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Interview: Platon Rivellis speaks to in[+]frame

(για ελληνικά πατήστε εδώ)

On the 14th of March, in[+]frame visited and interviewed mr. Rivelllis at the village of Dimitsana, Greece, under the occasion of a photography course he was teaching there at the time. For those that are not familiar, mr. Rivellis is on of the most active teachers on art photography in Greece aver the last 30 years, as well as a writer and a photographer himself. We attach below the full interview he gladly gave us. Alternatively you can watch it on the youtube video above, with english subtitles included.

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in[+]frame: Although you are well known for your photographic, teaching and writing work and activity, not only in Greece, we would still like you to tell us a few words on how you to define yourself, your professional development and your relation to photography.

Platon Rivellis interview

Rivellis: I started to get closely interested in photography in the mid-70s. Later on, I gave up my job at that time, working as a lawyer, and got involved exclusively with photography in several ways. Firstly, I considered setting up a photography store – which I did, and after a while I shut it down because it was not what I really wanted- but instead I was mainly preoccupied with the teaching of photography.

So, if someone asks me about my professional capacity, I respond, ‘’I am a photography teacher’’. Naturally, I am also a photographer, as, especially in photography, you cannot be a teacher unless you photograph. But I a am mainly a photographer because I enjoy it, I am fond of it and I love it.

As a result of my teaching I got much involved with writing and I wrote books in order to help my students keep in touch with what I teach. Along the way, I set up a photographic society in Athens, 27 years from now, which is called ‘’Photography Circle’’, so that all friends, students and everyone else who loves this kind of photography in which I am involved, can be together and share expenses and thoughts. This is more or less my photographic course.

in[+]frame: So, do you believe that we can approach photography as art, under the conventional/traditional meaning of the term art?

Does it differ from other forms of art?

Rivellis: It is certainly something different, as every art is different. On the other hand, all arts have the same deep and ultimate aim. There is no traditional meaning in art; every form of art has its own tradition. Photography has its own short history, for it was born at the beginning of the industrial age, but nevertheless, it inevitably conveys all the other forms of art since the nascence of the world. Therefore, it is a form that one may relate closer to painting, another, like myself, closer to poetry, but anyway it is a form that ‘borrows’ from arts, while giving itself to others. For me, it should be considered as an independent form of art with its own laws and disciplines.

Of course, let us not forget that photography has many implementations, which also exist in other forms of art, but in photography they are outnumbered and more familiar to the populace. For example, the house painter uses colors, as the TV industry uses cameras and lenses, as there are songs just for entertainment, but however, in all of them exists a form that is artistic. Consequently, while photography includes these applied aspects, it also has an artistic side.

in[+]frame: Hence, if we consider photography as separate form of art, does the evaluation of photographic work complies with concrete and universal criteria that may apply on other forms of arts?

Rivellis: Universal criteria exist in all arts, either of general or specific nature, with respect to the person who makes the judgment. In other words, each one of us carries within himself unwavering criteria as well as many other that are completely personal. Therefore, he will implement them accordingly in the case of photography. Only that photography has additionally its own criteria, and people involved in different arts would not know them. For example, although I move inside the world of art, I do not comprehend deeply the other forms, the way I comprehend photography or cinema. So, I choose not to express opinion about other arts that I may enjoy, but I do not understand them deeply. It’s reasonable then, for one to stop and say, ’’it seems interesting, but I do not know it’’. Unfortunately, in photography this happens rarely, as everyone speaks his mind, thinking that it is something so easy and simple to do -which is not true-, while I think that they would not make so easily judgments about classical music, dance, painting or other arts. In other words, deep knowledge is needed in order to have a serious and worthy of importance, opinion.

in[+]frame: Therefore, who is entitled, who has the authority or the responsibility to judge a work of art?

Rivellis: Everyone has the right and the power according to his level of knowledge. Well, no one is going to say ‘’I know nothing, zero’’, but the more he progresses the more he realizes that he sees deeper in what stands in front of him. Consequently, everyone, in all forms of art, creates a scale, as one might say, of critical capacity. I think that whoever listens to us and has been involved in photography, knows very well now, that he ‘sees’ a photograph much better than when he first started and bought a camera. Thus, it is knowledge and time that accounts for our critical capacity.

in[+]frame: Who is expressed through artistic photography? Is it the artist, the viewer, a society, a cultural group, an historical period?

Rivellis: The first one you said. The artist is expressing himself, the artist creates. From there, a good viewer, an active and open-minded observer will communicate with the photograph, he will feel emotions and will finally become a, so to speak, ‘’creative viewer’’. Societies do not express themselves through art, people do, and of course people as individuals constitute a society – but as individuals, not as an impersonal whole.

in[+]frame: From your point of view, what can a photograph likely be? A window, a mirror, an alternative reality, a new world?

Rivellis: To use the very interesting phrase you said, a photograph is a window and a mirror. Sometimes the one, sometimes the other, and ideally both of them. A photograph is always a new reality. If it’s not, then personally it leaves me detached. That is, if a photograph merely captures the existing, then it’s just a connection to it, a photocopy of reality, but not a creation. For me, if a photographic reality does not exist, then it’s just a bridge that takes me there, that reminds me of the other, the genuine reality, and I I’m not interested in it.

in[+]frame: You have spoken in the past about the dimension of time in photography. How important is time, how is it interpreted, how is it transformed? Can you tell us a few words about this peculiarity of photography?

Rivellis: The meaning of space and time, and especially time, is something that is of interest in all arts, but in photography it is also its raw material. What one does with a photograph is to select, personally and arbitrary, a piece of space and time. A photograph expands time infinitely. That is exactly what awe, if you like, primitive people when looking themselves in a photograph, while it is not happening the same when looking at a painting. It is because photography does what people simply say ‘’it stops time’’. This piece of time does not really stop, but the movement captured in a photograph keeps expanding and becomes eternal. I would say that philosophically, this is a rather ‘wild’ photographic reality, and this is very interesting, and we use it. In other words, in photography we have space, time, the reality of the subject being photographed and the intervention of the photographer, who transforms those three elements into a personal reality that would not exist without him.

in[+]frame: Last but not least, based on your personal experience and contact with your students, what would you advise those that make their first steps into artistic photography? Is there an approach that might help them?

Rivellis: First of all, I advise them not to get carried away by trends, because trends, due to Internet nowadays, are very powerful and they impose themselves, and the downside of it is that they eliminate any chance of expressing who you really are. You just get better or worse in following a trend. Secondly, I advise them to love photography and to trust it. Thirdly, I recommend them to educate themselves. That is, to train their mind, spirit and thinking, because if you don’t work on them, then, you have nothing to ‘put’ into photography. From there on, I advise them not to think in terms of narrow goals. For example, ‘’I have to do this today, that tomorrow’’ and so on. They should put photography, just like poetry, in their lives, and move forward together.

in[+]frame: Thank you very much.

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* You can find out more about Mr. Rivellis' activity and work in his pesonal page.

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