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  • ‘Red Willow’ by Dimitris Lambridis

    Dimitris Lambridis was born in Athens, Greece. He has studied photography at the NewYork Film Academy and Film Production at the University for The Creative Arts, in Farnham, UK. He works as a photographer and cinematographer between London and Athens, while creating personal projects in the medium of photography. These projects focus mostly on stories that involve themes such as loss, the margins, community and irreversibility.

    How did you find yourself in Taos, New Mexico and how did you establish contact with the Red Willow people of Taos Pueblo?  What was it that attracted you to this place and got you involved to this extent?
    I ‘ll try to keep it as simple as possible, buckle up. My brother and I share a strong bond, so when he asked me to follow him to visit his mother – who lives in Taos, New Mexico – I didn’t think twice, and went on this adventure with him. The purpose of our trip was to think things through. The end of my brothers’ long relationship, along with my own worries about existence and love. I strongly believed that if I went to a land structured completely differently to anything I’ve ever experienced, it would allow my mind to unwind and rewire. I had visited the town of Taos once before for a short period of time, and in the last couple of days became aware of the existence of the oldest functioning pueblo in North America.

    Returning to the town of Taos I was sure that I wanted to explore and find out more about the Taos pueblo and the pueblo Indians.

    There are many ways one can use photography, and it’s something that happens instinctively, and your eye takes you there. Through observation of your own patterns you then start to better understand what you’re drawn to and which part of your brain you like to heal and work on. I have always used it to try to understand myself better. The process itself allows me to breathe and operate without thinking – just my instinct and curiosity at work – only to retrospectively analyse and go over the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of my choices.

    Red Willow is the part of me that I don’t have access to and I don’t know. You can get to know yourself through the most sincere reflections. The ones closest to you and the ones farthest away. My work is frequently about the emotions coming from my childhood faces and places, or the environments and communities who would view me as “the other”. For Red Willow, I had to respectfully ask permission to be there and get to meet people and spend time with them. If I hadn’t shared a moment with them, then I wouldn’t include them in the project. I want the foundations of my narrative to be based on emotions, and not appearance.

    What drew me to this – really – is the question: How does one of the oldest societies in North America – of those still intact – stand in front the titan nation of the US, which is known to absorb and crush cultures that live under its umbrella. What does it look like? What are the limitations and freedoms and what do the people look like? What does their landscape inspire?

    Ah, only the leaves! But in the west,
    In the west I see a redness come
    Over the evening’s burning breast —
    — ‘Tis the wound of love goes home!
    D.H. Lawrence  , 1913 

    I went on to discover that, many others – among them, poet DH Lawrence and Georgia O’Keefe – had come out to this place to see another part of their mind. To look so far out in order to then be able to look deeper than ever before. 

    Could you share with us some biographical information about the pueblo and its people? 
    “Red Willow” is the name of the Native American tribe of Pueblo Indians residing in the Taos Pueblo, in the city of Taos, New Mexico. The Red Willow tribe operates as an independent sovereign state, with its own hospital, school system and governing body. The Taos Pueblo was probably built between 1000 and 1450, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States.  It is also said that the Red Willow tribe was one of the first organised societies in the US – prior to the arrival of the Spanish in 1598 and other colonizers who played a definitive role in the history of the country and the fate of all Native Americans.  A really important establishment introduced to the Natives was Christianity, which fit within the already highly spiritual culture, without pushing their spiritual practices away. It fit, and was accepted as it functioned on a different layer. Faith plays a large role in Native American art and other forms of expression. 

    The history of relations between the US government and the Native American Indians has been a difficult one.  Increasingly, today’s Native American groups are sovereign within their own territory but continue to have close connections with the US federal government. Access to higher education for Native Americans is limited as the opportunities afforded them are not broad. The pueblo is a World Heritage Site and the following is written in the UNESCO website. “Taos Pueblo is a remarkable example of a traditional type of architectural ensemble from the pre-Hispanic period of the Americas unique to this region and one which, because of the living culture of its community, has successfully retained most of its traditional forms up to the present day.

