Zeno Spyropoulos: Normalising Realness

Artist Zeno Spyropoulos

Words Christian Ruess

“I photograph the unposed, the raw. Flaws and all. All walks of life” – photographer Zeno Spyropoulos catches the sacred moments of intimacy like no one else does. In conversation with the Berlin-based photographer, he told us about his recently released photobook, the thin red line between seeking love and seeking acceptance and why we are hiding from reality on both sides of the camera.

“I photograph the unposed, the raw. Flaws and all. All walks of life.”

How are you? What was the last thing you did before you sat down to answer these questions?

I am very well, thank you. Currently I am catching up on some work that has piled up from the last few days and cleaning the apartment. I feel like I’ve taken the role of stay at home housewife really well since corona times.

Before we talk about your work, let’s have a quick look at you. When did you start taking pictures? Or differently, when did you start to find and create your own style?

I’ve always had an admiration in story telling that photography can give throughout my teens but never had the tools to pursue it since I was raised in an already digital age where even a starter camera was not affordable for me. I especially loved book format photography, from Nan Goldin, Larry Clark to Daidō Moriyama.

In 2016, I enrolled in an art University in my hometown of Ghent, Belgium with just owning an instax camera and disposable cameras. The beginning of course is rough. You don’t have a catalogue of pictures to go back on, not sure what story there is to tell and staged photos were never really my thing. It was actually quite a small class under the umbrella of liberal arts, which meant it went alongside drawing, art history, etc. This definitely played to an advantage because there was a lot of individual focus and development that the professors offered and inspiring colleagues. My individual style is nothing like the first year I was photographing. It might sound like the standard advice, but you need to keep shooting and being interested in the work of your peers and inspirations and eventually it will come by itself.

How is the current situation affecting you? And how does it change or influence your work?

I haven’t really put a lot of thought in what to photograph, but just keep my camera with me and wait for the impulse to photograph something just like other times. It’s only in retrospect that I can see through the photos that I’ve taken during the pandemic that there is just a smaller circle that is photographed, more reappearing familiar faces, more outside events (in the summer) I’ve always photographed my surroundings and this year has been no different. Just maybe a little less diverse.

In 2018 I moved to Berlin for my project “Young and Renegade”, which I’ve actually released in the summer of 2020.  With everything going on, I did do all the things that I was putting off or doing at a slow tempo because of the situation. I tried to make the best out of it, and I was able to release my photobook sooner than I had expected and do all kinds of things like print releases, marketing.

Container Love regularly has changing themes. This month is all about narcissism. Where is the line between art and narcissism in an era where everyone can constantly present themselves on social media? And how does this phenomenon affect your work?

I think the difference between posting photos for social benefits and photos that photographers call art is intent. With the lines blurring, and photography being more accessible then it ever was, who am I, or any other artist to say what can be art or not. A person could take and post photos of their kids every day, but as long as the creator does not decide it is art, or anything else than what is presented, it’s not. If they decide to share that they are posting all these photos every day to say something or for a certain intent, there should not be an elitist criticism that it’s not photography just because it is taken on an iPhone, or that it’s very mundane.

This idea makes it so that I am a much smaller dot in a bigger picture then I would be 20 years ago making the same work, because in theory anyone can tell this story, post pictures, be a photographer but in the end it will be the way of conveying the message that will have people pay attention to it in a different light.

Speaking of self-appreciation: We all had a difficult year. What would you like to applaud yourself for right now?

I released my very first photobook! It was a total of two years from taking the first photo to finishing the printing side of it and I am beyond happy to have such a body of work that has taken up two years of my life in physical form. The beginning of Corona definitely gave me more time and boredom to just do the last steps which were so daunting to me and which I kept putting off.

I initially put it out as a preorder not even knowing I was either going to sell 2, 20 or 200 copies but my work was well received, and now I have already sold over half of what I printed and broke even 1 month after I released it. I am so grateful to anyone who has supported me, and so relieved that it’s doing well.

Container Love’s mission is to highlight the beauty in diversity, to change views on love and to encourage and inspire more body positivity. Do your pictures have a message that fits into the Container Love universe?

Very much so. The diversity that is visible through my pictures comes from my environment I surround myself with. There is no active thought that I need to have this diversity in my photos, but it’s just reality.

I believe very much in beauty in rawness and something real. All I do in the end with my pictures is scan the negatives and colour balance them. If I start editing, correcting and homogenising my pictures it would take all the charm out of these moments. Life happens around us, and I photograph often when it’s not very expected. The unposed, the raw. Flaws and all. All walks of life.

The cover of my book in Young and Renegade was chosen as a featured photo of the whole project, because this cover represents this rawness very well, and I was aware that people back home would buy this book, or see it, or stores would have it laying in them. Normalising realness.

Ok, we have a very personal question for you. Tell us your first love story. In 10 words.

We spent months in my bedroom hiding from reality together.

Container Love has been exhibiting a lot at music and art festivals in the past years. Will you be with us when our Pop Up Container starts rolling through the world again after the pandemic? And will you bring your camera?

That would be great! I can’t wait for galleries and exhibitions to open up again. It was very much a big part of what I was doing in Belgium still, but since the project that sort of took a back seat.

I always have some camera ready, of course.

What would you really like to do? Right now? Instead of answering these little questions…

It’s already 19:30, time for this housewife to have her glass of red wine!

Famous last words?

Eentje is geentje.