Dimitris Sidirokastritis: Artist Conversation
I hope you find this portrait as intriguing as I do. The sitter is a man who artist-photographer Dimitris Sidirokastritis, 26, knows through frequent interaction. The man owns a bookshop on Dimitris' street. Using the camera as an invitation to further conversation, Dimitris asked the man to pose for a portrait with an object of his choice. The man chose the puppet that lays on his shoulder in the portrait.
The man's eyes engage with the viewer, hinting at a deeper story. The dark tones of the photograph suggest a sombre past. His facial expression is still but penetrating.
During our meeting, Dimitris tells me the story of this man, a divorcee, who had made the puppet for his wife. During their marriage the puppet was hung up outside but when the couple decided on a divorce, the strings mysteriously broke that very day.
Dimitris’ work eerily balances reality and fiction. His subjects look straight into the camera and thus the viewers, you and I. Mixing a street photography style with a handful of staged images, Dimitris roams Athens, tapping into communities and environments he is most drawn to. He presents his works in series and in them you will find young and old Athenians, his family members, sometimes a mound of spaghetti, and at another time, a preserved baby. By interacting with the people he shoots, sometimes directing them to pose or bring an item of value to the shoot, Dimitris creates work that drifts away from conventional documentary photography. He views his practice as a partial capture of reality.
Identity politics is and has been vital to our presentation of self. By exposing ourselves to different kinds of community we are able to learn more about ourselves. I’d say most of our identities, the way we present ourselves to society, largely conform to a prefixed notion of “normal.” The phenomena of “normal” can not and should not exist. Many of Dimitris’ subjects appear to be unconventional. What we see through his photographs is that we are so invariably different whether we accept that fact or not. It was my sophomore year of high school that I decided I wanted to be different but different with other people. There’s community in difference and I think that’s why I had an affinity for Dimitris’ work.
I’m especially drawn to work where artists explore fictional identity, what our self could be, could have been, or is through imagination. After speaking with Dimitris, I don't think he's necessarily trying to find himself in the subjects he shoots, but he has the ability to allow the subjects to unapologetically and audaciously be themselves.
His work is a careful and meditated combination of subject matter and composition that encourages a longer look.
LJ: Would you consider the people you photograph part of your community or identity?
DS: I like to use the camera to connect with people who I wouldn’t have had the chance to otherwise. I do consider some of the people I shoot to be a part of my community but others, no. In the past I tried to explore the world through the camera but I didn’t have connections with a lot of the people I was surrounded by. Now, I am able to connect with neighborhoods and places by using my camera as an invitation. I like reading and socializing in coffeeshops and meet a lot of people in them.
LJ: I’d consider a lot of the places you shoot at, queer friendly. Do you consider yourself queer?
DS: No, but I am generally accepting of all people that are not fascists. I go to gay bars because there’s more freedom to dance, more movement from the people. I like what people wear and the overall paganist spirit. I feel the same spirit in goa-trance communities here.
LJ: What is your intention photographing / documenting what you do or are most of your photos staged?
DS: I don’t know yet! It’s a thing that I am trying to find, I think my work is somewhere in between “staging” and “documentary” - but also every time you take a picture, it is staged.
LJ: I see, so by "staged" you mean the image captured is only partial reality? only a part of the full story?
DS: As in, you are putting out only your view, it’s what you let out that makes it staged since it is removed from the original context.
LJ: Got it, so slight change in subject. documenta 14 is taking place here in Athens, have any thoughts on it as an Athens artist?
DS: There isn’t much to say about documenta , I went and I saw some parts, but most was shit.
LJ: In one of our first conversations you called it "imperialistic" can you explain this.
DS: It’s obvious documenta has a lot of money, they could have used that money for much more important matters. There’s the refugee crisis, poverty, etc. but they spent money on transferring rocks and other stupid things. [documenta artists] speak of revolution but I don’t understand revolution supported by the state.
LJ: So you’re saying that the amount of money used could have been used in much more beneficial way. Is your stance that documenta was an unnecessary event for the privileged?
DS: Yes. They could have done something anti-comformist. For example, they could have made a hotel for the refugees and named it art – but it would have a use and wouldn’t just talk about the problems of the immigrants etc.
LJ: It would do something about it - functional "art."
DS: Yes. There are people who are coming not only from war zones or " official war zones" but also who are escaping from poverty. [documenta] speaks for them without being connected with them. Also one thing I didn’t like is that you go to the exhibition and you are freezing inside. It’s -20 degrees from outside… like it's made for visitors from the north.
LJ: lol. Did you like anything from the exhibitions? Any particular artist or work?
DS: I liked 10 percent, I think. It’s hard for me to remember names but I liked the video work, a concert, a film in EMST, and some sound installations. But, I did like the people that worked for documenta. I know they don’t treat them in the best way.
LJ: Do you mean Athens locals working for documenta or foreigners?
LJ: Next question, what is the difference between artistic photography and documentary photography for you?
DS: Generally I don’t know, these [distinctions] can be mixed.
LJ: When we first spoke you talked about why you photographed Athens, and you said because it's what is in front of you! You said you want to travel the world, where do you want to go? If you could go to a different country/city how would you approach photographing it?
DS: I would like to travel and be one with the locals. I hate tourism. In the winter I am trying to go to London. From there I would see where else I could go. I want to live in another place for a few years.
You can visit Dimitris' website here.