PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHER GEORGE GRIEFY
By Erin McAuliff
Photos by George Griefy
Like a dark and complicated relationship, George Griefy's nude portraits are strikingly intimate and sexy, fragile and beautiful. A young photographer from Patras, Greece, Griefy began his foray into the art world by editing photographs from the web "to give them a darker feeling." He now captures his own melancholic and surreal scenes using models, stark scenery, and photo editing to evoke his intense visions. We chatted with the photographer via the Internet, one of his preferred "realities," to find out more about his work and life in Greece.
Has Patras influenced your creativity and art? The city is known for its big carnival parade every February. The floats and costumes are very satirical and a little risqué. Has this in any way made you less afraid of making something that could be controversial?
I can't really say that Patras has influenced my creativity. Most people here can't even perceive art. That's something that disappoints me and makes me sad. Even the costumes, especially last year's, are colorful patterns with no style. You won't see something artsy or theatrical. It's also weird that during the carnival, people can dress and behave as they want, but all the other times they're such narrow-minded people. I'd like to leave Greece as soon as I finish with my studies... What I'm making can be likely considered controversial in Greece, as most people would judge something dark or emotional. Unhappily, they're not used to it. I could have been influenced by the rural area of the city, though.
I always use rural scenery as background for my photographs, as my inspiration comes from Renaissance Art. Luckily there are many easily accessible areas in Patras. I used to go to places like forests or beaches to relax or get creative with my friends.
Do you enjoy your studies at the University of Patras or are you pursuing your degree for more practical reasons?
I don't enjoy my studies as much as I thought. My aim though is to obtain my degree and then find something that combines photography with graphic environment.
Do other students also have interests as varied as yours?
I haven't met somebody showing interest in something related to art yet and that's something that's a reason to be disappointed, as well. I have no relationship with my classmates. Greek universities don't promote brotherhood. You are there just to get a degree.
How about your collaboration with your friend Alexander Varelidis? How did you realize you would be able to work creatively together?
We started working together two years ago growing a certain love for the naked body and creating something dramatic and surrealistic. At the very beginning, we started using each other as models. Then we realized we see the world and art through the same eyes. We had the same ideas and one could inspire the other.
What is your process like when working alone as opposed to working with someone else?
I haven't worked with somebody else yet, apart from Alexander. Working alone seems perfection, as you are free to do what you truly want and you don't have to cooperate with a styling or another photographer that can impinge upon your ideas.
There are common themes of darkness, fear, and nostalgia in your artwork, and you have said you live halfway between reality and fantasy. I personally relate that to the time in-between being asleep and waking up, where sometimes you might see, hear, or feel things that aren't really there. What physical state are you usually in when inspired, and how do you feel when you are working?
I have always been obsessed with darkness. What's not to like? It is poetic and mysterious. Also, inspiration comes from intense feelings, which is why fear, melancholia or delight are often demonstrated. I believe you can choose what you want to see, hear, or feel. Reality and normal people seem boring to me. I'm inspired when I'm feeling intensity. When the photograph has been captured, I start constantly thinking of how I'm going to edit it. I think editing is a fun thing.
How well do you know your models before you photograph them? Do you think their attitudes about your art is as important as their physical bodies?
Most of the models are friends of mine, so I usually have a good relationship with them, and shooting is fun. Their attitude about my art is important sometimes, as they can help to have a satisfying result and we both enjoy it at the end. However, the physical body is more significant as it can't be fixed by the attitude. The opposite could happen.
Would you say you have a muse?
People like Alexander McQueen and [Joel-Peter] Witkin are my muses.
Finally, many of the shots in the series you shared are titled with the four Greek classical elements: water, air, earth, and fire. What kind of scene do you envision if you were to photograph the fifth, less common element, aether?
Well, maybe something spiritual and mysterious. I usually get away from the initial concept as many ideas pop in my mind while shooting or editing. So, I can't be sure. However, I have in mind a picture of a naked woman rising up while being wrapped with purple smoke and rays of light coming out of her scalp or hands. I would also add some occult symbols in the background like the all-seeing eye.