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The no-mad Stratis Vogiatzis is an islander in his heart. He is an active photographer, filmmaker and anthropologist.

STRATIS STUDIED ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL SCIENCES IN THESSALONIKI, AND SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY IN AMSTERDAM, DEALING WITH CHILDREN AND POLITICAL VIOLENCE. AMONG OTHERS, HE WORKED AS A TEACHER AND EDUCATOR WITH CHILDREN IN PALESTINE AND WITH ROMA COMMUNITIES IN THESSALONIKI (DROM). HE WAS ALSO A RESEARCHER FOR THE EDUCATIONAL NGO IALE IN NEW DELHI. AS A PHOTOGRAPHER AND FILMMAKER, HE WORKED ON VARIOUS ASSIGNMENTS AND CREATIVE PROJECTS IN MORE THAN 30 COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD. HE HAS PUBLISHED SEVERAL BOOKS AND HE EXHIBITS REGULARLY WORLDWIDE. HIS WORKS ARE EXHIBITED IN VARIOUS MUSEUMS AND PRIVATE COLLECTIONS. HE HAS DIRECTED SEVERAL INDEPENDENT DOCUMENTARY FILMS THAT WON AWARDS AT INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVALS. IN 2011, HE INITIATED WITH A TEAM OF ARTISTS AND RESEARCHERS THE CARAVAN PROJECT, A LONG-TERM JOURNEY AROUND GREECE THAT AIMS TO DOCUMENT AND REVEAL INSPIRING PERSONAL STORIES. CARAVAN PROJECT IS CONSIDERED ONE OF THE “MOST PROMINENT CULTURAL PROJECTS IN SOUTH EUROPE” (ROUTLEDGE PUBLICATIONS). “OUR PICTURES REFLECT OUR INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE WORLD, AND USING THESE PICTURES TO FORMULATE A STORY IS A WAY TO GIVE MEANING TO THE EXPERIENCE WITH PEOPLE AND SPACES”. I FOLLOWED HIM THROUGH THE JUNGLE OF CHIOS ISLAND, BETWEEN THE FICTION AND REALITY OF CAMPUS AREA, DURING HIS NEW ART PROJECT, HIS WORKSHOP PROGRAMME FOR PRISONERS, HIS JOURNEY THROUGH REMOTE PARTS OF HIS HOME ISLAND ... AND WE BECAME GOOD FRIENDS.

The way you want to live your life … It has to do with magic. I discovered writing when I was in Africa. I never ever wrote before, and one day I was in the bar and I started writing diary. I was 20 years old. I started writing in the afternoon and I stopped the next morning; very late at night. I realized there was something more there, because the writing connects you with something really personal. And then you find somehow that you have touched the vein, and things start coming out, coming out, coming out. And I said, WOW – our self is like an incredible thing, we have so many things inside. You just open a small door, you touch the vein, and the things that were hiding, that were under the carpet or locked in basements, suddenly come up …That was a big revelation … I thought to myself: there is something to discover in myself, I’m not just someone who wants to live the life, to do whatever … And when I discovered photography, in Cuba, it all finally came together, I realized that the magic of the world is actually hiding inside me. I believe that if you are close to this kind of forces in life, like creativity, journey, god, you can reveal, you can see miracles happening in you, in people around you … I’ve seen some miracles, you know, and then I realized that this is life worth living, to see these miracles happening. So it was always, from the very beginning, a quest for the magic, to reveal this magic … about the ability to go beyond this kind of reality, to discover much broader and richer reality. To activate your senses and to be totally connected with the things that surround you. That gives me strength and hope, it gives me meaning in my life, to try to reveal this kind of magic that exists around us.”

“I went through changes, I am now 40, but I think the same ingredient inside me still exists, a desire to go out into the world and reveal the magic. It's the same as with writing, photography, filming; to be around, to be connected, with myself and the world around me. It’s enough.”

“You need to be a dreamer, you need to dream, because dreaming means using your imagination, making up things, things that doesn’t exist. You make up a journey, a life – you invent a life and then you go towards it …”

“I always felt that this is the biggest treasure, fortune I can have; to invent things, to have ideas, to imagine a project, a way of life, and then go for it.”

“This is also what I try to do with photography, to find this kind of magic that lies behind the things, behind the obvious. And to go there. It’s a vehicle, like writing, photography, filming ... Like the colours of a painter – he uses the colours, the shapes to go beyond. Photography, writing, filming, they are all tools, a passport.”