    The Pueblo has always had a comprehensive unwritten preservation strategy that is carried out by tribal members, with scrupulous respect for traditional materials and techniques. These traditions and practices have protected Taos Pueblo’s structures for centuries through an active monitoring program by the Pueblo’s traditional government and decision-making process. This ensures that the living culture and associated historic structures and landscapes are maintained and functional.[…]” 

    Some of these images, like the one with the man sat down on the chair, one could notice a slight contrast in the clothing. How do you explain the duality of an autonomous community that uses modern materials?
    Through my personal observations, and some of the discussions I had, I have some thoughts on the topic, but they are not to be viewed as a piece of journalism, rather as a personal opinion and observation. In fact, I rarely reply to these types of questions – even to myself – as I’m happy to swim in a puddle of curiosity and unanswered questions. It helps me dig more and act more emotionally. At the end of the day, I am not a historian or a journalist.
    When I came to observe that the clothing and the usage of material is inextricably connected to the community, I couldn’t help but think that this has to do with global capitalism. The establishing era of the ‘big fish’. The USA very quickly positioned itself at the top of this chain, by importing culture and technology, and consuming as fast as possible, skipping the long term effort of cultivating. These actions worked as a muting system towards the communities and cultures contained within. The natives, along with other marginalized communities were not acknowledged by the US the same way Europeans were.

    So, I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly where this duality comes from, I do not contain the knowledge, or the insiders’ experience to make a definitive comment, however, this is something that attracted me. It is certainly deeply rooted in the thick blurry line, between the independence of the Pueblo Indians and their land, and the reality of it. Are they only as independent as they are made to believe? Is it something that happens for the eyes of the outsider, or is it an authentic extroversion desired by the community? How much access are they given and how much freedom do they really have?

    The existence of vertical orientation photographs with obvious film marks (aka first lucky pose) does not seem to be used in any case for another show off of the use of analog medium format in the digital age, but is conceptually linked to Red Willow and the turbulent its relationship with the newer American authorities.
    I have an interesting relationship with the usage of effects in my work. I am extremely judgemental of things that take you away from simplicity and drive you towards gimmicks. For better or for worse, I am a bit of a purist. However, I was told by a couple of people that these sort of burnt first and last frames were interesting and suited the project’s narrative. Though difficult to digest the thought of their induction in the final edit of the project, I thought I would take this giant leap away from my usual conservatism, hehe. I specifically bought this Pentax 67 camera for this project. I believed that it would be a relatively fast way to shoot 6×7, and specifically the lenses that fit onto this camera are very sharp and are coated with some great glass. I believed that it would be extremely appropriate to read the environment through this type of glass, and I was indeed very happy with the results. I got a very good reading of the textures, and the combination of the Portra film and the warm feel from the super takumar glass were quite appropriate. So the burns from the first and last frames come from a happy accident in fact. I had never tested the camera before taking it to the US with me. It arrived from Japan, late, the same morning I was flying to the US. That was lucky.

    However, when I returned to Athens, Myrto who develops at my usual film lab told me that there was a problem and that my camera doesn’t exactly space out the frames correctly. As a result I got a lot of these images which felt like it was a part of the entire process. This camera was bought for this project and now, all of it’s character will have to be appropriated to this project, unapologetically even. I decided to embrace the malfunction and not waste it, especially as I found that this burn to me could emotionally work as a representation of physical wear and tear, similar to the one that underlines emotionally the community and the environment it is in. That is my way of reading it. This is the first time that I have been more open to something like this, and I like the feeling of the non-perfect. It feels less arrogant and liberating in a childish – not criticizing my work harshly for once – kind of way.

    Having the great pleasure to have seen from an early phase all your contacts with the raw photos you took for this particular project in order to suggest you a curatorial scheme, I would like to ask you how do you deal with the stage of photo sequencing? Is it a happy or painful process? How do you manage it?
    In all honesty, I think it is a scary process for me and certainly, difficult for anyone. For those who work with narrative, be that more factual, or poetic across all mediums that work with sequences, editing is where it all comes together. You establish a pace, an atmosphere, a humour, a severity and it’s the way you speak. I will never cease to be amazed by certain photographers who articulate their work astonishingly through their editing. It all ties together perfectly, even if the images on their own, are not individually perfect. But that is the beauty in narrative work. You work for the story, not for the beauty. You need to be fitting, suitable and appropriate, more than you need to be pretty. Beauty with no foundation of a deeper story, only scratches the surface and soon enough becomes saturated.

    “Photography has raised cinema to become a bigger and more expressive entity without losing its ability to be just as powerful and without ‘speaking’ too much.”

