Photographer Nikos Kokkas turned lockdown into a daily project during which he reflected about life, laughed at himself – and the world, fantasised and rebelled in self-portraits soon to be exhibited in Athens.
We all went through it, and some of us still are. Those endless days, weeks, months, nanoseconds of lockdown. That sense of warped ‘reality’ that veered us between fluctuating states; relaxed and weirdly soothed by a sudden abundance of Me-Time; Zen-spiritual ‘We Are All Oneness’; post-Apocalyptical horror, seismic uncertainty, paralysing boredom; harshly loneliness. Some of us jumped into online courses or jogged out into the streets to keep our brains or bodies active, others took up fantasizing of New Life beginnings or slipped into Alcoholism. Others still got really creative and productive, forging forward with revived verve and nerve.
Starring in the latter category is photographer Nikos Kokkas. He was born in Germany, with a childhood interlude in Thessaloniki, before returning to Germany in his teens. Nikos bought his first SLR camera, a Minolta X-700 at the age of 16 and started exploring the endless aspects of light, in colour and B&W ever since. He travelled around Europe before making Greece his base in 1995. Yet even upon ‘settling here, he didn’t keep very still, as his work travelled him nationwide but also far and wide across the globe, freelancing for major Greek and foreign projects. In recent years, he’s discovered an interest on portraiture. Which takes us to his recent project that has made an impact on many.
During the three months of lockdown in Greece between March and May 2020, Nikos started a photographic Quarantine Diary. As his friend on Facebook, his daily images brought me – and thousands of others – a sense of surprise and amusement at his creativity, artistry and life-force (read = discipline), with an underlying sense of thought-provoking introspection. Here, I interview him about how the process began and evolved for him; a process that the public will soon be able to see in at his first solo exhibition presented at “Agathi” gallery at the end of October 2020.
What was your first reaction to lockdown?
By the time I realised that a kind of quarantine would be happening indefinitely, I felt a huge wave of discomfort; but it didn’t last long. I started to think of it as a global matter, realising that many people had it a lot harder than me. And to be honest, I kind of liked it a little, being part of such a historical incident.
How / when did the idea of creating a ‘Quarantine Diary’ actually strike you?
I’d moved to my new home in Piraeus just a few months prior to this period and had managed to set up a small photo studio. So I thought, having almost nothing to do the whole day, why not start a story, starring the only person I had in my apartment? It started out as a communication game with the other people being in the same state, via social media. Actually, the first photograph of expressing the feeling of that day, was on March 16.
How did the project unravel?
Every single day I woke up at around 8 am. It was crucial to me to keep a routine, a schedule, a “normality”, to keep my mind and my body in shape. Until around 1 pm, after listening to the news, having communicated with friends, my parents, having read articles from around the world, a certain mood and certain thoughts were formed in my mind.
Was I feeling insecurity? Boredom? Was I angry about something? Was I missing something? Was I thinking of an unfulfilled “dream” (like being a tennis player for example)? Was I feeling lonely a bit more than other days?
I thought about how I could best express that mood in a picture. I immediately tapped into a sense of self-deprecation, which I think comes across quite obviously, and some theatricality by creating these pictures. I was thinking that I might touch a small chord of everyone who was in the same state as me. It turns out that Ι actually did.
Did this process bring out new qualities out in you for the first time, and if so, were you surprised?
I really don’t take things very seriously, not more than I should, I mean. I see life as a great playground where I don’t make the rules. I tried to be “all of us” with these characters that I “created”. The “Last Supper” photo, where 13 characters meet at the same table, was not a conversation with blasphemy, quite the opposite. I like to think that we were all invited to that table.
How important was this lockdown diary for you as an artistic expression?
As a commercial photographer, earning your living from photography, your goal is to impress potential clients. That’s inevitable. As an art, as an expressive photographer, I try to photograph scenes, feelings and images according to my thoughts and creative state at the moment I shoot. Photography is an art. Expressing thoughts and feelings through it is its purpose, it is the tool not to need to use words.
Are you working on any other projects you’d like to share with us?
At the moment I’m expecting the publication of two different books that I worked on, in the past 18 months.
What have your travels around Greece offered you most?
I like discovering people’s stories. I don’t look for the perfect photograph or the most beautiful scenery anymore. I like to be near people, capturing their everyday living, their wishes, joy and grief, their optimism, creativity and fun! And I love to photograph food, kitchens, cooks, farmers, wineries…
Everything that has to do with a real, peaceful life.
Follow Nikos Kokkas on Instagram
Visit his website: nikoskokkas