The importance of each photo lies in the story encompassed within and around the frame
For Dimitris Mougos every photo is unique, like a moment in time drifting instantly into the past as soon as the shutter klicks. In his exhibition “A Couple of Photos”, hosted until November 28th in The Eye Altering gallery (2, Paikou str.), within the framework of the Thessaloniki Photobiennale 2023, the photos in display follow a certain thematic sequence and unravel a story.
In this narrative thread, we come across different genres of photography, different faces and conditions, different glimpses of time and space, different conditions, but we never stray out of context. “The importance of each photo lies in the story encompassed within and around the frame. That is the core found in every photo project. The consistency and coherence in relation
to the theme” he explains, while sharing that he has lived in a world of images ever since he can remember himself.
“My mother was an amateur photographer from a young age, there was always photo equipment in the house, we used to have screenings of slides from our family trips. My father was into graphic arts as a printer and had brought me in contact from early on with the design, printing and image processing field. My initiation into photography came when I enrolled in the Department of Photography & Audiovisual Arts of the former Technological Educational Institute of Athens. That’s when Ι got acquainted with the medium of photography and started to grasp its technical, aesthetic and artistic principles.” As for his professional stint in photography, the starting point was in 2012, the year he returned to Thessaloniki from London, after obtaining his master’s degree from Goldsmiths College.
“Once we are gone, there will be nothing but streets, no-one dancing as the night falls. Stories and a couple of photos is all we’ll leave behind” are the lyrics dedicated to him by Lex. His long-time friendship with Alexis Lanaras aka Lex was the spark that triggered a series of photos that ended up being published in the photo album A Couple of Photos, a true ode to friendship.
In the introductory texts of the photo album one can detect the power of friendship, of the joined path in life, of teaming up. “With the key figures of the photo album we go back all the way to high-school. We have shared our teenage years, our first summer vacation, our homes, our life”. The idea of a photo book popped up right after Lex’s concert in Nea Smirni. “We were strolling down Navarinou Square on an August night when Philippos (appearing both in the book and the exhibition) dropped the thought of a book. And so it began…” he recounts.
“I had all the time in the world to think it through and talk about it. Little by little I went through the material from our first photo shoots, recordings, concerts and I soon realized the amount of unpublished footage. Everything that had been posted was long buried in the social media timeline. A photo does not complete its journey by going online. Maybe it serves its purpose at the time, but in reality it is left high and dry, stranded and incomplete. Moreover, a decade had passed since the beginning of our collaboration and the debut album of Alexis, and everyone’s reaction when I announced my plan was more than encouraging.”
Eleni Giannakouli and Dimitris Mougos have known each other long before the release of the photo album, since the days of the Petites Maison publishing house. “At some point, I mentioned to her that I’m putting together the book and we discussed the possibility of an exhibition. In the meantime, new concerts took place in the previous summer, so I took advantage of the chance to create a little extra material. Long story short, we decided to move on with the exhibition project. We reached out to Thessaloniki Photography Museum and our exhibition was included in the official Thessaloniki Photobiennale programme.”
“I got in touch with Andreas, the motorbike’s owner, as I wanted it to be a part of the exhibition. Same thing with the bar from the concerts’ railings, brought to us by Giorgos Georgiadis. All objects placed in the exhibition venue carry a significance in my personal
journey, as they are linked with memories and experiences I shared with my friends along the way,” he confesses.
“There’s an even more personal touch in the printings. While preparing the photo album, the print shop was filled with colors and faces, precious moments and friends, coffees and concerts. The fixation of the printing process with repetition, matched by our fixation with the habits, the faces and the landscape of the city, as well as with a specific way of life, is the reason these papers were laid out on the floor; their purpose had been fulfilled. These sheets of paper were what we call shoddy, they were on their way to the recycle bin, but we came up with a creative use for them,” he stresses while referring to the thousands of printings on the gallery’s floor you literally walk on while visiting the exhibition.
