Q&A with Photographer George Kanis 

George Kanis is a Greek visual artist based in Athens-Greece, originally born and raised on Chios Island. He is well known for his photographic work, although he also practices painting, video art, installations, etc. His nude portraits of people of the subculture scene of Athens and his experimental/abstract works are among his most known. He proudly explores questions of gender, class, and sometimes race, mostly in Greek society. Liviu Bulea interviewed George Kanis in January 2021.

Liviu Bulea: What first attracted you to photography?

George Kanis: My relationship with photography started when I was still in high school. I fell in love with this medium, I was already painting at the time and planning to go to a fine arts school. It was the whole concept of photography that made me fall in love with it, and still am to this day. I was shooting on film, I had to process it in the darkroom so it was like a ritual to me. Most people don’t appreciate photography as a fine art so that makes me want to try harder and prove them wrong. Do I succeed in that? Not sure. But I put a lot of effort and work into it, I may not have the perfect equipment or mediums, but I do have aesthetics and goals. We forget about the simple things and we try to pretend that we are something that we are not, or recreate successful images of the past, but that’s not me: I practice photography as I practice painting, I put the same love and effort into both of these mediums and I see them as equal.

L.B.: In your photography, it seems that you focus largely on marginal characters. Why do you think it is important to tell these stories?

G.K.: My inspiration comes firstly as a primal instinct. I look for people and objects that I can see or find myself, observe their details and that makes me feel sensitive and sometimes sensual. It is a very emotional and personal process for me. I stick with marginal characters because, first of all, I can relate to them, and obviously although we take things for granted nowadays, they are not!

There is no true equality, we have to fight the patriarchal model in our society with all of our hearts and that’s what I am doing through my work.

L.B.: You also work with other mediums: painting, video art, installations, etc. What medium feels closer to you and why?

G.K.: I have to say painting, it’s the only one that gives me a sense of freedom in my head, where chaos and freedom can co-exist in harmony. When I paint, I truly express myself and my feelings 100%, and that sets me free and gives me hope. I am not so good with words, but I always try to express my thoughts through the medium I am working with. To be honest, I feel that photography and painting gave me a voice so I feel closer to them than to other mediums.

L.B.: It seems like the underground scene from Athens inspires you a lot; tell us about it and your fascination to document it.

G.K.: Athens is unique, people here have their way to express themselves, especially when it comes to the underground scene/community, it’s where I started loving myself when I was still a kid … it’s a safe space for me, my friends loved me unconditionally and so do I. I found my true self through that scene, a self that doesn’t lie, that doesn’t need to pretend, that is loved, and I felt “normal” and not the “freak” society told me I was. My sexuality felt more than okay so I was ready to fall in love, those people not only inspired me, they helped me think there is an ‘us’ and not just an ‘I’. I felt so loved & happy all those years and I felt like I have to share it in my way, therefore I am not afraid to talk about Theban things as well. I want to help people not to feel ashamed for who they are, for what may have happened to them, I want them to feel just as normal as I managed to feel after all those years. I am not claiming it’s easy, but we all have to try for a better future.

L.B.: Please tell us about your new project D.T.S. (Death to Symbols).

G.K.: I created the project “Death to Symbols” to depict the severance of human beings from nature, where the primordial womb of the world is the all-inclusive being. Without discrimination, with full-on acceptance. My photos usually take place in the urban environment, a place mostly cemented, cold, technological, purely patriarchal. There, the bodies are depicted stripped from civilization, they return to a primal age when everything belongs to a pre-conscious stage where everything is accepted, where social judgment doesn’t have a place.

My subjects are symbols carrying the designation that society assigned to them. But, my photo set is an environment where they can shake off the “acquired” and present their truth. Every single one of them in their way.

“Death to symbols” is the confirmation of the return of the unfiltered nature where desire is subject only to itself and doesn’t abide by laws and rules.

L.B.: How do you see your work evolving in the future?

G.K.: My childhood is 60% of what has shaped my aesthetics and the rest are my studies, my research, the years, and non-stop work.

I always felt I don’t belong anywhere, I couldn’t fit or attach myself to a group or a family.” So I became the man I am on my own”. At first, I got attached to art and then, with the first love of my life, started creating my own family that I am proud of, then came to fill that gap of acceptance of the underground community.

My aesthetics may not have changed through the years but my work always evolves like a growing organism and it always depends on my feelings to be nurtured and fed. So, to be honest about my work and how I see it in the future: I don’t know … it depends on what kind of a future we are heading towards.

L.B.: What inspires you now? Can you give us the names of some writers, visual artists, musicians that we should be aware of from Greece?

G.K.: Through the years, I have been a huge fan of Nan Goldin, Mapplethorpe, John Waters, Bruce LaBruce and so many others. But when it comes to Greek artists, I have so many that I love and follow their works: Maria Fili (poetry), Richard Dracoulis (ceramist), Last line Project / Morah (musicians), Aristomenis (painter), Spyros Rennt (photographer) and the list goes on and on.

L.B.: What do you think is the power of art in our days?

G.K.: First of all it’s giving the power of voice to the unheard! I mean, let’s be honest, we have seen almost everything nowadays from the classics in art, it’s almost impossible to create something new. Art has to serve people, art must serve you and your goals, and not the other way around. We are the masters of the medium so the power is our own. You have to tell a story with what you do otherwise it’s pointless – maybe it would be a nice decorating piece but it’s never going to be an art piece.

L.B.: As a closing note, do you have a word of advice for upcoming artists?

G.K.: Be exactly who you are, don’t try to be likeable, express yourself, and get exposed! Show us who you are and what you are trying to say! DON`T GET FOOLED BY SOCIAL MEDIA AND LIKES, it’s ALL A BIG LIE! And, above all, never quit!!! To think that I may not like what you do or what you say should mean nothing, because to other people or certain groups it could mean the world. If you respect people and you do not harm what you are doing, you are going to be appreciated one day for sure! So heads up and stay creative. The art world is a really difficult road to follow, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stick to your guts and stay honest.

Instagram: @georgekanis

Twitter: @GeorgeKanis

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