“As a child, on the island, I had a really nice childhood I think, because I was playing in the streets, playing football – I love the football – and games, adventures … But already at that age, I felt there is beauty, magic in a different way. But I think of this childish behaviour more in the sense of a game, to play games, this is important for me … "Games" … It’s a different word in Greek, English doesn’t function … But to see life as a play; to be playful in life, that’s the right word. This kind of ability is very important for me, and I have it from my childhood, and somehow I try to keep it. Now, when I am grown up, it is a kind of playfulness towards life.”

“First of all, I like that I was born here, I spent my childhood here, so it means I have a lot of memories from here. A very strong part of my identity was built on the island, so it’s nice to return and ti find things I left far behind, but at the same time, to be new, to see things through the eyes I have now. So in a sense, it’s a place that I know and at the same time a place I don’t know.”

Growing up on the island “is linked to the body, to senses … It’s all organic … It’s an identity that I grew up on the island, it’s a part of who I am, and I think it is mostly the island that gave me these virtues: to be organic with the things, to be instinctive, to be spontaneous, to be playful. I think it all comes from my childhood on the island. I don’t know what would happen if I had grown up in a city. Here, we didn’t have technology; I didn’t have computer until I was 20.”

“I also like that that there is a continuity with the past on Chios. It’s an island that has a lot of history, and it’s a history that is present, it’s not like a museum. And I live the history of the place; I read the history about the place, I walk the land, I feel connected to the things that happened in the past, I talk with the old people. So I feel that this kind of continuity. I don’t like all this modern stuff, new stuff, I like to be in the place I feel connected to, that the experience is not only the present, but also has the anchor in the past.”
“In this place, it is like the history is renewed. Like the past is more present as the present. And it’s not forgotten or old ... You can feel it in you. I can’t take it with the present, I have to feel the continuity with something that is gone. And here, this place gives you this chance.”

“Growing up on the island also affects my creativity, it cannot be otherwise. If you want to create, you need to make use of what you are; your memories, your ideas, your philosophy, your aesthetics, your passions. This is the material that you work with. And most of this material comes from the childhood.”

Without playfulness, “life becomes very severe, very strict, you cannot move, you carry the burden. But if you’re playful, you move more easily. Whenever I feel I think seriously about life, I don’t function well.”

Kampus is widely known for its impressive mansions with their citrus fruits gardens.

“I grew up in Kampus, I have memories, that’s why I returned to do a book. And nevertheless, I was travelling around and discovering new things for three years. So I like the fact that I keep discovering things on the island, it’s not finished for me. That's why I return to this island every time. I also like the scenery.

The Kampus area is protected by the Greek Ministry of Culture as a historic site and traditional settlement. The high walls made of the local reddish stone from Thimiana village protect the gardens of citrus fruits from extreme weather conditions, but also from prying eyes. The Genoese and local aristocracy of Chios started building their mansions in the area in the 14th century. The citrus fruits gardens used to be watered through wells with “maganos”, a traditional way of irrigation. The two or three-storey mansions would guarantee the owners not only spectacular views, but also a way to observe their estate.
"And now that I also have a van, it’s a new way to discover the island. I also like that I have friends here, this is very important. I am also making new friends here, discovering new people all the time, interesting people. I like that I have some people here that I want to see, I feel connected with them. Also, I like that I find work here: the book about Kampus, the book about Chios ,.. I made three films here on the island, so I always find things to do. And there are more projects waiting for me here. It is very important that is’t not like a vacation when I come here,.

"The way I’m returning home and making this journeys around the island, it’s a way to discover a new land, so it’s a journey to my home, and I like that. It’s a constant journey for me. Even returning home is an odyssey, because there is a journey into the land that I know. So it’s not what I’m looking for – like the myth of odyssey – you’re searching for a home to return to, and if you return home, that’s it. No, for me, home is connected with the notion of journey. Even if I don’t move from home, I’m still moving in my emotions …”

Stratis regularly visits prisons in Chios and Athens to have workshop with prisoners about expressing oneself in visual way, starting from drawing. (Projection of the Caravan project & Stratis' most awarded film: Blind Fisherman)
"Blind Fisherman" film projection in Chios prison.

“Development. For me, there is only spiritual development. So in terms of the society and the land, it is always to feel connected with the natural resources, to have less, always less, never exaggerate about things. It’s the notion in Greece about not to excess yourself. Excess is terrible thing in terms of society. So my notion of development is to develop the activities and the production in order to serve your inner needs and your spirituality, to serve your potentials personally, to grow in the place that you’re living. We are living in traumatic, terrible decline of culture, education and spirituality. For me, we’re like in the time of barbarism, and I think the worst is yet to come for the societies of the world. Because we reached the end of the extinction; we are here now. In 20 years, this place will be a burden to live, for sure, we're gonna see the destruction coming, we're gonna see the end of the world. And maybe that’s a good thing, because this culture, it came to an end. We don’t have nothing else to show … I mean the people that are in power. They are very powerful still, so there is no space for revolution, for changing things. I feel this civilisation is coming to an end. And hopefully something new will arise, more beautiful.

