The Eye and the Heart: Angelos Tzortzinis’ Photographic Frame

Migrants pray after arriving on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos, Sept. 9, 2015.
Angelos Tzortzinis — AFP/Getty Images

Each day he worked, he would ask himself, What is happening? and would then go out with his camera to answer his own question.

But for all of Angelos’ closeness to these stories, he emphasized one thing repeatedly while we spoke: the importance of distance. To produce images with any external legibility, Angelos learned how to hold himself apart. As he told me, “If you lose distance, you lose your orientation and finally, your destination. There is close, close, and close — in other words, many different levels. For example, at the start of the crisis, I was swallowed by the story. I was following every demonstration and documenting the struggles of individual people who couldn’t pay their electricity bills. All of these emotions began to affect me too much to carry on working. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more sensitive to what ‘close’ means. Every photographer finds their own distance; I looked towards individuals who I really admire to understand where I needed to be. Vanessa Winship in Turkey…Daido Moriyama in Japan…Trente Parke in Australia…Garry Winogrand in the US…what I saw in each was how they could be inside their subjects — while maintaining themselves apart.”

“If you lose distance, you lose your orientation and finally, your destination. There is close, close, and close — in other words, many different levels.’’

Greece, little left to lose. 2018

“There are many great photographers but fewer good people. The latter is the most important, but also the most rare.”

Nevertheless, Angelos has always had to balance his nobler sentiments with practical realities. Today, he supports his wife and they are expecting a child, while relying on his photographic earnings. This balancing act informs his photographs; Angelos knows that making money with his art is not a simple thing. “How do I protect my personal work from being influenced by my commercial work? It’s very difficult. When I began, I was innocent. I wasn’t interested if other people liked my photos, I did it only for myself. But now, it’s impossible not to think what will enter the market. At the same time, I know this is dangerous. I now feel I am on a good path, but it’s a constant struggle to not be influenced by what the editors and audiences out there will think. It’s a fight that demands vigilance.”

Trapped, 2018

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Essays, texts and interviews about contemporary Greek artists and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Artist Fellowship Program. www.art-works.gr