Interview: Haris Kakarouhas speaks to in[+]frame
"The Truth of the Image"
(για ελληνικά πατήστε εδώ)
Short bio: Haris Kakarouhas was born in Athens, Greece. He studied Cartography, Color Theory and Visual Perception (M.Sc) and he also holds a Ph.D in Photography (title of thesis: ‘Prosopography’ - Mapping the self). He studied several different forms of art therapy as well as other practices of contemporary physical psychotherapy. In 1997, he published his photographic book with the title ‘On the timelines’ (Photohoros Publications) and in 2003 the ‘Suspended Time: A Cuban portrait’ (Apeiron Publications). The same book was also published by Dewi Lewis Publishing UK, Peliti Associati Italy, Edition Braus Germany, Actes Sud France, and Lunwerg Editiones Spain. "Suspended Time" won the ‘Milos’ Prize in 2004, for the Art-book of the Year in Greece. Haris Kakarouhas won the European Publishers Award for photography in 2003, and the Schweppes Photographic Portrait Prize also in 2003 as a runner up. In 2013, he served as the artistic director of the Eco-Art Festival in Athens, Greece. Part of his work belongs to museums and private collections. He currently teaches photographic workshops under the thematic title "Awakening the Gaze".
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From the very first minute of our meeting with Haris Kakarouhas, it was clear that this is not going to be an ordinary and typical interview. We met a warm and intimate person who surprised us with his simple and straightforward attitude. We started to talk about various things in general until our conversation became so photographically interesting that we had to stop and press the record button. In a few seconds we realized that all the questions we had prepared were mostly superfluous and the interview was turning into a friendly conversation with in-between doses of outpouring narration. The matter of the ‘truth’ of the image leaped out from various occasions during our talk and emerged as the essential question in which Haris Kakarouhas gave his own direct and sincere answer. Enjoy below the full interview!
in[+]frame: Ian Jeffrey has written that your work intends “to bring the hidden inner self to the surface as a manifestation of qualities which are fundamentally human, bound neither by locality nor time”. Would you agree?
I didn’t know Jeffrey very well. It was a pleasant surprise, because when he saw my photographs, without telling anything to him, he started talking about these things and he identified them in my images.
in[+]frame: The things that you were searching for?
Exactly these things that I had slowly begun to make them conscious. In the beginning I was not actually aware of them. Later on, as I started to write my PhD thesis, all this became conscious. I entered an inner state of reflecting on who I am and why I make these images. Therefore, Jeffrey spoke about asceticism. I don’t mean that I am some kind of ascetic. I mean that the point is to let the other person emerge in your portrait without imposing your way of ‘seeing’ on him. Then, I understood that I was looking for the same thing. And that is how to bring up the truth or the essence behind the apparent.
in[+]frame: At the end, how much and whose truth do you succeed to bring to light? Is it the subject’s truth, or yours?
A! This is the best part! I believe that it begins with the photographer, as all things. If the photographer is not in contact with his substantial truth, then he cannot exist as a photographer – at least for me. He cannot find any truth at all. It’s that simple. I mean that if you are in tune with your own truth, then you cannot identify any other truth. In my view this is a universal constant. It’s a law.
in[+]frame: Do you have a way to make people give themselves for your portraits? Do they just give in or do you bring them to the surface?
It is something like love. It’s exactly the same thing. Sometimes it happens instantly, when there is a direct communication – I don’t like this word- when there is a sharing, a meeting. With some people it needs to be cultivated, it needs a first, a second or a third contact, while with others it never happens. That’s life...
in[+]frame: Why are you so interested in the eyes?
It is said that the eyes are the mirror of the soul. They are very essential and I believe that this is the place where truth is being reflected and identified. It is identified by me, when I have a person before me, and it is also identified afterwards, by the viewer of the photographic image. The first images that possessed a gaze of mystery, which I could not take my eyes of, were the Fayum portraits. They were exactly the eyes that embrace life and death at the same time. They take us to eternity. It’s not a coincidence that they are sepulchral images. I saw these eyes again in the paintings of Theotokopoulos [El Greco] and Yannis Tsarouchis, and in some images from the religious icon painting tradition. It’s not about their greek origin, it’s about their depth and truth. And this is what I was trying to photograph in the first place. But while I used to recognize it in various artworks, I myself could not do it because I didn’t know what it was. One thing I desire to happen –but I cannot impose it to happen- is to create if possible a Hagiography –and I say it in all conscience. Namely, to create a photographic image that will reveal a person’s complete truth. Truth and depth are not metaphysical concepts neither words of theological prolixity. They exist and they are real life experiences.
in[+]frame: So, is it about searching for what is real?
It is about searching for what is real because, thankfully or not, our regular life is inside Plato’s Cave. According to what Plato used to say a few thousands years ago, this is our life. And unfortunately we don’t have a taste of Light, while we seat on our chairs bounded up, staring at the shadows on the wall as if they were the real thing.
in[+]frame: How should we read photography or arts in general? How can we feel it?
