. I have always been interested in photography, since this medium helped me stay close to architecture. Photographing buildings and interior design spaces was – and still is – a passion of mine. So when I moved to the U.S., I decided to study photography, fulfilling a dream that was always in the back of my mind.
Elin: An enduring fascination with architecture obviously spawned your project “Manufactured Scapes”, an inventively kaleidoscopic view of cityscapes. These colorful, geometric images of large-scale structures and landscapes have a maze-like appearance that can feel paradoxically confining. How does this perspective amplify your intended meaning?
Yorgos: The first time I visited NYC I was in complete awe. Surrounded by massive structures, I found myself suffocating, asphyxiating, gasping for air. Most of the images in this series are of cityscapes where geometrical shapes create a kaleidoscopic labyrinth with no way out. On the other hand, when I started introducing organic forms like trees, I realized that the effect was completely different; it was as though nature was attacking civilization, wanting to prevail and restore the past.
Elin: You’ve written that your series “This Must Be the Place” is a personal record of the displacement and intrigue you experienced when you first arrived in the US. Can you comment on the visual and social elements that drew your attention?
Yorgos: Even though I chose to live in Boston, an American city that has a European vibe, the transition was not smooth. Being submerged in a new culture, I was struck by the obvious differences between my homeland and my new surroundings. In the beginning, my images were critical and heavily opinionated. We all have preconceived ideas, stereotypes that we have to confront. After a few months though, I started to accept where I was and likewise felt accepted by the people around me.
Somerville is a melting pot where immigrants – like me – from around the world gather to restart their lives. They are hard working people, proud of who they are and thankful to be here. Flags are everywhere, declaring both the country of origin and destination of each family and statues are planted next to beautiful flowers in every single backyard.
Elin: You’ve described your project “Letting My Guard Down” as “nothing but self-portraits”, although neither you nor anyone else is present within the frames. In these images, there’s a palpable tension between expansive contemplation and constrained composition that I find mesmerizing. How do you achieve a feeling of cohesiveness in scenes that vary from a windowless bedroom to an oceanside horizon? What themes are you asking your viewers to explore with you?
Yorgos: Last year, I visited Patagonia – both the Chilean and Argentinian sides, went to northern Greece, and traveled to the west coast of the U.S. for the first time. When I gathered all the images, I realized that there was a common thread: they were all communicating solitude and loneliness. That’s exactly how I felt while travelling, and it affected me in the biggest way imaginable.
All humans experience moments of solitude. When they do, they want or need to be alone. This is a way of dealing with problems, detaching from the mundane, everyday life and connecting with the inner-self. I want the viewers to embrace the calmness and stillness, to lose themselves in these images.
Elin: In your most recent project, “Awkward”, you’ve introduced an element of the surreal, inserting limbs (and other assorted body parts) in unexpected places within the frame of an otherwise tranquil space. It’s the first time any human elements appear in your work. Can you tell why you started to actually add people – parts of them – into your images?
Yorgos: People have always played a big part in my images: they’ve either created these places, lived in them, or just passed through them. It is what’s left behind that interests me most – the ways places have been affected by the human touch. From my perspective, all the spaces have a human story to tell.
In this body of work I wanted to create an environment where the viewers expect to see something familiar but instead are caught by surprise; to create an awkward moment when they feel uncertain of what’s going on in the frame by introducing an oddity. People are treated like architectural elements or props, sometimes like leftovers that no one bothered to tidy up before the photo shoot.
Elin: Your imagery often employs viewpoints and perspectives that accentuate the feeling of being an outsider. Can you comment on why you’ve chosen the built environment as your subject matter to explore the very human themes of loneliness, longing and ultimately hope?
Yorgos: I always feel like an outsider, as if I don’t belong anywhere. Perhaps it’s a sense of aloneness more than alienation, but I view it as a burden that I carry everywhere I go. Through my photography, which I consider a form of self-therapy, I capture the places of this world that seem like they could be “home” to me. Selecting pieces from the built environment, I construct my little imaginary village where I could live happily ever after.
Elin: What project(s) are you working on currently and what direction is your photography taking?
Yorgos: I’m still working on the “Awkward” series. I have also just started a new body of work that is totally different from my past projects – a series of still-lifes that I find both fascinating and very challenging.
To view more work by Yorgos, go to: http://yorgosphoto.com/
Feature Image: “Untitled 03, 2013” archival pigment print from the series “Manufactured Scapes” by Yorgos Efthymiadis (courtesy of the artist and Gallery Kayafas, Boston)