"I want to work in this house for old people, there is death and old people, isolation and loneliness, I want to get inside of these notions…"

“In everything that I do, it is important to get inside the situation, to open up a window to a new world, to an unknown world; it’s like discovering a new land, so it’s like waiting in a place, but knowing very little about this place. And then I start slowly to go around, to wander around this place, thinking, writing, visualising, imagining, creating fictions in the reality I face. I’m an explorer, I want to explore a new land. So the project has to have this kind of potential, otherwise I don’t go for it. All of my projects so far had this; I discover a new land ... This time, it's Kampus, I explore memory, and with this film, I want to do it in this house for seniors. There is death and old people, isolation and loneliness, I want to get inside of these concepts. So every time, it's like a world and ingredients that constitute this world that I want to research. (And every time, it should be different: all my photography projects are very different, but also the same).”

I wish there would come more refugees and we become more multicultural society. The societies that are destined to be equal between equals, the same between same, I don’t see any fruitful thing comes out from this. You need different people…” Chios is only 6km apart from Turkey costline !

“Practical changes? For me, the would be ideal if we would decentralise the power and change the whole structure of the politics, it’s very important. To have small communities like Chios become one state, to be able to control their own faith on the island. People know the needs of the island. To revive the agriculture economy and to transform the production kind of model into a kind of vision that’s closer to the character and the landscape and the sprit of Greece. Let's face it, the Greeks cannot be Germans, to produce machines, cars. It would be ideal to have a different way of life, outside of this neoliberalistic capitalism. People living in small communities, producing their own stuff, living in solidarity, creating their own products. To open up to tourism, but in a different sense, not to bring the tourists to consume their products, but to bring them to appreciate the different way of life. And all this production needs to be accommodated with the cultural needs, and start to bring the Greek philosophy back to life, the poetry in Greece, the culture, the art, and to make Greece a model of this different way of life. To live in small communities, to eat good food, products, to talk about philosophy, to be creative in terms of arts. To do your own business, but in a different kind of sense, one that is very close to the nature and to the inner rhythm of the nature, and to the inner rhythm of oneself as well. So, to create this kind of models of existence, to work together with other people and to be connected with the nature. It can be done on the islands, it can be done everywhere in Greece. But we need a radical change in the way power is organised, in the notion of democracy, how the political system functions, how is it possible to organise things not from the up to the bottom but from the bottom up. I mean, that’s my hope, that’s my dream. But I don’t see it happening.”

http://www.caravanproject.org

“In the future of Caravan project, it could be a good idea to be run as the festival, once a year, like a storytelling festival, to have movies about the people, about youth, and have our educational programmes based on these stories, for children to come and do this programmes, and then train others to document and reveal their own stories in the communities where they live, and hopefully create a kind of open architectural material, also with the caravan people. So we can then use this material to build an art residency, where people come and work on this material, collect it. So the idea is to build this kind of structure, where people go to a place and start wandering around, collecting elements of this place, and observing ... Taking pieces of what constitutes the character of the place they are visiting. And then trying to move one step further, and to see what we can do with these stories, with this material. That could hopefully also be through an artist residency programme, because we want to communicate and open the bridges with other people, so they can see the land with different eyes. For example, a Slovenian artist comes, and we tell him: 'We have these stories, this material, we have this and that … What you can make?' It’s like clay, like pottery.”

“First, I was a street photographer, for sure, hundred percent, in Cuba, where I first discovered photography, and then I worked in Thessaloniki. Later, I started travelling. Yes, it was the street, because I wanted to be in the street, on the move, to meet people, to get inside situations. It was magical, the first years of photography were magical. My pictures were awful, but the whole experience was magical. It was on film, like 20 years ago, black and white. I didn’t try digital colours until the digital era came. I haven’t seen the images of William Egglestone, his magic pictures in colour. And he did that in 1975, when I was born. I could’t believe this guy was making those images at that time. I started photographing some 30 years later, and all my pictures were so cliche compared to his. It's amazing that he did this 30 years ago, if you think about it."

Released by MED Land project / photography, audio conversations, editing: BB / cover photo: self-portrait by Stratis / on-location team: Ivana Petan, Eva Marn, BB / transcription: Ivana Petan / text editing: Ivana Petan / proof reading: Tadej Turnšek

Created By
Bojan Brecelj
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Credits:

Med Land project / Bojan Brecelj

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