Kostis Fokas has a unique take on his native Athens. His photographs amplify a classic Mediterranean aesthetic, crafting a surreal world of antiquities distorted by a modern obsession with anonymous pleasure. The artist connects the erotic sensuality of the body with the beauty of the human form. Kostis Fokas tells us how his photographic stories have become the key to his inner desires.
We know you have family history in Istanbul. Will you tell us about your background?
My mother was born and raised in Istanbul, from an early age of my life I had a very deep connection with the city and the culture of Turkey, mostly through her eyes and the stories she used to tell me. She was also the reason I started with painting from the age of five, maybe earlier. In fact, this is the first and most intense memory of my life: Drawing for hours next to her, she always encouraged me to do art and deal with the consequences. During the nineties when I was a teenager, I was involved with comics and street art and a bit later started my obsession with magazines like The Face, Dazed and Confused and a lot of others. I was spending all my money buying magazines. At that time a very good friend gave me a very old analog camera Praktica and I started passionately photographing, and at the same time I started my studies in photography for the next three years in Athens.
What impact does culture have on your work?
My love for Greek History is really part of who I am. I grew up in Athens, with the Parthenon in front of my window and lived most of the time over there. The Acropolis and ancient statues were part of my everyday life. Through them I admired the greatness of the human body and its significance. Also, the philosophy of Aristotle and Plato have greatly influenced the way I think and encounter life and art.
Do you have any secret meanings embedded in your artwork?
Through my work I’m trying to communicate. I’m not just taking pictures. I’m speaking to people, I’m trying to relate with people and make people relate to me. I would not want to define it or make it too specific. I definitely raise many questions, but it is ultimately left up to each individual viewer to decide and reach their own conclusions about what they see. I want the viewers to get what they need, however, I think that in my work you can easily distinguish that from the messages I want to send and the things that I want to talk about.
Through my photos, I wish to present a new take on the human body and explore its infinite capabilities. The use of quirky and hidden faces communicates exactly that. Unlike photography that seeks to reveal the feelings of the subjects through the use of faces and expressions, I shift my focus to the complete freedom that is held within the image of a human body. Stripped from its clothes, I leave it fully exposed and completely surrendered.
Upon viewing your work, we immediately see very strong surreal imagery––intimacy, nudity and beautifully visualized sensuality in your work. Where do you get your inspiration?
My inspiration starts with the History of Art, artistic movements like surrealism and Dadaism. The stories of great artists give me inspiration, as well. An artist like Rene Magritte is always there to remind me how great art can be.
How are gender roles important in your artistic practice?
I treat the naked human body with always the exactly same mood. Naked bodies reflect freedom regardless whether it is female or male. There is no separation. There are no gender roles in my mind. Humans are.
Can you tell us about your process? What is the vibe behind-the-scenes during photo shoots?
I prefer working more with people who I’m familiar with, friends or people who want to participate because they have the desire to be part of my work. I would like to preserve the excitement and my need to take photos in my photo shoots. For me it is not just a job. I want to keep it that way. Most of my work is done when I’m on the Greek island of Crete, when I am with my friends at the beach and spending hours under the sun. This is when I think it is best to photograph. Of course it is not like this all the time. But the most important thing between my models and me are to be excited on both sides. My photos are like an album filled with memories and good times.
What is the strongest feeling that leads you to make art?
It all starts in my driving force to explore myself, my life and my purpose as a human being. I mean there is a need inside me driving me to do things that matter. My art for me is important because through my art I discover myself, and I become a better person. I feel that I have something to share with people. I would like to make you think but entertain as well. My art is making me feel important and this is the strongest feeling.
We all have limits and boundaries. What are yours? What stops you or excites you during your process?
What I would like to succeed through my art is to go beyond my limits as a person and as an artist… When I manage to overcome my limits, then I have achieved my goal. What excites me more is that I have created a platform where I can be only myself and nothing more, to connect exactly what I have in my mind and in my heart. My art for me is the safest place, my best friend, my lover. No limits, no second thoughts.
Do you plan your story-telling prior to shooting or does everything happen spontaneously?
I started working on personal projects five years ago. During that time, the way I perceive my art and art changed in general and continues to change. I started with my instinct giving me an orientation but it’s not like this today, at least not all the time. Now I move ahead with greater responsibility and seriousness. What I’m working on is the basic idea and the idea is what I would like to communicate with the viewer, this is how I spend most of my time and this is the most important part of my work. The practical side of the photographs has more freedom. There is also the contribution by the model in his own unique way, since he becomes the basic object, the protagonist, and the mediator.
Your imagery has a very smooth, pale color scale compared to its strong sensuality. Can you explain this contrast?
I love the sharp contrasts. My photos have a very strong realistic mood as well as surreal elements. It is very interesting to be able to play with the viewer, with his eyes and his senses. I want to get lost in this middle line where everything can become very vulnerable to take different forms and meanings. I’m creating a platform with a wide range and the viewer can explore its own aspects from within it.
What was the most challenging thing that happened during one of your shootings?
The most exciting thing is the relationship I have with the model during the shoot, who is either a friend of mine or someone else. We can be confronted with various situations but this is what makes it unique. I often come much closer to the people I’m photographing, especially when it’s a friend of mine. It is somehow as if our relationship is upgraded. You know what I mean, I have friends who I spend a lot of time with but never come very close to their genitals.
Are there any upcoming projects or plans that you want to share with us?
My future plans are to be able to work more and more this year, to have the opportunity to collaborate with more people, to travel a lot and continue to love with passion what I’m doing, it’s a long road and I know that I just started and this is making me feel very excited. To continue to be committed to my goal gives meaning in my life.