Panos Charalampidis and Mary Chairetaki are a Greek photographic duo, living in Crete. They use photography as a research tool that integrates the evidential nature of the medium, with the human perspective and emotions. In Cornucopia, their latest completed long-term series, they have created an intimate body of work that is simultaneously wondrous and familiar.
In the history of photography, we have seen several photographers working as a collaborative duo which offers an admirable work. Could you tell us a few words about how you decided to work together?
First of all, we would like to thank you for the invitation. We met due to photography 10 years ago. We were often shooting together, but we did not see each other antagonistically. At this point, collaborating seemed the obvious next step. By doing so, we shared work burden, skills and ideas.
However to maintain such a partnership has some prerequisites, like making sure that we both keep the same paste. Luckily we were compatible personalities, as we had the same taste in photography and shared similar beliefs.
Additionally, as we evolved, at some point we realized, that the yardstick of a successful partnership was not just doing something “better”, but delivering something different. As we consider photography a representative of who we are, an artistic duo can give the impression of a single personality that is nowhere to be found if analyzed to each of its components. Saying that, we have not razed our individualities, but rather concealed them. Integrating aspects of our personalities is an essential process for our projects.
“Fairytales are not true, but at least they are not lying” refers to the lyrics of the musician Pavlos Pavlidis. The statement of the Cornucopia series mentions the myth of born place of Zeus was the place that you photographed. What inspired you in this place and created such an interesting visual tale about the agrarian world?
Cornucopia (horn of plenty) is about the land and the people of Lassithi plateau. Since our first visit we were hooked on this place. The first year we were unconsciously making images of the plateau because we just liked what we were seeing. However, at some point, we started investigating our fixation. We met people who shared the same love for the plateau and we observed that words like “fortress”, “safety”, “abundance” and “mystical” were recurring among us. Gradually, it became clear that the plateau still retains the potential to create myths, similarly to ancient times. This evolved into the core idea for capturing a resilient/permanent type of this place’s identity. Cornucopia is an art documentary project and the truth in it is dictated only by our vision.
“Cornucopia is an art documentary project and the truth in it is dictated only by our vision. It reflects our notion and experience of this place.”
It reflects our notion and experience of this place. In that sense, the lyrics of Pavlidis are impressively relatable.
Could you tell us more about the sequencing/editing stage of the photographs of this series which manages to stay open to interpretations?
As we were on this project for a few years, we were constantly editing our work. During this process, we shared and discussed our ideas with Eleni Mouzakiti and Lambros Papanikolatos, two people we trust and respect their opinion. That gave us the valuable feedback and helped us realize that despite the documentary aspect, Cornucopia should not be restricted by it. We tried to produce images that extended beyond the specific time and place. Additionally, we were lucky enough to attend a workshop with Alec Soth, during MedPhoto Festival. Soth is a photographer we greatly admire and his advice on Cornucopia was crucial for the final stage, as it helped us clarify what we wanted to present out of this project.
When we felt we had the right images, we started the sequencing process. We always thought that a photography project has to create its own universe, where the viewer can immerse himself in. This universe is defined by the selected images and at the same time these images must seem to come spontaneously out of it. Undoubtedly, the pictures selected for a project are important; but equally important is the space between them. It is inevitable that the viewer will rely on his imagination to fill these spaces. The right sequencing should help this procedure and allow someone to imagine any possible story. Of course we follow some sequencing methods. Although we have a specific story in our minds, we do not want the viewer to be limited by it, but rather to create his own.
We can notice that you are working on long-term projects. How do you decide the perfect timing to put down the camera and publish the work?
There are many factors. Sometimes you just run out of time, sometimes you think you have found what you were looking for and sometimes you want to move forward and do something else. Although Cornucopia started approximately 4 years ago, our involvement in Plateau is as old as our relationship. We visually evolved there and at the same time, we persistently investigated the imagery of plateau. This process, eventually demystified our perception for it; that was a welcoming change. At the same time, we felt the urge to change our focus point and move forward.
What are the next steps of the Cornucopia? Are you planning to publish a photobook?
Yes, we can imagine Cornucopia as a book.
When a project has been completed, it is time to start thinking about dissemination. As photobook lovers ourselves, this is something that we seriously consider. The photobook is often the perfect way for a photographer to present his work and it has a unique and lifelong interaction with the viewer. Nevertheless, creating a photobook is always a big challenge and needs to be made with extra care.
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