History and Architecture through Photography


Stergios Karavatos

I “feed” on diversity and curiosity

Text: Dimitra Kehagia || Photographs: Stergios Karavatos's Archive

In his childhood years he wanted to become an architect. In high school he fell in love with photography. In his freshman year as a Law student at AUTh, he ended up a regular at the History-Archeology School.

Love prevailed in the end and Stergios Karavatos became a photographer, an independent curator and a teacher of photography, with a multifaceted and longstanding experience under his belt. After all, he yearned to study photography in the first place, as he was enchanted by the magic of the dark chamber right from the start, following in the footsteps of his beloved uncle, Thanassis Kamarianos.

“Through photography I come in contact with people, situations and cognitive fields that would otherwise remain completely unknown to me, or at least very distant,” he stresses out, arguing that in our times, where we all take thousands of photos just by using our phone, photography – the use of the photographic image as a means of communication – is gaining ground. “Photography, as a medium, as an image, as an object, is what we choose to make of it,” he goes on to say.

The way he sees it, since our world is dominated by the power of the image, photography and video should be taught in schools, starting from the first elementary classes. “Similar to the way we need to learn how to read and write, we also need to know how images are made, how they spread around and what they are trying to tell us. Photography should not just be an art course; it should be seen as part of the civics education.”

Karavatos has long been delivering classes and workshops for adults. However, most of the people he is working with have no prior experience in photography. Therefore, he tries to pass on the fundamentals of photography for them to grasp the ways through which a photo camera affects our glance at the world and how our technical choices and our worldview shape the way the viewers interpret an image.

“First of all, I want us to distance ourselves from the “right vs. wrong” mentality and experiment on what can work out as an image,” he explains. He has teamed up with a series of different institutions, ranging from museums to the non-governmental organization “Arsis”, as “he feeds on diversity and curiosity”. Having worked as a photography teacher for many years, he believes that the elements that make a student stand out are no other than raising infinite questions and not being deterred by the heavy workload.

As an experienced curator of exhibitions, he has remarked that in other countries partnerships are a common financing scheme either by choice or by necessity. “I still can’t get why we don’t follow the same path. In most European countries, collaborations and partnerships are a textbook procedure for carrying out an exhibition. The downside to this, of course, is an over-management attitude that tends to view photo exhibitions only through the prism of profit, warping the original intentions of both the institutions and the curators. We are gradually and reluctantly moving to this direction, even at a slow pace. However, I have the feeling that the self-censorship we impose on ourselves is triggered rather easily in Greece, as a way to keep a vague and undefined audience satisfied,” he points out, while adding that there’s a fruitful ground for collaborations and partnerships in Greece, and especially in Thessaloniki.

Stergios Karavatos notices that for quite some time now museums in Greece have been making their presence known, launching a series of actions, in an effort to reach out to the local society. “The interaction between cultural institutions and the local society, such as the case of London’s Whitechapel Gallery, could easily be accomplished here, as well. It only takes two things, time and effort. Thessaloniki Photography Museum, now a vital branch of MOMus, has adopted an outgoing approach, finding its way to a broad audience.”

Over the last years, he has been exploring the correlation between urban spaces and historical memory, while taking up the task of recording the architectural heritage of the Interwar period, a field he is particularly attached to, as he wished to become an architect as a child. “I am really happy to enter into the fields of history and architecture through photography,” he mentions. The turning point was in 2012, when he first joined forces with MONUMENTA, a non-profit company dedicated to the safeguard of the architectural and natural heritage, on a large-scale project that included the recording of old buildings and the hosting of seminars on monument photography, alongside his friend and collaborator, Jeff Vanderpool.

The greatest school for him, though, was no other than the Thessaloniki Photography Museum. “Alongside all its directors and curators, and most of all alongside Iraklis Papaioannou, I delved into historical photography and studied the relation between image and historical memory.” Another source of profound inspiration for him, within the context of his post-graduate studies, was Susan Meiselas and her approach on photo documents.

Karavatos is currently completing a large-scale photo documentation of the industrial monuments in the area of Thrace, in collaboration with the Service of Modern Monuments of Eastern Macedonia-Thrace. In addition, he has his fingers crossed for any partnerships that would all him to showcase Martin Koenig’s exhibition “Balkan Echoes”, hosted within the framework of Photobiennale 2021, at the Folk Like & Ethnological Museum of Macedonia-Thrace, in other cities of Greece and the Balkans. Last but not least, within 2022, he hopes to publish a book and host and exhibition on Andreas Deligiannis’s work, which dates back in the 60s, when he extensively recorded the buildings of Thessaloniki, “amidst an era of dramatic changes for the city”, as he concludes.

Who is Who

Stergios Karavatos (born in Thessaloniki, in 1972) is a graduate of AUTh’s Faculty of Law. He went on to study Photography at Thessaloniki’s ESP School and obtained his Master of Arts in Photographic Studies from Leiden University in the Netherlands. Between 2002-2008 and 2016-present day, he has been a longstanding collaborator of the Thessaloniki Photography Museum, as a host and curator of exhibitions. From 2013 to 2019, he coordinated the exhibition-installation of Athens Photo Festival, at the Hellenic Centre of Photography. He is working as a photography teacher in a private school in Thessaloniki, having collaborated with many institutions (Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, Hellenic Centre of Photography, Monumenta, MA in Heritage Management, Thessaloniki Photography Museum, Arsis, Psychology Art foundation) in hosting photography seminars for debutants, professionals and vulnerable social groups.