“Imagine photographing the Big Bang,” HRH Prince Nikolaos jokingly tells me when I asked him to start at the beginning - referring to the beginning of his photography career and his collaboration with Soundwall which will be exhibited at the 2nd International New York Times, Art for Tomorrow Conference in Doha next week (12-15 March, 2016) and not the beginning of existence itself! This was how our lively conversation began a few days ago when I had the privilege of being welcomed into Prince Nikolaos’ and his beautiful wife, Tatiana Blatnik’s, light filled home in Athens.
Prince Nikolaos’ inspiration for taking up photography came from his uncle, King Juan Carlos of Spain. “He took excellent, non-staged pictures of people, captured with a long lens.” This fueled a quick interest and the young prince was soon photographing friends and family, while amassing a large collection of lenses and photographic accessories. That is, until a fateful trip destroyed all his carefully collected equipment. “We were caught in the rain in a canoe in Bangkok. Everything got drenched!” He then spent the next 15 years borrowing other people’s cameras until his wife gifted him one of his own.
Prince Nikolaos has always loved big open spaces and light. “I’d be mesmerized by the natural beauty of certain places and wish I could recreate it.” Remarkably, in this day of computer enhanced photography none of the moody lighting or exquisite colors he captures in his photographs are computer enhanced. “I play with camera aperture and speed but don’t do anything post,” he shares. “I want to reproduce exactly what I saw at that moment,” and points to a particularly amazing photo that his wife has playfully named “The U.F.O.,” (its official name is the more poetic, “Celestial Brushstroke”) depicting a lone cloud in the sky, lit in the most astounding pinks and oranges. “This is nature’s canvas….Nature produces this beauty and I just try to capture it.”
Most of Prince Nikolaos’ photos are taken in Greece which is not only his home country where he and his wife have resided since 2013, but for “the romantic reason that the light is fantastic” as well as “unique throughout all the seasons.” He always takes his camera with him when on expeditions with the volunteer organization Symplefsi which travels the Greek islands during the off-season bringing much needed doctors and support to year-round residents. When he has a few moments of down time from helping load/unload the boats or providing secretarial work, he loses himself behind his camera’s lens, taking particular pride in capturing views of Greece that shy away from the blue and white Cycladic themes most people outside the country associate with the land. “Even when it’s overcast, there’s movement, color and light behind the clouds…the light changes quickly…” When Tatiana calls him on always looking at the weather conditions outside their expansive windows and pointed out that fittingly, his Instagram handle is @skylightchaser, he sheepishly admits that “I do chase the light.”
Along with traditional methods, Prince Nikolaos also prints his photos on thin, white marble slabs and aluminum (he shows me a photograph of the moon wherein all white sections of the photograph are actually the white marble peeking through the printing). With only seven highly specialized labs in Europe, one of which is in Athens, he tells me that “aluminum printing is weatherproof and doesn’t have to be framed because it’s so durable.”
This innovative method of printing is what brought about his collaboration with Soundwall, a company producing a wifi connected device that streams music through the art itself which becomes the speaker so that as the art vibrates, sound is created. The people at Soundwall who had experimented with using canvas and paper were intrigued when Prince Nikolaos suggested the aluminum printing method that he used, his enthusiasm evident when he tells me how “the quality that’s reproduced from aluminum is outstanding because it’s a hard, crisp surface.” This led to a collaboration started followed by the first exhibition at London’s Christies last November which received phenomenal feedback. “It was a very personal experience,” he admits. “When one’s work is open to public scrutiny it’s very daunting…in art, it all depends on the beholder. It was certainly a very pleasant surprise [for it to be so well received],” he then admits with honest humility.
Next week it’s on to the Art for Tomorrow conference in Doha (12-15 March, 2016). “The conference theme this year is, ‘Technology, Creativity and the City,’ which works extremely well with what Soundwall and I have collaborated on.” Prince Nikolaos is revealing a new piece, or rather a collective of pieces there. “I’m reluctant to call it a triptych because it’s not one in the traditional sense but rather, its three different images which are related,” he tells me. “The central image is a photograph that I’ve called, H2Orizon, a waterscape printed on aluminum, which I threw in a swimming pool and then left out in the rain…” at the sight of my perplexed facial expression, Prince Nikolaos kindly reminds me that aluminum printing is highly durable and goes on to describe that the two accompanying images are photographs of the original aluminum printed image of the waterscape with rain drops on them, taken at different angles, so that the images with the raindrops stand on either side of the original. “Soundwall created technology wherein the three separate images all emit the same sound at the precise same time. I’m mixing the sound and will unveil it all at Doha. The sound mixing process is interesting,” Prince Nikolaos says, “because it makes you relive your photograph all over again.”
“A photographer’s means and medium is light; without light there is no photograph… I think that light is a very spiritual and divine thing.” And looking at all of his photographs in front of me, I have to admit that what he says is so true - especially when light is captured so perfectly.