It was summer when Sofia and I were playing backgammon on a beach populated only by a family of wandering, wild deer. The rush with which we packed and swam back to the boat was the same rush that the wind used to bring us back to the port of Athens. Here, with sand still on our feet, we were brought by a yellow cab to the center of the city. At a table of a small wine bar, with one edge caressing a decadent wall and the other edge leaving space for his legs to be crossed, Chris Kontos, Editor-in-Chief of Kennedy was waiting for us. We talked about creation and ideas, and we received advice on the making of the next issue of FORM. After a semester of conceptualizing and designing, we met with Chris again, recalling our time in Athens and our conversation.
Sofia: Do you remember our first meeting, in the streets of Athens, at that small wine bar, it kind of felt like we were walking right into Kennedy itself. Do you think that’s an appropriate analogy for our meeting?
Chris: To be honest, I think I’ve mentioned this before, people think that because I’m from here, and this is my neighborhood and this is my city, I think they associate everything I do with my surroundings and Athens. But the truth is that my influences are all over the place, so for me it’s hard to define the space that I’m in, the neighborhood, the city as my direct influence in what I’m doing. And the influence is there but it’s mostly an influence that comes from the past and not from the present. There’s no direct connection to what’s going on in Athens right now and what I’m trying to do. The truth is I’m trying to base Kennedy, and the whole idea of the city, on stuff from the past that I think should be like a base, like FORM XXI’s theme, Roots. I think that the fact that I come from here gives me the opportunity to rebrand the country somehow, and the next project we have, the publication will be exactly that, to try and rebrand Greece and Athens. It’s a really weird time right now because Athens is evolving too fast and kind of losing its identity. So even for me, living here is a struggle lately, so I don’t identify myself 100% with Athens, and I’m trying to reestablish my relationship with the country and the city. You feel like the place, the city, is Kennedy, but from my side it’s not exactly like this. It might sound weird, but I’d like to put myself out of here somehow and see things from a different angle. Travelling gave me that opportunity I think.
Sofia: For a lot of people from Athens, myself included, we have a love-hate relationship with the city. I always miss it, but every time I go back I’m kind of disappointed at the same time. How would you describe your relationship with Athens?
Chris: Actually you described it 100%. Because I have the privilege to travel a lot and when I’m not here I miss it, and when I come back it only takes one week to start complaining about everything again. So it’s kinda weird, so you know travelling always makes me feel really tired, so I wanna go back and relax, you know take it easy, and then I come back here and there’s nothing of what I had in my imagination. I idealize the place when I’m not here and then I come here and I find all the things that I found annoying about it, to the extent that it makes everyday life a struggle somehow. Everything annoys me. And I think I annoy the people around me also because I complain too much. I complain about the fact that it’s really dirty. Like, honestly I think it’s one of the dirtiest cities I’ve ever been to, and living in the center of Athens is also a privilege but it’s also a really easy way to see everything that’s annoying about the city in your everyday life, in your everyday walk. If I didn’t have these breaks of travelling away from here, I would probably go crazy, or, I don’t know, decide to go away for good. And only come here as a tourist.
Tommaso: In your opening editorials you talk about escapism and travelling and the tourism industry in Greece. As Kennedy, do you try and convey a sense of escapism to the reader as well? You just mentioned that you travel to run away but are you trying to get the reader to run away with you?
Chris: I think that’s the goal. Most of the editorials I write act as an initiative for people to travel but not only in a literal way, not only to get on a train or a plane and go somewhere else, but to travel away from reality. And I think that the last editorial was all about that. So the purpose of the magazine from the start was to make an idealized version of reality. It’s not for everyone, but I think everyone is eager to join in - you know, it’s an open world. But it’s also a call to escape in a literal way, and see different places and situations. If you look at editorials of Kennedy, from the ones that I remember really vividly, there is the one about tourism, in Issue 5, one of the most important ones I’ve written, because I did a lot of research to write that article. And then there was one about being idle, and not working and not doing anything, so I think it’s also political in a way. And I want to be political but I don’t want to be political in the way that people are handling politics right now. For me politics is part of this imaginary world I’m talking about. I think the only way to get out of reality and the whole thing of too much information that we are immersed in at the moment, is to escape, and I’m trying to offer somehow through the pages of this magazine, a way to escape for a while. I don’t know for how long it can last, this effect, but at least I’m trying to give a way out, and a way out as a way of thinking.
