Interview at Stirworld.com and 'Nortigo' series feature.
Tell me a bit about yourself – where you’re from, how old you are, what you studied, who/ what are your creative inspirations, how your journey in photography began, and how it has progressed.
Firstly, I would like to thank you for the invitation to showcase my work here at stirworld.com and talk about the ‘Nortigo’ series. I was born in Greece in 1973, studied architecture in Budapest and Urban Design in Edinburgh. I practiced architecture for 12 years before taking the decision to focus exclusively on architectural and fine art photography. Some of my creative inspirations while switching to photography were Michael Kenna, David Burdeny, Iwan Baan, Fernando Guerra, Gregory Colbert, to name a few. My journey with photography began around 2013. As a self-taught photographer I had a steep learning curve to cover and I choose subjects from the built and natural environment to built up my portfolio. The Fulbright Artistic Scholarship was an invaluable support to both formulate my ‘Integral Lens’ approach and start practicing it internationally and domestically.
What is the core concept and inspiration behind the 'Nortigo' series? What does the title mean?
In the official description of the series the text reads: the title ‘Nortigo’ is a combination of the words ‘North’ and ‘Vertigo’. Vertigo is a negative feeling associated with the loss of balance and light-headedness when looking down from a great height. What about the opposite feeling? The experience of discovering our “true north”, the positive feeling associated with finding the right direction and correct course both literally and figuratively? I use the word ‘nortigo’ for such feelings of inner purpose, of alignment between the personal and the Kosmos.
This series is part of a larger project titled ‘Integral Lens - a multi-perspectival approach to the study and representation of the built environment through the photographic medium’. The project was granted by the Fulbright Foundation with a 5-month scholarship across United States. Approximately 80 buildings in 12 cities were visited and photographed using documentary, editorial and expressive typologies of the medium. With over 12.000 images taken, this body of work needed organisational structure for display and I chose the rationale of expanding scale - from building details, to building portraits, to buildings within their context, to urban projects, to cityscapes to the open landscape. ‘Nortigo’ was the first series in the 'Integral Lens’ book as it focuses on architectural details and closeups.
More info on the book can be found here: www.pygmalionkaratzas.com/books-integrallens and on the project here: www.pygmalionkaratzas.com/integrallens. I would also like to mention that an academic paper was also co-authored with professor of architecture Mark DeKay: www.pygmalionkaratzas.com/integral-lens-paper.
“The progression from indoor to outdoor spaces supplements the introvert/extrovert design polarity, while the pairing of classical buildings with modern, postmodern and cosmogenic architecture allows for comparative viewing experiences and a diverse showcase of the built environment.” Could you elaborate within the context of this series? Through 'Nortigo', why was this intent necessary to unearth and display?
It was not a necessity but rather the joy of witnessing oneness through multiplicity. In his seminal book ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’, Joseph Campbell unearths this oneness through world mythologies from ancient to modern times. While the architect strives for unique solutions to common design and construction issues, hence increasing heterogeneity, one artistic approach to counterbalance this is to put forth a contemplation on oneness.
How do these photographed buildings achieve an “alignment between the personal and the Kosmos”?
To quote architect William McDonough, “design is the first signal of human intention”. All designed buildings - from the simplest to the most complex - embody within them the personal (individual and collective) intention of the designer(s), while at the same time the process includes numerous externalities that also shape them. One can also include the various iterations, preliminary ideas, alternate proposals, etc. that a project goes through before it’s completed. Beyond the internal discourses of architectural theory, these examples of high-end architecture portray the sincere efforts of thousands of people to express the Beautiful, the Good and the True, learning from the past and looking towards the future. In that broader sense the finalised buildings are manifestations of such an alignment between the personal and the Kosmos.
Why is the series anchored on this particular “view”, of witnessing the built fabric of an urban realm from the ground up?
The first reason to anchor the series in one particular perspective (looking straight up) is in order to give the emphasis back on the different subjects, to make the point of view of the camera (and photographer) less commanding. In that sense, a series of straight on facades could act similarly as the anchor.
The second reason though, that distinguish this perspective, has to do with active visual exploration outside the norm. For example, we don’t usually walk around the city looking up, as that isn’t practical and we would look silly doing it. As soon as we pause though and start exploring upward perspectives, we discover a whole new set of scapes and photographic frames, exterior, interior and in-between.
How do you choose specific facets of a building (especially for the exterior shots), to abstract into a photograph?
The formalistic elements of the facade with the compositional elements of the image become the decisive factor for choosing a frame and a building. Some spaces (like atriums) are prime examples where this perspective will bear results but in many exterior shots, you do not know what will become an interesting abstraction until you look up and start exploring the facets of the building. Put differently, in some cases you already know what you will capture before you shoot, in other cases the joy lies in the exploration and the surprise with what you find that you didn’t know was there.
What are some similarities and distinctions between Nortigo collection 1 and 2? When do you see this series culminating?