In my view, there is a problem here. It is the fact that today in this mainstream art photography, in the art market and in whatever is presented in the museums, I start not to see images. I see very nice texts but I do not see images. Or, I see images awfully obvious and they don’t speak to me at all. They leave me completely apathetic. I also see people trying to approach images by analyzing them, searching for a meaning, a social comment or an aesthetical point. But the image itself has a life of its own. It is an entity that stands there alone; it is a vessel of meaning and time -photographic or not. What does time mean? It means the vertical time -this is the photographic time- which is being translated to a meaning of truth, or even to an energy vibration -as according to quantum theory everything is energy. Therefore, the image embraces us, touches us, infiltrate us.
in[+]frame: You mean that we are not allowed to segment the image and analyze it?
Exactly. Analysis and segmentation are caused by the overall attitude of society against life, which is completely rational. Everything is “ὅπερ ἔδει δεῖξαι” [required to be proved]. But when this happens to the matters of man, to humanitarian sciences and to art, then there is a problem because deductive reasoning is a very restrictive tool. It does not help us to approach this truth. We cannot get deep enough using our IQ. It is very good for the practical part of life, but in order to get in touch with the inner self, we need emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence –which is the next step. Without them, what do we do? We get into the apparent and we dissect the image. This is, more or less, the same thing that medicine does, by dissecting the body at the morgue. You cut the image into form and content and you talk about the one or the other. So, you try to analyze it and you fantasize that by analyzing it like this you can touch the truth of image. You cannot do it this way. You have to assume the image as a whole. It does “speak” to you or it doesn’t. From the above point emerges the character of the education in photography –for the photographers and for the viewers- which is exactly rational. Typically we say “did you understand it?” but there is nothing to understand inside an image. It is such a foolish question as when you are in love with someone and a friend asks you to say something about your love. Would you ever make a sociological or psychological analysis for your love? The only thing you can say about your love is something equally poetic.
in[+]frame: Anything but rational?
You could say something rational but it would be a very limiting description of your love. That’s exactly what I want to say. Of course you can use deductive reasoning but it would be a restrictive approach. Due to this perception we have come to making very restrictive images. That is, images reduced to cheerful concepts and other nonsense. And this is the complete circle of it. The mode of education functions in this way. What do we do? We analyze images, artists, we talk endless hours about how the artist took ‘this’ and did ‘that’ and managed the ‘other’ and so on. The artist does nothing from the above. If he does, then for me, he is not an artist. He may be a professional artist whose images are vacant. They may succeed a striking first impression but you will never get to bed thinking these images. That’s the story. The images with which you will sleep with -or you will wake up and they will come to you- are those that derive from a certain depth. And I insist that depth requires different tools in order to approach it. They are completely scientific, there is nothing metaphysical about them, but we need to turn our attention elsewhere –we are just like Bucephalus [the horse of the Alexander the Great] who was staring at his shadow in panic. We need to look elsewhere to understand that we actually lie in Plato’s Cave and we are in deep darkness.
in[+]frame: In the recent years you carry out a workshop entitled as “Awakening the gaze”. Can you tell us a few words? What is it about? To what target group do you aim at? Who responds?
This workshop addresses to all the people who are interested in the story called artistic photography. They don’t need to be educated in photography but they might as well be. I mean that they may have their own history and a certain background or they may not have at all. It is the same thing because this workshop’s approach is not grounded in transferring knowledge. In my view, teaching is not like that. My attempt is, firstly, to help the participants start by meeting the image. That is not to approach image intellectually, or like a mind-sight, or in the sense of dissecting it to form and content. To meet the image means simply to meet the image, that is, I look at an image and I like it or I don’t, or I stay apathetic. There are these three possibilities. From there we should start searching what is it that we like, why do we like it, what kind of emotions are evoked, and what thoughts come along with all these. This is the proper way to stand before any image. If I, as a teacher, come and impose my preference to my students then this is an act of violence – even if my intentions are sheer. Namely, it means to impose my personal truth to people who trust me. What I try to do is to make participants see things with their own eye –as photographers and as viewers. Therefore, if we want to create true images –and not cerebral constructs or any other kind of cheerful makings- we need to get in contact with them consciously . This is the basic idea of this workshop. And when we talk about “awakening the gaze” we mean to really awake it. Our gaze exists and it is there, no one is going to teach it to us and it would not come from the outside. Our innocence in the way we see things is right there and we just lost contact. While we were children we had it. That’s why all artists contend that children are great painters. And they are great painters exactly because they are connected with their innocence, their purity, their inner being. This is what this workshop tries to accomplish. It tries to put us back in the process of rediscovering our connection with our inner being.
in[+]frame: After having this enduring journey, how do you define yourself? Do you feel more like a teacher, a photographer, or something else? And how do feel like continuing?
I don’t want to define myself as a teacher exactly because I don’t transfer information. I am not trying to convince anyone for rightness of my ideas, or anything like that. I am just trying to cultivate the teacher inside each of the participants during this journey. Every workshop is a trip all the team has together, and every time is different because the people that participate are different. I just try to be as much human as I can, without definitions. And I love the image the same way I love other things in life; and that’s who I am.
in[+]frame: It was a great pleasure talking with you today!
You are welcome!