CULTURE

Combining her life’s passions

For years now, Pepi Loulakaki has been combining her two greatest passions: music and photography. Her exhibition «Stage on Fire,» which is taking place within the context of the Month of Photography, gives the public the opportunity to flip through her personal music diary, with images of Greek and foreign musicians who have allowed themselves to be swept up by her camera lens, on display at the French Institute. A long time has elapsed from the first time she ever went to a live concert, at the age of 16, to today. It was at the Rodon club, an historical venue on Marnis Street in downtown Athens that no longer exists. «I went with my sister to see Nick Cave. It was a magical night. As strange as it may sound, to this day I have every moment of that night stored away in my memory, as if it is on film. The spotlight on Cave, the sequence of the songs, the audience’s reactions,» remembers Loulakaki. «That’s when it all began.» The years rolled along, Loulakaki studied photography and then became a professional photographer, never hiding from her twin passions. Each of Loulakaki’s portraits tells a story. There is one of Gil Scott-Heron playing a small London club, where, the photographer says, «I was the only white face in the crowd and people were looking at me in wonderment, some even with suspicion.» Then there’s the photograph from an Isaac Hayes concert at Amsterdam’s Paradiso, where she was allowed in even though the concert was sold out. «I think the guy at the gates felt sorry for me. I was sitting on the sidewalk looking forlorn. I had been in Wales when I heard about Hayes’s scheduled appearance and I flew out of Gatwick [Airport] on the same day – in a tiny plane and through turbulence – just to hear him,» she says. Greek venues are not absent from «Stage on Fire.» They’re all there: the Rodon, the An Club, and the Lycabettus and Vrachon theaters. The stars of the exhibition are the artists whom she loves for their music above all else. The silhouette of P.J. Harvey is discerned under the sequins of her dress, smoke drifts from the tip of Tonino Carotone’s cigarette as he smokes sensually, and Nick Cave seems to be leaning into the light that shines on him. The tattoo of snakes on Lydia Lunch’s leg appear coiled together with the electrical wires, Kraftwerk become one with their audiovisual creation and Marianne Faithfull’s voluptuousness is apparent even as she raises a glass of water to her lips, to soothe her throat between songs. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Lee «Scratch» Perry light their own fire on stage, and it is all shown in black-and-white. Has she met any of the artists she has photographed? «Yes, several of them,» Loulakaki answers. «Carotone, for example, is a great guy. He’s a Basque, with an explosive temperament. What really impressed me though, was how different most of these people are when they are away from the stage lights. They are shy, stressed-out. It’s as if they hide their fears and insecurities behind the microphone. But, isn’t that what I do too when I hide my face behind the camera?» Why black-and-white? Can it convey the energy of a concert? «Of course it can,» answers Loulakaki without any hesitation. «Color can trick you, but black-and-white shows everything in its proper dimension. There is something authentically simple about it that uncovers the truth. It is not surprising that talent scouts in big film production companies ask for headshots to be in black-and-white. That’s the only way to see the person behind the face and behind the colors.» The question of the cost-effectiveness of hand-printed film photography inevitably crops up too. «I see digital cameras as an exciting new tool of my craft and I spend hours in front of the computer,» says Loulakaki, a die-hard fan of film. «That does not mean that I am betraying my love of black-and-white photography, of the ritual of printing: developing the film, the paper, the basins of chemicals, the red lights.» «Stage on Fire» is on show at the French Institute (31 Sina, Kolonaki, tel 210.339.8600) until November 3. (This article first appeared in the September 17 edition of K, Kathimerini’s color Sunday supplement.)