Harris – You are Greek and live in the nation today. Have classical art and, more specifically, classical statuary informed your photography at all?
Yeros – You could say that I grew up inside the Greek archaeological museums. My mother came from a small village which has been in the same location for the past 4000 to 5000 years. It’s four miles from mythical Delphi with its famous museum that houses the magnificent sculptures of male youths known as the kouroi, one of the most beautiful statues of Antinous, the masterful charioteer, and others. Even as a young child, I would spend hours looking at them. It was not just their beauty that impressed me, but also the incomparable technique of the ancient craftsmen. Moreover, I was born in a small town under the shadow of two mythical Greek mountains: Mount Parnassus and Mount Helicon. Not far from there were the museum of Thebes and the museum of Chaeronea, with the majestic lion. Well, it wasn’t too difficult for all these to affect a child who was well acquainted with his great ancestors and gave a lot of thought to ancient Greek history, mythology, and art.
Harris – Did this later influence you to focus on photographing the nude and celebrating the body?
Yeros – This came naturally, all by itself. From an early age, in order to learn to paint, I copied paintings of nudes by classical painters. At the same time looking to improve my technique, I asked my classmates to pose naked for me. Add all the naked statues I saw in museums, and you can see how the nude had by now become part of my DNA. I had never viewed the naked body as something shameful or sinful. It was a natural and completely normal condition. It was Adam and Eve before biting the apple of the church.
Harris – In 1985 you turned to photography after working in other mediums, including creating Surrealist paintings. Would you approach painting and photography in the same manner?
Yeros – My first paintings came after a relatively short period in which I was immersed in avant-garde art doing videos and performance art and the like. From an ideological standpoint, they are much closer to Surrealism. Later influenced by contemporary art currents, I shifted away from it, so I am now ranked as a post-Surrealist. As a younger artist, my themes had more to do with man’s contemporary problems: loneliness, lack of time and space, the despoiled environment, threatening nature, noise pollution, and so on. In other words, the problems faced by contemporary man are firstly my problems and are portrayed both in my paintings and in many of my photos.
Harris – In your work, present, past and future seem to coexist harmoniously. What is the relationship of your work to time?
Yeros – My work is a commentary on time as personified by modern man with his many concerns. In his effort to cope, he sacrifices the most essential part of his nature, for example his libidinal elements. While in my paintings he seems to be rushing to catch up with his daily obligations, he is at the same time shown as being chased by something threatening, which is but his betrayed nature.
Harris – In your pared down work in the series “Theory of the Nude,” sometimes you photograph simply one model, but at other times you also use animals in the images. What do the animals represent?
Yeros – In this series of photographs I use as a counterpoint an animal, for which the state of the nude does not exist. This defines the human nude not as a natural state, but as a mental and aesthetic choice. I began creating this work in 1988 several years before digital cameras with their numerous features became available. At the time, it was still a feat to photograph restless animals using negatives which had an ISO 100 sensitivity and tungsten lamps because strobe lights would scare the animals off.
Harris – Are there different types of nudes? Do you hope to evoke a level of eroticism with your work?
Yeros – The pornographic nude is one kind. In artistic nudity we will find the multiplicity that results from the unique styles of real artists. Sometimes when taking photos, I have been challenged by my models to create such pornographic pictures. And no, I do not seek the eroticism that you can see in my work. I think it comes naturally from the relationship between the model and the photographer.
Harris – How do you find the models for your work and how do you make them comfortable? How are male and female nudes different for you, if at all?
Yeros – Usually it’s young people from my environment, friends of friends, acquaintances, or even friends’ children. These are the best models, because they know me, trust me, and recognize that they are participating in the creation of a work of art. Sometimes when I’ve had to work with professional models, I got tired trying to get them to pose effortlessly and naturally without pouting their lips and half-closing their eyes. They did not always understand what I was asking them to do. For me, both male and female are subjects that I use to compose a picture. It just so happens that the male body has fewer imperfections and it is easier to find models.
Harris – Many of your models in “Theory of the Nude” are posed dynamically. Do you have ideas about the poses beforehand, create them at the time of the shoot, or do you allow the models to pose themselves?
Yeros – I usually have a picture I have prepared in my mind beforehand and I know what I want to photograph. Often the potential of the models and their own disposition create images I had not imagined. Sometimes a casual movement made by the model off the set, a stretching of the body to relieve tension, the way they will rest during a break, may be the subject of a photograph. It’s a rare occasion when the models themselves suggest something.
Harris – You place your nudes in neutral settings in studios, but also with backgrounds that are in nature. How do you choose these settings?
Yeros – I pick landscapes according to the subject I need to shoot. The two should be in harmony with each other. The model with the animal is the main subject and must be in the foreground, and the background should not supersede this.
