Τhe need to express oneself is the driving force behind any technological advancement

Christos Karamanis

Armed with light and shadow

Text: Chryssa Nanou
Christos Karamanis

Having established himself as one of Greek cinema’s top-notch cinematographers, Christos Karamanis has an impressive list of collaborations with acclaimed directors under his belt: Giorgos Panousopoulos (on multiple occasions), Athina Rachel Tsangari (Chevalier) and Argyris Papadimitropoulos (Suntan – Iris Cinematography Award of the Hellenic Film Academy 2017). Armed with light and shadow, lenses and cameras, Christos Karamanis more than often watches a film unfold long before the audience does – sometimes even before the director.

Born in Thessaloniki in 1966, he moved to Athens to study at the Hellenic Cinema & Television School Stavrakos. “My on and off employment at Rivoli cinema (evoking the film Cinema Paradiso), the dark chamber for black and white film I had set up along with my childhood friend, Yorgos Kormanos, as well as his prompting me to move to Athens and study to be a cameraman at Stavrakos School, were the main driving forces behind my decision to get involved with cinema,” he points out.

He began working in the audiovisual field in the early 90s. “After graduating, in 1994, as I was working on the set of Love Knot by Giorgos Panousopoulos, and through his glance as a director, I came to realize that cinematography is bound to become the love of my life,” he recalls. His first work as a cinematographer came in 2001, in the film Athens Blues, directed by – who else? – Giorgos Panousopoulos. Up to now, he has worked in more than 20 full-length and short fiction films and documentaries.

Among his most noteworthy works, we come across several international collaborations, such as the film Sow the Wind (2020) by Danilo Caputo, a co-production between Italy, France and Greece, the British comedy The Nan Movie (2022) by Josie Rourke, as well as the Turkish film Burning Days by Emin Alper, short in Cappadocia and co-produced by the Greek company Horsefly, which was chosen to participate at the 75th Cannes Film Festival’s “Un Certain Regard” competition section. Moreover, he has directed more than 200 advertising spots, featuring many award winners among them, such as ActionAid’s Hand, recipient of the Best Cinematography Award at Virtuoso Awards. Nevertheless, his dynamic and profoundly cinematic glance is evident in all areas and aspects of his work.

When asked on the cinematographer’s role in a movie project, he replies as follows: “A copy-paste answer is my best way through this question, as every time I tried to put it in my own words, while speaking with friends and acquaintances, it came out as an epic fail. So, the cinematographer, with the images he crafts, plays a vital part in the visual narration of the film, through the handling of – natural or artificial – light and colors, but also through his contribution to the frame setting and the movement of the camera.”

He never gets tired of arguing that cinematography constitutes a form of narration. “Let me make use of a simple example. The viewer will feel a certain way in a dimly lit room, even if it’s sunny outside the movie theater, and in a totally different way if invited into a sunny room.” In addition, he qualifies personality, personal experiences and studies as the identifying features of a cinematographer’s gaze. “Beyond that point, each one’s gaze is matched by the screenplay’s and the director’s needs and this blend is the ingredient that ends up making all the difference. My advice to young cinematographers is not to get excessively attached to a personal style and always adapt to the needs of the script.”

Having shot many cinemascope films, he explains why he is drawn to the wide image format. “The imperfections, especially when using the older models of lenses, offer a special touch. Moreover, the technology of these lenses allows the coexistence of an actor’s close-up with a wider frame. For example, in the film Wednesday 04:45 by Alexis Alexiou, anamorphic lenses were the only way to achieve the co-existence of the protagonist and the city scenery.”

As to the changes his art has been undergoing over the last years, here’s what he has to say: “From a technological standpoint, filmmaking tools have evolved enormously, facilitating the demands of cinematic expression. What remains unaltered though, is the need to express oneself, which is the driving force behind any technological advancement.”