George Messaritakis is a photographer who specializes in architecture and landscape photography. Trained as a software engineer, and with a passion for construction of all kinds since childhood, he eventually adopted photography as his professional field and vocation, after being introduced to it by chance during his studies. He is currently based in Berlin and Athens, working for architectural and commercial clients and trade magazines.
Pygmalion Karatzas: Thank you for accepting the invitation to discuss and show some of your work with us here at arcspace. Could you tell us about your background and how did you start being involved with architectural photography?
George Messaritakis: Thank you for your invitation and the interest in my photography. As a child, I was always building and constructing things. I was not totally successful, I must say, as I mostly didn't care to follow instructions and was interested in doing everything in my way. Growing up, I became absorbed in home computer games, which were then starting to become widespread in Greece. My dream at the time was to study software engineering and create computer programs. I studied in this field and initially received a BSc in Computer Science at the University of Crete. Then I completed an MSc in Software Engineering at the University or York, England.
During my studies in the UK, I bought my first film camera and started photographing on my trips around Yorkshire. Lovely countryside there, by the way. I used negative film initially, but quickly switched to slides, in order to have full control over the end result -again, I'd rather do everything my way and avoid the minilab deciding how my images should look. Before the end of my studies, I was an avid reader of online articles on photography and photographic technique. During the week, I would put in long hours studying for my degree, and devote my weekends to making photography trips in the moors and dales around York.
Upon returning to Greece, I realized I was more interested in photography than in IT. I worked briefly as a software designer and developer at the Foundation for Research and Technology in Heraklion. It was a very good job, but ultimately I was unhappy in that environment. I quit and started to work as a freelancer photographer, initially doing travel and landscape photography.
During the next few years, I immersed myself more and more into photography, improving my technical knowledge and acquainting myself with the creative photography of the 19th and 20th centuries. I was fascinated -and still am- by the work of the master photographers of the beginning of the 20th century. In 2012, I switched to digital cameras and decided to specialize in architectural photography, coming back, in a manner, to my childhood passion for constructing.
My interest in architecture also grew from an early age and I remember myself browsing through architecture monographs at the house of a family friend, who is an architect. We would talk about those projects at length and eventually I moved on to reading essays and treaties on architecture and the build environment. Self-motivated and ever curious, I studied the well-known books on the history of architecture and also books on modern Greek architecture; thus I acquired a solid foundation on the theory and scope of the field. So, an interest and affection for architecture in all its aspects already existed in me, though it had lapsed during my involvement in IT.
Turning to architectural photography, I had the opportunity to experience works of architecture that I always admired, and be among the first to see interesting new projects. I could immerse myself in this creative and exciting field anew. As a photographer, I could also be a creator myself, constructing images according to my own aesthetic preferences. This act of making something, an image, out of nothing has not yet lost its charm!
Since then, I have been fortunate to have collaborated with several of Greece's pre-eminent architects and to photograph significant recent projects in Europe. I am currently living and working out of Berlin, Germany and travel all over Europe for commissioned and personal projects. I visit Greece regularly for photo-shoots; in Berlin, I was selected to participate in an exhibition dedicated to architectural photographers at Architekturforum Aedes last March. But I had to decline an invitation to the Venice Biennale 2016 -maybe in two years' time!
PK: Could you describe your overall photographic vision and approach?
GM: Geometry and light fascinate me. Light animates the spaces and the volumes, while geometry relates to the intellectual aspect of producing architecture and to its realization. I attempt to use these two elements to create images with strong impact, that capture the design decisions of the architect. I see the photographic space as a weave of lines, shapes, colors, planes, and perspectives; when the weave is successful, the definitive images for the project are created.
In my photography, composition is the foundation and the objective of each frame. I strive for formally rigorous images, where every element is in its proper place inside the frame. Where to position the camera, and what to include and exclude from a photograph are the two most important decisions. The subject and the architecture guide these decisions every time. The aim is to show the architect's intentions with maximum clarity, succinctly, and at the same time produce photographs that are intriguing to look at and captivate the audience. I try to avoid astonishing the viewer with exaggerated perspectives, extreme angles, and the like, which I find become tiresome quickly. In good architecture, the forms should be subordinate to thoughtful design; similarly, in good photography, intelligent image creation takes precedence to effects. In the end, a restrained photograph shows better a building's qualities and is closer to people's perception and experience of it.