Tommaso: It’s funny that you mentioned Issue 5, because we wanted to ask you something about “Paradise Lost.”
Sofia: In the intro of Issue 5, you mentioned the concept of diakopes, which in Greek literally means refraining from certain activities. A lot of people oftentimes confuse slow-living and laziness, and you focus a lot on slow-living in your magazine. How would you define diakopes and how would you distinguish it from laziness?
Chris: The thing about laziness is that, I think it’s a word that many people don’t get the meaning of it and the sense of it. I think that because most people are one way or another working in a business, probably they don’t like what they do. Laziness for them is like leisure time, they connect it with going to an island like the Maldives or Bali and sitting on a beach and doing nothing. But the laziness I talk about in that forward in Kennedy is not that kind of laziness. It’s a rebellion against the way society is trying to pin down certain roles in life that have to do with employment, more than anything. And how laziness can be a way of making your time creative. And the way it connects with diakopes, that you mentioned, which is a beautiful Greek word. In the summer most people have this idea that diakopes is a certain place, an island usually or near the sea, and indulging in activities that only happen for a couple of weeks and then they return to a reality which is rather dull and uninviting. So for me the real meaning of diakopes is to stop from everything you’re doing in your normal life, out of this imaginary world which is the island, and it can be refraining from a lot of things that you take for granted in your everyday life. A lot of luxuries I would say, like your internet connection. But I think that most people don’t really refrain, so they don’t really do diakopes, in the way that I use the word, in this editorial that you mentioned.
Tommaso: I remember I read this editorial when I was in London during the summer. I spent an entire night reading it over and over because it made me think of how I was using my summer and how I was using my time. It was probably the most powerful piece I’ve read in all the Kennedys, it’s very important to me.
Chris: That’s really good to hear because I think it’s an important article, but it’s also one of the driest ones, in the sense that it’s not so personal and not so emotional as other ones. But I think it makes a really strong point. And it really connects to the situation here in Athens right now. Athens is so full with tourists at the moment, that it feels like its August or July. Airbnbs have taken over the city, there are no apartments to rent if you want to live permanently in a home. So it’s more relevant than ever, that article I wrote back then, two years ago. Especially for Greece. Trying to find a balance between economic growth, tourists, and the identity of a country is a really difficult job, and I’m not sure it will be in favour of the heritage and the actual identity of the place.
Sofia: I always look at your Instagram, to the point that me and my Greek friends have made a cult following of it. It depicts Greece exactly like it is, but also in an idealized way, like a memory of a place you know. Why did you start the Instagram? For promotion or is there more to it?
Chris: I did not have a smartphone for many years. The first time I used Instagram was because my wife bought me one and before that someone else was doing the Instagram for me. I would send the photos to a friend of mine and she would post them for me. Then I got a smartphone, and I got really addicted to it, I still am. For me it’s partly a vehicle for the magazine, to show our face out there. We live in a reality that is very visual, and I am also very visual as a person. For years now, I have been downloading images from internet, and I have a collection of hundreds of thousands of images on my hard drives. Instagram was the best tool to get that addiction out, using visual language.It works on many levels: it’s an outlet for the magazine, my photography, it works as a moodboard, and to be honest I use Kennedy’s instagram as a personal account as well. In many occasions I post something from Kennedy, like an article, and the response would be really poor. Then I post a picture of the meal I had and people go crazy. It works on many different levels, which is a good thing. It has done the magazine really well, and also it has helped me a lot with my personal projects as a photographer. A lot of my clients I met through Instagram, a lot of my friends I met through Instagram. I might say I am in love with it.
Tommaso: I remember that when we were sitting down at that little table, talking in the middle of the streets in Athens, you took out your phone and you zoomed in very close to a far building, and took a photo. It was very spontaneous, and when two hours later I saw the photo, it looked exactly like that moment. You took the photo without any preparation, there was no fixing aperture or shutter speed. You just zoomed in and took a picture of that place at that moment.
Chris: I like what you are saying because I think photography and the fact that you can share it with so many people through Instagram is a very good grasp of how beautiful everything is around us. I always believe in the beauty of the moment, and even if I use Instagram as a tool for Kennedy, the fact that you can post something the moment you see it while you are having wine with two friends, it’s a really beautiful thing. Sometimes we see all these beautiful things around us, but we don’t understand the meaning of them, and how everything ties together in a bigger picture. Photography and its spontaneity is a way to connect all the dots.