The first ‘Nortigo’ collection was part of the ‘Integral Lens’ book and published in 2016 when the project was completed. Looking back at previous projects from Doha, from EXPO Milan and others from Europe, I edited another collection to supplement it by showcasing contemporary projects from other countries and architects. Afterwards, during my commissioned assignments in Greece, when I found frames that fit in the series, I would also choose them for another collection. In that sense, it’s an open-ended series without a specific point of culmination.
What informs your creative process for the series? – how many years have you put behind this, what is your criteria for choosing these buildings to shoot, what is it that you look to capture every time, how do you process your images, how many cities and buildings have you captured till now, and so on?
What informs a series varies. For example, my early long exposure minimalist waterscapes were inspired by the existing body of work I had admired and I started experimenting with this technique. The ‘Nortigo’ series was inspired by the architectural detail, materiality and a constant point of view which opens a dialogue between uniqueness and similarity, or other design polarities. In each visited city I researched its contemporary architecture and photographed as many buildings as could fit into the timeframe I had. Two opposing forces are at play: the fast-pace editorial/commercial approach and the slow-pace topographic/expressive approach, not only as a logistical management but mostly as an awareness and fulfilment of both. The post-processing goes through a workflow from Lightroom and Photoshop to fine-tune contrast, sharpness, white balance, selective exposure adjustments for highlights and shadows, while keeping the overall feeling of realism.
Why did you choose the built fabric of the United States in particular for this series? How has the landscape of classical, modern, postmodern, cosmogenic architecture there evolved over the years?
I referred to ‘cosmogenic architecture’ in the sense that the architecture historian Charles Jencks expressed it in his book ‘The Architecture of the Jumping Universe’. His evolutionary tree tracing architectural movements is a lot more nuanced but a simplified version helps to correlate the language with societal evolutionary development models like Spiral Dynamics (which is part of the Integral Theory lexicon). Being able to visit many landmark projects gave the opportunity to enrich the series across the spectrum of architectural movements. I could not assume an authority on the evolution of each movement over the years. What I do try to practice is understanding and re-interpreting the positive aspects of each with an inclusive mentality.
How would you describe the essence of your artistic expression? What is architectural photography to you (apart from being your profession)?
A multi-perspectival approach sees photography as self-expression, as exploration, as communication & education, as vocation and overall as a broader cultural asset. This integral framing, inspired by philosopher Ken Wilber, is at the core of my artistic expression, both as a holistic guide and praxis.
The integral perspective pays homage to the major past and present genres of the field, from the early realists and pictorialists to the postmodernists and editorialists. Put together, they highlight the four broader functions of the historic relationship between architecture and photography (as outlined by curator Pedro Gadanho):
- Documenting and portraying the built environment and the urban condition,
- Making architecture with photography,
- Producing architectural critique and contributing to urban discourse,
- Establishing an expressive dialogue with the contemporary urban landscape and aspiring to something greater.
Aspirational roles to strive for.
What is your favourite photograph from this series, and why? Alternatively, if you decide to summarise 'Nortigo' into a book, which photograph would grace the cover?
As it happens, I did summarise the ‘Nortigo’ series in a book (hyperlink: https://www.pygmalionkaratzas.com/book-nortigo) and the cover I chose was an image from the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle designed by Frank Gehry. In our current visually oversaturated era, many of the subjects we document have been photographed before by others, making it extra challenging to find something new to contribute. When I visited that building, I was familiar with the very successful images of a colleague, a series of architectural abstracts of the facade. When I shared this image online, I received the comment from a local photographer that he used to pass by that building often and this particular angle and framing was a surprising new perspective for him. Such feedback was rewarding and a good external check for an internal subtle balance between our influences and our own expressions. Going beyond anecdotal impressions, I also submitted this image to competitions and I was happy to see that it resonated with a variety of judging committees.
An advice for young architectural photographers…?
My two cents for young architectural photographers is to be passionate about what they do. When your job is at the same time your vocation, it emanates both in your work and yourself. Inner fulfilment is something we all wish to the younger generations and yet so many of us keep striving for into the mature stages of our careers.
The fast pace “insta-story” consumption of the human experience and interaction with the world is dangerously becoming the new norm, dominating the dissemination and alarmingly reducing people’s attention span. Embracing and utilising the latest technological advancements does not need to come at the price of a diminished consciousness.
What is NEXT for you?
I plan to continue this two-fold creative journey with architectural photography for as long and far as it can take me. Commissioned assignments and personal projects supplement each other and are both equally fulfilling. With collaborator Mark DeKay we plan to expand our work on the ‘Integral Lens’ paper both in literary theory and with building case studies from exemplar projects. I am also honoured to have been selected by the I.M. Pei Foundation to photograph projects from the architect’s work. The first phase of launching the official website is completed (https://impeifoundation.org) and the second phase of revisiting selected buildings in Europe, USA and Asia is under way.
The last three years have been especially shocking and unsettling for the world at large, forcing us to continually re-adjust to extreme conditions. The healthy version of our collective unfoldment from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric care is being shaken to its core. In such a context, re-examining our fundamentals and finding potent ways to express them becomes even more imperative for the artistic and creative independency.