Harris – You’ve also worked in both black-and-white and color photographing these subjects. What prompts you to use one over the other?
Yeros – It depends on my subject. There was a time when I would only do black-and-white photographs and would illuminate the models with lamps. Later I’d illuminate them with strobe lights, and after a while I started using slides and color negatives. Now because of digital cameras, all photographs are shot in color and I convert them to black-and-white depending on requirements. I must tell you that to create a good black-and-white photograph in this way requires much time and is a very tedious task.
Harris – You have made a large number of portraits of various creative minds and celebrities. What is your methodology?
Yeros – I rather improvise here. Usually it depends on the place and the mood of the model. The place is of great significance to me and I love to photograph them in their home, office, or work area so that I may add to my photographs some of the atmosphere in which they live and work. The mood and the physical condition of the subject is also very crucial for the photo shoot.
Harris – In 2011 you completed a project called “Shades of Love,” which juxtaposes your photographic portraits with the poems of the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy. What were your intentions in creating these images?
Yeros – My intention was not to reinforce the poetry of Cavafy because it’s so masterly it does not need reinforcing. He is, after all, the greatest Greek poet since antiquity. His poetry is quite straightforward and the images coming from his lines are absolutely clear. Therefore, they inspired me to create photographs which I think work on their own. I just tried to render photographically what the poems said, especially in their most vital and glowing moments.
Harris – You have a book that recently came out of photographs of Gabriel García Márquez, whom you photographed on several occasions. What did you learn from creating these portraits and befriending the great author?
Yeros – I confirmed what I always knew: that you should always be very serious about your work, that the artist and the intellectual should demonstrate consistency and integrity in their work.
Harris – You’ve shot many photographs on the Greek island of Lesbos including images from your nudes series, but also just of the island itself. What is it about the island of Lesbos that fascinates you?
Yeros – The island has a unique aura and many beautiful landscapes that invite you to photograph them. It is the land of the great poetess Sappho, of Alcaeus, Arion and others. It was on Lesbos that Sappho organized the first beauty pageants for women, and in the 2nd century A.D. Longus wrote his famous Daphnis and Chloe, the first novel in world literature. The Nobel laureate poet Odysseus Elytis also had his family roots in Lesbos. In the last 25 years I have made many hundreds of photographs with landscapes of Lesbos and plan to publish them in a book. In another series of photographs, I have added to these landscapes the naked bodies of youths in a way that makes them belong to the landscape. My nudes in this series are not in the foreground; they’re always part of the landscape. The youths in these photos could have been youths living in the pristine nature of ancient Greece.
Harris – This year Lesbos became gained attention for the many thousands of immigrants coming from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. Have these new circumstances inspired new photos?
Yeros – Since early summer thousands of refugees and immigrants arrive on the island almost every day! We were devastated to see these wretched, desperate, terrified people reach the island hoping for a better and safer future in Europe. After a couple of days, however, when they felt confident that they were at no risk, they started behaving more freely, walking about the town, taking baths in the sea, and trying to forget what they had gone through to come to our country. This was during those days when they were forced to stay on the island waiting for the much-coveted temporary residence permits before they continued their long journey for more promising European countries. On a beach close to my house quite a few of them would come for a swim. For about 40 days I would go down to that beach every afternoon, and photograph them looking happy as they bathed, washed their clothes, fished or played. I wanted to immortalize their carefree and happy moments and not the fear in their eyes as they landed on the island.
Harris – Do you have any pets?
Yeros – I have four dogs on Lesbos who I think are quite happy as they can roam freely on a two-acre estate.
Dimitris Yeros was born in Greece in 1948 becoming one of the most prominent contemporary Greek artists. Since 1973, his work has belonged to European Post-Surrealism including his early paintings. He was one of the first artists to present Video Art, Mail Art, and Performance Art in Greece. In 1975 he started employing photography to create fine art and made several series, but in 1985 he turned to more academic forms: still lifes, landscapes, and portraits. In 1987, he started the significant photographic series “Theory of the Nude” and later the series, “For a Definition of the Nude.” Also a portrait photographer, he has shot many creative personalities including a recently released book of the celebrated Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez.
Dimitris Yeros has had over fifty individual exhibitions in Greece and abroad including at Oxford University, the Museum Bochum in Germany, Ball State Art Gallery in Indiana, the Kelsey Museum at the University of Michigan, and the Museum of Modern Art in Barranquilla, Colombia. He has also participated in numerous international group exhibitions, biennales and triennales around the world. Work by Yeros can be found in many private collections, national galleries, and museums worldwide including the Tate Britain in London, the Getty in Los Angeles, the International Center of Photography in New York, the National Portrait Gallery in London, the British Museum in London, the Maison Europeenne de La Photographie in Paris, and elsewhere. Today Yeros continues to work and live in Greece.