Mara Desipris can really claim to be one of the few Greek fashion icons who have inspired an entire generation of fashion devotees that have followed in her wake. Desipris was initially working as a model back in the 80’s but, in looking for new ways to express herself, she gradually began to experiment with photography. What started as a mere adventure turned into a full time job and Desipris soon became one of the most famous fashion photographers in Greece. At that time, the Greek fashion scene was a small child that had just started discovering its potential. In daring to experiment with new forms, Mara Desipris injected the world of fashion with a more luxurious and sensual view, without fearing to let her vivid imagination guide her along new and unknown paths. What made Desipris’ work stand out, was her original view on the female body and sexuality. Her work is an ode to the inner power that every woman keeps under wraps whilst simultaneously acting as a bold invitation into experiencing this power without any feelings of guilt or regret. Her women stand like powerful Amazonas in a world that is constantly changing, claiming their position in contemporary societies. Their sensual gaze is a celebration of the archetypes of female beauty in a man’s world, only that according to Desipris, women take on the role of the boss, not the victim. Sociological references apart, her photos have this extraordinary ability to hit the heart straight on with that certain sense of effortlessness that so many photographers strive towards. It comes as no surprise therefore that fashion magazines totally fell in love with her photos right from the start, always keeping a very special place in their fashion spreads for her exotic imaginary.
As a celebration of her successful 20 year career, Mara Desipris is about to present her first retrospective exhibition, called 'Random', at CAMP (Contemporary Art Meeting Point) in Athens (March 28 - April 6 2012). The exhibition is being held in collaboration with OZON Raw magazine, as part of a series of events entitled 4FASHIONSHAKE days, curated by Filep Motwary and Dionisis Dimoulitsas. The 'Random' exhibition will include a selection of works from Desipris’ 'self_portrait' photographic album and will also feature her first experimentation with video art (a teaser by Yatzer's Creative team follows). Desipris’ intention was to reveal, through her selection of entirely analog unprocessed photographs, the different sides of her multifaceted character, challenging the viewers to identify their common identity. Yatzer took the opportunity to meet Mara Desipris and tried to look back at her 20 years in fashion in an exclusive interview for our readers. If you are not already a fan of Desipris’ photos, then this is your chance to absolutely fall in love with them!
Video edition for Yatzer.com, © Yatzer / Mara Desipris, 2012.
Mara, how did your love affair with photography start? Was there a particular incident that made you realize that this was your thing?
Since I can remember, I have always been a daydreamer. Photography in this sense became my way to make my fairytale world come true, to translate it into an image. To be honest, I always wanted to be a director, not a photographer. The thing was that in Greece, as far as directing in the cinema was concerned, things were rather static, influenced somewhat by the then so called left wing cinema. But as I’ve told you, I was always living in my fantasy world and I liked luxury, I liked eccentric imaginary, I liked fairytales, so it seemed that there was no place for me in the Greek cinema. I feared the fact that I would be viewed as an anomaly for not having the same ideas as Greek directors about what is considered to be deep and important. My first mentor was Stefanos Pashos, who I started working for as his assistant, he was very involved in fashion photography and I was definitely attracted to it. I liked glamour, I liked magic, I liked fashion; it really is that simple. I did almost everything back at that time, from makeup and hairstyling to being a model, and gradually I found myself taking photos. In a way, I never questioned my ability to take photos; it came very naturally to me. So that’s the beginning of it all! Gradually I found more people that loved fashion and we became a short of a clan.
Do you remember the first time that a photo of yours got published?
Yes, I do, it was a shoot in an old paper factory near Piraeus Street, with ten Harley Davidson motorbikes and ten models, all very Peter Lindbergh – the source of my inspiration. As you can see, I started with a big production! I always felt fascinated by big productions, similar to those that featured names like Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington at that time. I remember that a lot of friends came to the set and it all turned into a big party. The thing is that my pictures got published immediately, in a way I felt like a spoiled fashion kid; I do not know what made them trust me right from the start. Furthermore, I did not realize how lucky I was, it took me a while to understand it. I had the enormous luck to have some very loving and giving mentors that taught me a lot of things and I absorbed their influence like a sponge, always adding my own touch. It’s very important to have the right references, especially in fashion, otherwise you cannot see behind the surface of things. And when I say references I do not mean only fashion references, but movies, books, art, architecture, etc. It’s all necessary in order to form your aesthetic criteria and establish your own signature. Your mind must function like a hard disc that can absorb data about almost everything. That does not mean that because something is not in fashion nowadays you shouldn’t be aware of it. And if you want to create something of your own, you cannot simply copy things or just “report” things just as they occur.
What was it like becoming a photographer after being a model? Does it give you a different perspective on things?
