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ARI MARCOPOULOS

Interview by Filep Motwary

Over a lengthy career, Ari Marcopoulos has continually shed his skin, like a serpent, to reveal another, shinier skin underneath. His photographs are naked and honest – what you see is what you get. He has been documenting American culture, and subculture, since the early 1980s, and has collaborated with Warhol and Basquiat. While not precisely mainstream, Marcopoulos’ still and moving images are evocative markers of the times we are living through. Over a prolonged inter- continental telephone call, he discusses his three new projects: the camera bag he has designed for INCASE alongside a limited- edition book of unpublished photographs, Now is Forever; a forthcoming show at the Confort Moderne gallery in Poitiers, and a film that features the spring/summer 2011 Yves Saint Laurent collection.

Motwary:

What are you reading?

Marcopoulos:

You Are Not a Gadget [by Jaron Lanier].

Motwary:

Were you surprised that a Greek magazine got in touch?

Marcopoulos:

No, not really. I have a Greek name so maybe it makes sense.

Motwary:

Can you talk about your origins?

Marcopoulos:

My father is Greek – he was born in Egypt but both his parents were Greek. He was a pilot and he moved to Holland when KLM needed more pilots than they could train. So they looked for foreign pilots. My dad came to Holland and met a young Dutch model, my mom, and that was it. He married her and settled in Holland. So my two brothers and one sister were born and grew up there. My father always stayed closely connected to Greece – we’d spend all our vacations there.

Motwary:

You left Holland as a young man and moved to New York and then California. You sometimes spend years completing projects far from home. May I call you a nomad?

Marcopoulos:

I am sure “nomad” comes from Greek. Something about people who herd animals. So they move around. I guess you could call me a nomad, but I do have a house. I don’t think, in the strictest sense of the word, that you can call yourself a nomad if you have a permanent home. Although it seems I spend more time away from home than at it. I have a nomadic lifestyle. I am not really sure if nomads stay in hotels and take planes. I think that if we were to call me a nomad then we would have to include all those people in the art/fashion worlds who travel the globe to get things done. And I think that then we don’t really deserve the word nomad at all.

Motwary:

What impresses me most is the way you photo- graph and direct. I would like to hear your own explanation of your work.

Marcopoulos:

I don’t use much direction when it is not needed. Things flow. I always feel there is a certain level of discomfort involved in taking photographs. A person will often say, “I am not very comfortable in front of a camera.” I think I feel that way behind the camera. I don’t feel very comfortable behind the lens. Especially when I am assigned to do a portrait. I approach everything from the point of view of how one moves in life. I feel I have a pretty direct way of making images. My photos are my language, I think.

Motwary:

How is your mental health when you start a project? Do you prepare?

Marcopoulos:

I don’t know. I am not sure that I work on projects these days. I just capture things here and there that occur in my life. When I do assignments, sometimes I can be nervous because I might feel outside my element. When it comes to my own work, though, I feel whatever I feel at the moment, and that perhaps dictates what I choose to photograph.

Motwary:

Your work spans photography, film, literature and the philosophy of art. How do you do it all so well?

Marcopoulos:

I am not really sure. The categories come from you and I think it is beautiful that you see so much, but for me all my work is one. I made a lot of books where I used old work and new work together, because I felt that it was all connected. Now, lately, I am just dealing with new work. All the books I have coming out in the next few years are new work. Also, the ‘zines I am putting out now are new work. In fact, the categories you mention are my influences. Maybe that’s how it finds its way back into the work.

Motwary:

Your perspective is decidedly masculine. What is the difference between a man and a woman, apart from their genitals?

Marcopoulos:

You ask me a question that is outside my area of expertise. I am a man so maybe that’s why I have a masculine perspective. I did not set out to create a masculine perspective. As a man I cannot give birth to a child. I think that is perhaps the biggest difference.

Motwary:

Your sons have often been the subjects of your work. What is your relationship with them now?

Marcopoulos:

They are 18 and 15. They are my sons and my friends. I love them and they love me. And recently I was blessed with a daughter who is now 7 months old. So maybe in a while I can answer your previous question a bit better.

Motwary:

How different is the fashion/art scene today, as compared to when you first started?

Marcopoulos:

There are more people involved. More money, too. A lot of things are the same and a lot of things are different. It is mostly entertainment for the wealthy and that has stayed the same. Of course there is a lot of great art out there. I am just not sure it always gets to places where it should be seen.

Motwary:

How do you always manage to present work that becomes a point of reference?

Marcopoulos:

I am just putting out my language my way. In that way, it is unique. If that is significant, it is not up to me.

Motwary:

Do you lie?

Marcopoulos:

I do; to myself included.

Originally published in Dapper Dan magazine, issue 02, 2010. Photo selefportrait ©

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SHORT BIO

Ari Marcopoulos (born 1957) is an Amsterdam-born photographer and filmmaker, living and working in New York and California. As a photographer, film artist and adventurist, Marcopoulos, who began his career in New York City assisting Andy Warhol, transplants himself into the intimate lives of people living on the edge. Artists, snowboarders, musicians and skateboarders have been both muses and commercial subject-matter throughout his quarter century career as a photographer. His stunning landscapes and playful portraiture offer a dramatic take on everyday life, and a glimpse into all things awesome. The Berkeley Art Museum presented Marcopoulos’s first mid-career survey in the United States in 2010