Nicholas Karakatsanis is the passionate and dedicated photographer who is no stranger to a movie set. Having already worked with directors Romain Gavras, as well as Michael Roskam on the Oscar nominated film Rundskop, Karakatsanis has established himself as a Director of Photography on several feature films. However it is what he accomplishes in his spare time that is truly remarkable. From the moving image to the still image; it is the aesthetic he captures in his photography which is introducing a whole new audience to his work, thanks to his comprehension of darkness. Although Karakatsanis claims there are no political or avant-garde undertones to his work, like the Surrealist photographer Brassai who photographed the streets of Paris at night, Karakatsanis has a unique command of shadow within his photography.
I’m not interested in showing how the world turns. I want to show people my world, not the 'real world'.
Dazed speaks to him about his new show, Adjusting Infinity, which is his second solo show of still photography at the ALICE gallery in Belgium. He describes why his own personal reality is more intriguing than a universal ‘reality’, the importance of absurd humour and the influence of Manet.
Dazed Digital: The themes behind your work often seem quite dark, is this intentional?
Nicolas Karakatsanis: I don't think in terms of dark or light. I reckon I try to go where, aesthetically, I find the right ambience or colour tonality that evoke some emotion for me. I think that darkness allows me often to hide details and to generalise a feeling or expression. It becomes more of a rough brushstroke than a clear picture. I don't care about showing an event. My focus goes towards finding that balance between trying to tell something - or showing an emotion - and to leave enough space so that the viewer can add his own emotions to the photographs he's looking at.
I don't work with themes. Visual techniques are more important to me than having a consequent series of poor people on the streets, or war victims, or Roma children. There's nothing wrong with all of that, but I’m not interested in showing how the world turns. I'm more interested in a personal exploration of stuff that I see. I want to show people my world, and not the 'real world'. I always like to make links to painting. I'm not a big art bible, but I like the feel of good paintings more than photographs. Paintings that have been touched physically by the artist, they are unique pieces, a representation of the world, or a scene, in the way the artist experienced it. So a painter would combine his emotions into that painterly work. I guess that's what I’m trying to do. I try to put my 'physical touch' - my vision - onto these pictures.
It's really a day-to-day experience. I could go dark one day, I could go blurred... The technique will have more of a storytelling effect than the content itself. My approach differs a lot to the subject that I try to catch. It could be film based, digital based, or small, medium, large format photography. I don't have any subjects that I particularly like to photograph. I'm open to whatever happens to me, or to stuff that I encounter during my travels. I don't want to hit the street with the purpose of taking photographs. I always have my camera with me, but I want to be surprised with whatever I encounter. I don't want to search for the moment; I want to stumble upon it. It's more honest to me. I don't want to create stuff; I love to catch small moments that translate my feelings or emotions.
DD: What is Adjusting Infinity about?
Nicolas Karakatsanis: The title refers to 2 items that represent the way I look at photography. The word 'infinity' represents something undefined, and bigger than life. Something we can't grasp. It's also something that sounds serious, an adult word. When combining those words, 'adjusting' and 'infinity', it becomes something that makes no sense at all and is actually just stupid. It wipes out the seriousness of the word 'infinity'. I like absurd humor. It defines me really well. I know my subjects are quiet and depressing, but I also like to combine that with weird moments (which I think is funny). The guy with the black painted head is nice example. He was already dark skinned, but the situation needed an even darker head! I thought that was absurd, and again said something about the expectations this world has... expectations which are just stupid. So I could say that this expo is about the contrast between me searching for deep profound emotions, and me not being able to really be honest about it. I need a good joke to break the ice. I don't mind this. As long as I am true to myself, that's ok. It's always good to be in a contradictory place. It creates special moments.
DD: What photographers/artists/filmmakers have affected or influenced your work if any?
Nicolas Karakatsanis: In general I would say that Michael Borremans has influenced me. The late cinematographer Harris Savides, Bill Henson (an Australian photographer)... I have a large visual library at home. It swings in lots of different directions. But I guess my biggest influence would be Permeke and Manet. I love those dark brown, goldish colours. They evoke the strongest feelings within me. Painting has influenced me in the general way that I decided to only print unique pieces. Just like a painting, there's only one original. I never liked the idea of a series of identical prints. A picture should only exist once. That's the only way to give it its own value. Duplicating a picture is a commercial decision. I think it infuses even more delicacy within the object that the photograph is unique. I'm a romantic I guess... So if any print gets damaged or lost or whatever... There are no back-ups... Just like a painting...
DD: Having worked on film productions, what has been the most personally exciting collaboration you've been involved in and why?
Nicolas Karakatsanis: Working with my brother has until now been the most emotional collaboration. My brother is a director. We produced our first feature film together. It's called Small Gods. A super small budget film that had its premieres at the Venice Film Festival a couple of years ago. That project is still the best thing I’ve done until now. It's far from perfect, but its intentions were the strongest. It initialised our futures. So that will always be a special thing.
DD: Has photography always been your chosen medium of expression? As you also make music and direct?
Nicolas Karakatsanis: I would say yes. Photography gives me the freedom I don't always have in my cinematography work. In still photography I decide if I wish to capture that moment. Nobody has to approve anything. It's my moment...
Music has always been very important to me. It has been my emotional outlet for a long time. The funny thing is that I have no musical rhythm whatsoever. But I’m glad that I could help out some friends of mine (the Hickey Underworld, and Drums are for Parades) with their initial albums. I created a small label to release some of their stuff. I guess that's the most musical I’ll ever be. Directing isn’t something that I feel strongly about anymore. I did some mediocre stuff, thought I was a better cinematographer, and that I would do the world a favour by quitting the directing stuff. Photography is my strongest asset and with it I can add something to the story.
DD: What's next?
Nicolas Karakatsanis: Expanding my photography world, in both stills and cinematography. I'm starting to experiment with a small photography booklet. It will be available at the photography show. It's a rough little outlet that will be fine tuned by the next issue. I hope people will respond to it in a positive way. I would like to increase the expo frequency. Up till now I’ve done 1 show every 2 years. This being my third show, I hope I can spark people's interest in my work. It would be nice to take my work around the world. We'll see how it will evolve. I really think I’m just starting. As a cinematographer I hope I can do some more feature work in the states. A couple of projects are being discussed, but that's a bit too early to go into that. But it's looking promising.
Discovering the world is discovering my own interest in subjects I didn't know existed. That's something to look forward to I would say...
Adjusting Infinity is at the ALICE gallery from 22nd November - 21st December 2012