The integration of the exhibition into the Photobiennale’s official programme was nothing short of a great honor for him. “It’s so beautiful to take part in a celebration both for the art of photography and the city of Thessaloniki. I’m so glad I had the chance of sharing thoughts and ideas with people who love photography,” he admits with a big smile on his face. Many people attended the exhibition’s opening yearning to get a glimpse of Lex’s life, as he systematically avoids interviews and any kind of publicity. This low profile, though, does not prevent him from packing up stadiums with thousands of fans who sing all of his lyrics by heart. Lex’s presence in the exhibition’s opening was bound to draw the spotlight. The rapper hung around with the photographer and their friends and kindly had many more than “a couple” of photos taken with the audience.
“The opening day found me baffled and clueless as to what was in store. Eleni and I were pretty confident about the outcome, but there’s always a layer of stress lying underneath. My dear friend Stelios (ApSet), who joined me on the opening night, being more experienced in such events, reassured me that everything would turn out fine. People started gathering early on, we got together, we chatted, friends, partners and colleagues showed up; there was a vibe of warmth in the air. Everyone enjoyed a little catching up with old friends and acquaintances.”
From Dimitris Mougos’ standpoint, photography is a living and breathing art, subject to changes and new trends, constantly evolving. “I’m happy to see the traditional film return back to
fashion. It’s an interesting shift that runs counter to the digital era of hastiness, where we find ourselves filling up memory cards and hard discs without giving much thought to it. I am not using film, but I try to work as if I did, taking my time with every theme, not wasting my clicks aimlessly. I hope to manage my time better and start taking my Leica camera on long walks,” he concludes.
His father was a graphic arts professional and owner of one the most well-known print shops in the city center of Thessaloniki, a true hub and meeting place for artists, photographers and journalists, currently run by Dimitris and his brother. “This photo album is a bridge uniting the two parallel worlds that have shaped me so far: graphic arts and photography. My brother and I grew up downtown and the print’s shop was like a second home to us, as we got to know many prominent sports, arts, music and culture figures of the city right from an early age. Our goal today is to transform our space into a photo studio, at the very spot the original print shop has been since the 60s. We hope to meet with our people’s needs both on a commercial and artistic level, to shelter creative endeavors, to interact and offer solutions. This is the legacy left
to us by the previous generation, apart from a colossal archive: communicating with one another and solving mutual problems.”
As expected, the conversation is eventually geared to Thessaloniki. “Thessaloniki is my city and I love it. Even when I was away studying or for any other reason, I was never really gone. I grew up in the city center, amidst a lively and vibrant period for Thessaloniki. In the first semester of my studies, when I returned from Athens for the Christmas holidays, I managed to take a photo of an indelible image-memory of my childhood years: the block flats surrounding the dead-end next to our print shop, in Alexandrou Svolou str. It was at that very moment that I realized what the city had to offer me as a photographer. My first photos were marked by the absence of the human element,” he points out.
“Maturing along the way, both me and the city changed. As soon as I returned from London, me and the gang started to shoot video clips, take photos, spend hours editing the material – at times the city felt like an endless playground of creativity. Little by little I found out that the city, besides its buildings, monuments and history, is mirrored in its people,” he explains, while stressing that both the city and the country are in need of drastic changes.
Our talk then shifts to the troubled days we go through and the photojournalists’ work. “I greatly admire their work. It takes a great deal of courage, running and endurance, both physically and mentally. I am not at all sure I could pull it off. Growing up in such a milieu, ever since a child I have been accustomed to having my own private space. Pretty much like the artist’s atelier and the printer’s print shop, the photographer is attached to the studio. The exhibition and the photo album may indicate otherwise, but I prefer to work in a designated environment. My type of photography demands control, setting up, light and staging,” he admits.
Dimitris Mougos views cell phone camera photos as nothing more than reminders of happy moments. “For better or worse, cell phones have become an inextricable part of our lives. Techwise, there’s moutstanding progress, a constant flow of improvement and impressive results. However, I have the feeling that if we bump into an album with old photos, we’ll treat it differently. Nowadays, every time we go on a trip we take a bunch of photos with our cell phone and if we forget to store them in another device, in a couple of years we’ll probably won’t know what has become of them. In other words, all things have their proper use,” he concludes.