Well, it was something that I always wanted to do. Even when I was posing for other people I was always wondering what it would be like being on the other side of the camera. And I eventually found out! (laughs) I guess you could say that I understand the model’s point of view and experience in the whole shoot. So I do try to accommodate them. That doesn’t’ mean that I do not “torture” (laughs) them in my own way, since they may have to do a shoot, naked, with an iguana in seriously cold temperatures. As I told you before, I always wanted to direct things and the truth is that, even if I am open to improvisation, I always have a specific idea in my mind about how I want things to get done. This is one of the reasons that made me experiment with video art, as you will see in my “Random” exhibition.
What you are referring to is very interesting. To me, this exhibition is like you are coming full circle, it’s like the story of a girl that wanted to become a director, but became a model, then a photographer and ended up, 20 years later, directing videos!
Well, even if I do consider myself a photographer and not a director, you have a point there! (laughs) It’s like coming closer to the initial idea I had about myself!
How did you experience the turning point from the 90’s to the 00’s?
They are like two completely different eras, the main difference being the budget. But for me it is a great challenge, because I know that you can be very creative even without the right budget, I kind of like that idea. I am aware of the reality that surrounds me and I am affected by it. Even if I portray a fantasy world in my photos, this does not mean that I am out of reality. I would even say that nowadays it is even more important to open a door to a parallel dimension, a kind of a magic world, in order to survive. Even if I admit that I was kind of spoilt in the past, this does not mean that now that things have changed I will lock myself in my house and never take another photo again. Imagination is the key to many things. And you really don’t need a budget in order for your imagination to remain alive and kicking!
Photography is a creative field that some may argue is reserved for men. Did you have to try twice as hard to prove your value as a female photographer? Do you think that there is a female perspective on photography?
It’s a pity that many people still have the perception that photography is a male thing, I would say that it has become a kind of taboo. Throughout my career I was never fond of focusing on the so called differences between male and female photographers, in my eyes it does not make any sense. Of course, that does not mean that those differences do not exist, since a man is different to a woman. But then, it’s more about your own perspective as a photographer and not your perspective as a man or a woman. Some people have said in the past that I portray women in a male kind of way, but that’s quite a cliché. I love women as a photographic subject, but that does not make my view more male or female.
Your women are powerful, seductive, luxurious, city dwelling warriors. They could form a tribe of modern day Amazonas that could live happily ever after without bothering about men. Is this your particular revenge on a patriarchal society that still can’t get over obsolete ideas? I also wonder about what is hidden behind those “masks” and to what extent they are intended to disguise a vulnerability that has to be protected at all costs.
I must say that it is not a conscious thing at all, I definitely do not choose only one specific kind of woman and sometimes in my photos you can find a very powerful woman next to a very sensitively portrayed woman, I like to reveal both sides of the female personality. Sometimes the kind of women that I portray have a lot to do with the imaginary script I have in my mind for a specific shooting, sometimes it has lot to do with the stylist’s view since we work as a team. But I do believe that my favorite women are like those that you described. Helmut Newton is my favorite photographer and this reveals a lot of things, but I do not shoot women so that they are portrayed in a specific way, it just happens naturally. You know, sometimes you cannot exactly describe the thing you are doing since it’s a very instinctive process. Then it’s in the eye of the beholder to project his/her own thing.
You are about to present your retrospective exhibition, entitled 'Random', at CAMP (Contemporary Art Meeting Point) in Athens. Tell us a few things about what we are about to experience. Why 'Random'? And why now?
The process was quite simple but very complicated at the same time: I chose my all time favorite analogue photos in order to portray an era that existed before the invasion of digital photography. I tried to pay my personal tribute to what is considered by many as “real” photography in order to begin a new chapter in my career. I used my “self_portrait book” as my main reference. The basic question I asked myself was which of my photos I wanted to see in a large format, hanging from the wall; it was all very instinctive. This means that at another point of my career I would have chosen different photos for the exhibition. The fact is that I had already prepared the exhibition four years ago, but it took me a lot of time to find the right place.
So how did you finally choose CAMP for your exhibition?
It all happened in a very metaphysical way! I wanted to establish a dialogue between my photos and the surrounding space so that they could function as a whole and CAMP was ideal for that. The secret lays in a video that is the main thread that unifies the exhibition and is the only new thing that I added during those four years of searching. That video is an ode to my old house; it is my personal goodbye to a place that I really loved before moving to my new house and starting a new chapter in my life. So when I found CAMP, which is situated in a similar old building to my old house, I knew immediately that this was the place I was looking for. It was like finding my home again, it was a very emotional experience for me and I think that this is reflected in the exhibition. The visitor will have the opportunity to look inside my home, and in a way, have a closer look at me, like a sort of Big Brother! (laughs) This exhibition symbolizes a new beginning and everybody knows that you cannot make a new beginning without looking at the past.
What are your plans for the future? What is left for you to explore?
I do not know a single thing about the future! (laughs). I do not make any plans at all, I really try to live in the present and I do not take anything for granted, especially in a reality that is more uncertain than ever. But, to tell you the truth, I may continue my video adventure, not necessary referring only to fashion video, as I always like to explore new things.