    The way I deal with it, is to print the images and physically move them around. And certainly, share them with other photographers and ask them what they think. Depending on who it is, I would give certain instructions, or nothing at all, to squeeze as much of their imagination into the process. Other times I might send everything, which is when I am totally desperate.
    It always helps knowing what you are shooting for. Is it a book or an exhibition piece? Is it an article, or is it a love letter?  Alec Soth is a master at this in my opinion. He knows what he shoots for. And just like in a storyboarded film, each image of his is a role player. So in a sequence they work like an orchestra, not all images are protagonists. Some are the percussionists at the back that you can’t see, but he adds these tiny sparks of magic using only a triangle, and that ties the whole piece together. And for the huge respect and love that I have for editing / sequencing of images, I can say that I am scared to death of the process. In the same way that one can be super scared of a love affair that is too good to be true, haha.  

    In your work, we have also seen your moving image documentaries. What made you decide to shoot this project in stills and not in moving image? 
    The link between cinema and photography is much greater than the link between a cinematographer and a photographer. The mediums themselves are siblings. I see photography as the introverted extremely wise older sister of cinema. Photography has raised cinema to become a bigger and more expressive entity without losing its ability to be just as powerful and without ‘speaking’ too much. However a photographer is much closer to a director, than to a director of photography. As a cinematographer I work towards the vision of the director to create images in order to visually represent the story in the best and most convincing way possible. Using lighting, camera movement, and lenses, I need to emotionally touch the audience. For the film, this is only one part of it.

    The main difference in the processes is the time that you spend watching and the huge contribution to the emotional and informational aspect, which is the sound. In photography, a photographer is on his own. He almost always has to execute every aspect of his project. As a photographer, you are your own; producer, director, cinematographer, camera assistant, gaffer and editor. But filmmaking, as an artform born from the combination of many other artforms, works best with the cooperation of many people, who are experts in their own specific artform. What made me use photography for this project is the stillness of the high desert and the intimacy I can have. I believe that the essence of the project and it’s real character resides in the margins between what is felt, what is presented superficially, and the hidden parts that present themselves in moments of silence. These moments only occur once in a while, and are much more likely to present themselves if you are looking at the human in the eyes, and react fast in capturing, rather than greedily filming without end, looking through a viewfinder in hopes that it will present itself. 

    I wanted to take the time, to live with them, and look, really look, and then capture. If I were filming with moving image. I would be violently stealing. And this is particularly important in this project because, this community has been nurtured to protect itself from the outside. They do it instinctively to survive. And I respect that. I want them to continue this way, so they can never cease to exist.

    When was the first time you felt that you are achieving what you really want to do with photography?
    There are two levels in which I think of this question, and I’m glad you asked it, as it is a recent thought of mine. Firstly, there is me as a 16 year old, when the obsession began and it changed the way I walk, talk and perceive the world. In my high school I was famous for taking a lot of bathroom breaks, and abusing them. I really enjoyed walking around the school when it was empty and daydream. I used to get in a lot of trouble for that. My most vivid daydream happened when I was a turning a corner into a really long corridor which led to the Art classes. Exactly at that point I said to myself; “Travelling the world and photographing, this has to be the life”. Very soon after, I persisted and resisted all forces that wanted me to jump into a mainstream moneymaking job and ‘do photography as a hobby’. I managed to get to a point where I could travel and work, as a photographer. However, the real turning point came later in my life. Quite recently in fact. 

    In April 2017 I was invited to present my photo series: Transitory Lives. Transitory Lives was a 2 year long documentation of a specific group of Syrian refugees, and their journey from Greece, to France, Belgium and Germany. The motivation came from a conference at the University of Oxford that I had attended 2 years prior, as a means to practically serve a purpose with my medium, following the frustration of all this important research done in the highest tiers of education, which never reaches the common people that need to be educated.

    So, in April 2017, I managed to return to the conference in Oxford which was about Borders, organized by Kristina Gedgaudaite, to present Transitory lives and show that field work and raising awareness through visual mediums can be very effective if done in a certain way. The project is now used as research material by the Anthropology department of Durham University, who jumped on board as support and co producers from the start. And more specifically, the head of Anthropology, Elisabeth Kyrstoglou. The morning after I presented the project I found myself in my bed in London, feeling total bliss. The realization that I can help with my medium and not just indulge in satisfying my ambitions was a great achievement for me, and I felt like things had shifted into place.

    More on his website.