The evocative photography of Theofilos Koutroumanis

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Photographer Theofilos Koutroumanis has done a lot in his life, from owning a bar to working in advertising and publishing. But when someone asked him to take pictures during a party night in his own bar, that was enough of a wake-up call for him.

Theofilos has worked to become a professional photographer ever since, and he has now his own photography studio specialised in events, photojournalism and real estate. We often wonder about the mysterious ways in which creativity stirs the very soul of men – and Theofilos' case is definitely one of a kind.

Theofilos dreams of becoming a travel photographer for National Geographic, but he also believes it is too late for him now. We certainly wish him all the best, and hope that one day his dream will finally come true. We know he deserves it all.

For this Member Spotlight, we are getting to know a talented photographer who didn't know about his own talent until he realised how much better he could become at his craft. And boy, if he did.


How did you get into the industry?

When I had a bar in Athens, someone gave me his camera to take pictures from his birthday. When he sent me back some of them and saw how bad they were I decided to buy my own camera and become a better photographer. Which I did. That was the case.

It wasn't a matter of ego, but I realized it's something I like much more than I thought. I thought that actually it could be something that I would really love. By then I had of course taken a lot of pictures on my holidays and stuff. But that simple incident at the bar awoke my decision to become a professional photographer. To start seeing photography not as an album of memories but as a creation for the future.

Where are you based now and who do you work for?

I live in Athens, Greece. I was born and raised here. I work for myself. I have a small company named Smoking Lens Studio and I specialized in art and social events, photojournalism and real estate photography.

I am currently working on an idea that I hope it will be the subject of my 3rd personal photo exhibition. I can’t tell you more right now because I am still looking into it, trying to decide all the elements. 


If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

Apart from photography, I have done a lot of things. I was and still am a creative copywriter in advertising. I was an editor for two magazines, one in Greece and the other in Cyprus. For some years I had a bar of my own, in the center of Athens. It was very popular at that time, with many artists coming every night for a few drinks. Well, not exactly just a few.

I would love to be a travel photographer for National Geographic because I really like to write articles and travelogues as well, but it’s too late for me. I wouldn't say no to a bar-gallery that would bring out young artists. They are so many and so remarkable and in Greece it’s difficult for them to find a nice place to show their artwork without spending a lot of money. And at the same time having a nice time by drinking some special cocktails, while others are admiring their work. 

Can you explain your creative process?

If it's a professional project, I work as an advertiser. I talk to the client, get all the answers I need and then I organize the photoshoot. Concept, location, models if needed.

If it’s personal project then everything is done spontaneously. I think of an idea, take it to the nearest cafeteria, order a special Greek iced coffee and write endless thoughts in my notebook. When I'm happy, I find the right partners and start taking pictures. The result of course always depends on how good the coffee was.


How has technology affected the way you work (if at all)?

The technology, in my case, starts and ends in a raw file. My gear and my editing software is what I need. I'm a little old-fashioned about it and I'd rather see more realism in the photos than anything else. I don't like many effects and complex compositions.

Of course, this does not mean that I do not appreciate an image that captures all of the above, as long as it is based on an idea which has something to tell me. Unfortunately, technology today has led many to believe that they can take pictures like professionals. Super mobile phones have in many cases replaced the cameras. It's faster and cheaper to take your phone out of your pocket than work with a professional photographer.

Ignorance and amateurism have severely damaged quality and prices. This makes many of my colleagues easily say "yes sir" to anything the client asks them to do. Sometimes when you say no, your earn more. Respect, for example.


What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

Life itself is the biggest stimulus and motivation I can have. Walking around the streets, I intersect with thousands of images that they have their own story to tell. All I have to do is wait for the right moment to press the button.

Inspiration is everywhere around us, as long as we observe and not just pass. My 2nd personal exhibition was called “Closed” and it was about the models in the store windows, while the stores were closed. I could just look at the clothes, the accessories and the prices and go to the next one. But I looked more closely and I saw expressions and characteristics that reveal a world that is almost human. A silent world that all it needed was some more attention. When I realized that, I instantly knew what I was ready to do. Push the button. Next stop… the nearest gallery.


What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

Definitely my 1st personal photo exhibition I did in Nicosia, Cyprus. It was called “Shooting Lorca”. I had just moved there and the only person I knew was my sister who was already there, working with an advertising business.

Suddenly I got the idea to read, understand, and try to take pictures of some excerpts from Federico Garcia Lorca’s poetry. I found some local actors. We had a meeting in a cafeteria where I explained to them the whole idea, which was also a bit bold because in some cases they had to stand nude in front of my camera.

I was expecting a big NO but then I saw the enthusiasm on their faces. They trusted me, even if they had just met me a few minutes earlier. That trust made me feel proud. And the result even prouder. I sold some of my artworks too. It was great!


How do you recharge away from the office?

I don't. When I finish one project, I automatically think about the next one. But that doesn't stop me from hanging out and relaxing in the nice taverns of Athens and other cities, eating delicious meze and drinking a lot of tsipouro, which is a Greek traditional drink that tastes almost like grappa in Italy.

From then on, I can't stop thinking about new ideas, because like I told you before, I can't stop looking and feeling what is happening around me. I'll see something and place it as an idea in my head.

To be honest, next to my bed I always have a notebook. You never know what dream you're going to have. It'll be a pity to waste it.


What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?

I don't know if I'm the right person to give advice. All I can do is share my thoughts with them.

First of all, like I told you, see the world around you. Drill holes in the surface of life and look into its true meaning. Try not to make the same mistakes. Make new ones. Find your identity as photographers and show it to the right people. We can't do everything right, and we don't have to.

Become an expert in some photography fields, not to everything there is out there. Build a resume that will be focused on things that really matter and show who you really are as an artist. A resume with too much data is the first to go into the trash can.

And be patient. Public relations require time and sociability. Great success may never come because of hard competition. But the path to it will be filled with beautiful images. And they'll all be yours.  


What’s your one big hope for the future of the creative industries?

That's a critical question and very difficult as well. I hope they open the doors, not only to young people but to older as well. I'm 50 years old, and like I told you, it took me a long time to start with the art of photography. From that point on, I never stopped and keep going every day.

Fresh ideas are not just about how young you are, it's about how you feel and how experienced you are too. Not as a professional, but as a human being. When you've seen a lot of things in your life, from many different countries and cultures, that means you might have the ability get valuable inspiration from them. And if you combine what you know correctly, then the result can be truly amazing and unexpected.

Everyone can learn how to use a camera, but not everyone can feel it.

Today I live and work in Greece. This is where they know me and trust my work. If tomorrow I want to go, let’s say to London and do the same job, I'll probably be rejected because of my age, among other things maybe. There are a lot of people like me. Art has no borders and it certainly has no age. It has only energy, inspiration and professionalism. Those who have these things should be given the opportunity to open any door, in any place, at any time. To have the chance to make their dreams come true, by doing a great job.


If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

I would say… stop being so contrived. Especially in fashion photography, it's almost everything about technique and nothing about emotion. You usually don’t see a good concept, a “wow” idea. Everything looks fake, but technically perfect.

I truly believe that when you have a model in front of you, you should not see just a model posing but a human being with special characteristics and a unique personality. If these elements appear in your picture then everything will be more real, more alive. The clothes, the accessories, the whole style. It will be easier for the viewer to find a part of himself in that image. To get closer, to see himself or herself walking around in that style.

It is a basic advertising principle. Get in touch with your consumers. Think as they would think. Everybody can learn how to use a camera, but not everybody can feel it. So if I could change something, it would be to rediscover the human nature in our job. 


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