Tommaso: Reflecting on your photography, it seems that you don’t just capture a subject, but rather the atmosphere. You convey a feeling rather than portraying an object or a person. This is almost the opposite of fashion photography, which is your background. Is this purposeful?
Chris: I always wanted to be a fashion photographer, but through my own concepts. I believe there is no difference between the way I see photography as a whole and how I see fashion photography. There is no difference between how I would shoot a picture without a person or with a model; I do not care what is going on in the photo. For me, it is one and the same thing. When I am taking a photo I focus on the feeling I want to communicate, as you mentioned yourself. I don’t care if the model is positioned well, I will look at that after. I don’t want to see everything in the moment I am taking a picture. I want to have a memory of that moment and then see how it looks on the film. It’s funny but when I take a good picture, even if I am shooting film, I know it. Then I look at the contacts and I know which ones are the good one before looking at them closely. I know the feeling at the moment I took the picture. The important thing is not to do too much when taking a picture, and take it spontaneously.
Sofia: When we met you for the first time we saw a lot of yourself in the magazine, to the point that often times when we talk about you we refer to you as Kennedy instead of Chris. How has it become so personal?
Chris: You know when the magazine first started it used to be much more personal, because I used to write ninety percent of the content myself. Now it’s much more of a collaborative effort.
I am very happy about it, if it was a one man show it would be ridiculous in a way. Even now I try and inject a lot of my personal life in the magazine, because I think people are interested in life stories and people. Everything needs to be human centered, and humans have names, so my name in this particular case is important. When I write an article for another magazine, people know me from Kennedy, they know what I stand for. The fact I do not like magazines like Kinfolk for example, is because they are not human centered. I don’t care who makes the magazine or what it is about, there is no story behind it. People want to be part of something, and when you put your personal touch on it, people like it more. The success of the last issue is due to me taking a risk and putting an eighty page article in Kennedy. What editor would put an eighty-page feature in a magazine? But this article was the most successful we have done so far. And I took full responsibility. And it worked. Injecting personal stories in a work of art, it’s really important.
Tommaso: As you just mentioned there are other people working for Kennedy, one of which is your wife. How does that relationship work, do you consider it almost a family effort?
Chris: It’s been a family process from the start. My first collaborator was my best friend Angelo. After Angelo’s death, I continued with my friend David who helped me with design, as well as Cedric. Even though they are people I do not see all the time, we are friends, like a family. My wife designed the last issue, and as a couple, being creative is a very good thing for the relationship. It’s a nice thing to take this project on as a team, with my wife and friends. Dreaming about the future and other projects that can come out of Kennedy, for me it’s really important. I would not work on the magazine in any other way.
Sofia: With all these outside influences how are you able to keep the entire magazine consistent?
Chris: We are all like minded. Everyone who contributes to Kennedy, even who did it only once, they all know what they are getting into. We are the same team and when we drop the idea on the table about an article, we all know it’s something we will all support. I don’t see it as something difficult.
Tommaso: We talked a lot about family, the concept of home, your relationship with Athens, which are all very connected to the theme of FORM’s Volume XXI, Roots. I was writing the content lineup for the magazine when Sofia and I first met you. When we were talking, I felt how the magazine had to be and, in that moment, I knew how the reader had to feel. And that’s why we want to open the magazine with your interview: you were the starting point of this issue, but I also want you to be the ending point. Do you have advice for us moving forward as young creators and for people that do this just for passion’s sake?
Chris: I can see the way you work, and I really like that introduction, it’s a big compliment for me, knowing I inspired you and everything came together after our meeting. I think you are already on the right track. FORM acts and thinks in a way that is really true and honest. In the first issue of Kennedy, the editorial I wrote was about honesty and I was telling people that this was going to be an honest publication, we will not lie to you. We will be ourselves. If you like it we take it, if you don’t it’s fine. Not everything is for everyone, you can’t agree with everyone, so you should always focus on what you are doing and never look at other people. Never say what other people would say. Never fear criticism, bad comments or anything. You have a vision and I think you should never let anyone take that away from you. Youth has the gift of being enthusiastic, which I don’t have because I am forty. Use that as your advantage. Young people now have much more resources and can accomplish amazing things earlier. In the creative world you see young photographers and writers doing amazing stuff. Young people make amazing stuff. You have started building something very nice and it is only the beginning. My ultimate advice is to be yourself, and it’s going to be fine.
To see the rest of FORM Vol. XXI, pick up your copy at the Release Party at The Landing on December 6th, from 5:00-6:30 pm.