Architecture can perhaps be considered as the architect's suggestion on how to live: what is good, what is nice, and what is important in buildings, to put it very simply. Equally, photography can be thought of as the photographer's suggestion on how to look; architectural photography then becomes a guide to seeing and to understanding what is important in architecture. You may take this with the proverbial grain of salt!
PK: Which are some of the influences to your photographic work and in what ways have they affected your approach?
GM: While I started off as a landscape photographer, doing color photography in the contemporary style popular in the UK, I gradually became more interested in the black and white photography of the 20th century masters. In this personal photographic journey, the influence of the Photography Circle in Athens and especially Platon Rivellis' ideas and texts has been paramount, introducing me to the poetic side of photography. And while being a professional photographer means catering for the needs and requirements of the clients, I try in my work to eschew a literal depiction of architecture and make images that stand as autonomous photographs.
More specifically, I would say that the architecture images of Paul Strand are ever present in my mind. Among other things, the juxtaposition of light and dark areas, and near and far planes imbue his images with tension; the compositions are suggestive of motion, inside the otherwise still photographic frame. At the same time, Strand's images accurately and impassionately describe the world.
Several other photographers have influenced me to different degrees. I like Mark Citret's affinity to whatever he photographs and the understated nature of his work. Citret also photographs construction sites using black and white film; this is a kind of photography which I, too, practice and enjoy. Bill Brandt's view of the built world I find appealing, as I do those of Ray K. Metzker and Robert Adams. From contemporary architectural photographers, Hélène Binet's singular work is a big influence. Binet's photography is never superficial or verbose. Her images are a pleasure to look at, and I enjoy their calmness and finality. Judith Turner is another influence, especially with regard to my personal photographic projects on architecture, like 'Made In Berlin' which I recently completed.
PK: What photographic gear do you use and what are your thoughts about their role in the creative process? Could you also tell us about your post-processing workflow?
GM: I was fortunate to invest in the Canon EOS cameras from my early film days; nowadays, their tilt-shift lenses are unequalled and an indispensable tool for my work. Frankly, I cannot fathom doing architectural photography without shifting lenses. I mostly avoid the extremely wide lenses, as I find they impose their own aesthetics on the image and are always tricky to use correctly.
Regarding post-processing, it is a multi-day procedure and I revisit the photographs, in order to achieve the optimal look for each project and brief. In general, I prefer a toned-down approach, where the impact of the image is due to its composition, rather than exaggerated post-processing.
PK: Have online media outlets change/affect the traditional dissemination of architecture? How do you see the architectural photography industry changing in the future?
GM: I believe so, though I have only been professionally active in the current era of architecture- and design- centered websites and e-zines. Since the constant renewal of content is what drives most websites, architecture nowadays seems to me to have a 2-day relevance. And the more flashy a project -and the photography- is, the more attention it attracts. Until the next sensation comes along.
Personally, I am after good, critical writing. In most posts, the text is either supplied by the architects themselves, or it is an edited version of such a text. Thoughtful writing that offers fresh insights and perspectives into architecture is hard to find -I treasure such finds and loyally follow the writings of a few select authors.
Maybe good photography can be a counterpoint to this trend. When the photographs of a building capture it clearly and directly, without exaggerations, they can generate and sustain interest in it for a longer time, because they show what is important in architecture, avoiding trends and the ephemeral. They won't get very many likes, but they will serve the architecture community better. Sadly, it becomes increasingly difficult for the architectural photographer to convince the client to allow for the time and creative freedom necessary to explore a project to its fullest
PK: Could you tell us your thoughts about the matter of a personal vision/style in relation to the broader movements in architectural photography?
GM: Personally, I am not aware of any well-defined broad movements in commercial architectural photography. A currently popular trend is to show generic images of buildings, as if someone is walking around the spaces, aimlessly looking around. I think this does not produce great photography -I am after all in favor of being specific and deliberate, putting personal vision over styles. Doing a kind of photographic “promenade architecturale” would be a better proposition. It would suggest that the photographer, working in tandem with the architect, produces a visual record of the architecture, that at the same time functions as a suggestion of how to look at and experience it. In effect, the photographer, in his capacity as a creator different from the architect, and with his personal vision, collects the seeing-worthy aspects of the building and presents them as a guide to the essence of its architecture.
George Messaritakis website:
Originally published on arcspace.com, 19 December 2016.