LA-based self-taught photographer and video artist Socrates Mitsios hopes to bring his viewers back to something very basic and intuitive within them. Imagine a world of mythical Greek gods and goddesses, full moons, rituals, sexually empowering practices and cults; opposed by American dream-like pop imagery and fashion, exaggerated iconism and illusions. Socrates likes to experiment with his subjects’ inner worlds. Understanding someone’s psychological state is something he got into while studying psychopharmacology before becoming a photographer. He turns his actors and actresses’ worlds into art by adding symbolic layers to his discoveries. Whether the results be intimidating or entertaining, the aura surrounding Socrates’ imagery is far from neutral. It leaves no dark creatures under the covers and no overblown accessories in closed drawers. Socrates drags the inner to the surface, turns it upside down and creates mesmerizing visual puzzles. We talked to Socrates about his vision of the world.
You are born and raised in NYC, but your name sounds very Greek. Do you have some Greek roots?
Socrates Mitsios: Totally Greek by blood… Most of my origins are from Sparta – a tiny ex-warrior village from the deep south that you may have now heard of… haha. But yah, born and raised in New York.
You have worked with something called psychopharmacology… Can you explain a little about what got you interested in it and how have you used the findings of your research in your later career?
Socrates Mitsios: I studied psychology at New York University – always wanted to be an artist but felt obliged to pursue some kind of doctorate type profession. So I thought psychology was a decent in-between science and art because much of psychology involves intuition, empathy and understanding someone else’s psychic state. My first job in the field was my senior year in college where I was interviewing acutely psychotic schizophrenic patients crashing on crack in the NYU / Bellevue emergent room. I had to really learn how to talk and assess and be with people who are intensely overwhelmed by their psychological state.
Kind of scary, but then you start to build an understanding and can read them like we can read ‘ordinary’ people. So I figured out their ‘language’ and became really good at creating a dialogue. A dialogue usually within their clinically delusional frame or reference and worldview. This then developed into interviewing and assessing inpatients who weren’t drug abusers but acutely psychotic and it was strictly for assessing the efficacy of new medicines and treatments.
In my next career as photographer, this background of mine allowed me to understand or to intuit someone’s inner world and work with that during a shoot. Work with their inner dynamic, acknowledging everything they have to offer and working with some key aspects to create art.
What made you to hit the road for the first time and break free from your everyday?
Socrates Mitsios: I guess it goes back to my Greek genes … After NYU and working a bit in the field I decided I needed to feel what it was like to live in Greece and to meet other cool people from there. From Greece, after only 10 months, I moved to London, where I lived for 4 or 5 years, and from there to LA.
I like playing with ephemeral pop qualities and elevating them and freezing them in an iconic form. Forever staring back at us etched on their elevated stage.
Does your work have any political or religious agenda?
Socrates Mitsios: Political only in the sense that we are free to exist in these sort of self-created worlds.
I think there is a spiritual component to my work. For example, I considered “SoftRock 2”, a short film of mine to be a sexualised spell on the viewer. They are spiritual in the sense that something inner is being edified. But those inner qualities have to hide within the folds of darkness or within a whitewash of empty light. They hide there because the regular world is too crude and boorish for them to survive.
You seem to be fascinated by diverse cults, worshipping, mysticism, extremism, … What excites you about this unconventional way of being and acting?
Socrates Mitsios: It is like playing with magic and stuffing it with sunshiny superficiality – it is a kind of deliberate ambiguity and paradox that frees me up from regular life.
In the “Devil’s Angels” and “SoftRock” series, opposing forces shine light and shadow on one another. They are the dialogue in a sort of dance that expresses an ever continuing and returning narrative. Sex is pleasure and joy and ownership and self-destruction in the other.
What or whom do you worship or have a great admiration for?
Socrates Mitsios: I worship those moments that I’ve felt a clarity and aliveness and a presence to my core self.
Or a reckless adoration of life that hopefully infuses my creative mind. That’s cool for me. And I worship people and experiences that take me there.
Do you prefer daylight or moonlight?
Socrates Mitsios: I love moonlight on the Greek islands in the summer and how its blue light mixes with the warm salty night breeze and falls on my skin. It’s a rare occurrence though. I had a few fleeting but timeless moments like this last summer. But daylight is my desired constant companion.
Compared to the “Devil’s Angels” series, the first “Portfolio” and “New Work” series are in much lighter tones, giving out a brighter, dream-like essence. What kind of mood are you planning to set with your next project?
Socrates Mitsios: In the newer stuff, I trade shadow for light, but the inner meaning is the same. Iconic play of pop and magic. Something pure and unexpected has to disguise itself within the folds of ‘darkness’ or ‘light.’ I replace the surrealistic elements of cult and worship with the dream-like essence of the more ‘ordinary’ world.
In the earlier work the subject and content is always bordering on drowning in the ever-present shadows of that created reality, while in the more recent work light replaces shadow. And light motifs and elements are always tempting everything to let go and submerge in its whitewashed anonymity.
In my next series, I’d like to create characters that are exotic to one’s regular perceptions and hold both the shadowy and the bright within them. These new characters or creatures twist and blend these worlds into a fascinating cocktail that is new and unexpected and alien. In creating this dialogue of estranged-ness, I hope to bring the viewer back to something really basic and original within them. So once again, I’d like to continue this play of opposites…
Where would you like it to be exhibited?
Socrates Mitsios: In your inner mind.
If you imagine yourself to be in your favorite, secret place right now (it can be on one or the other side of the world), describe in three words what is it that you see, sense or hear.
Socrates Mitsios: Immersed power pleasure.
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