Berlin’s intense nightlife, queerness, community, sexuality, freedom. And above all, friendship. This is Corporeal, Spyros Rennt’s new photography book, a collection of over 150 portraits of places, events and, more importantly, the people in them. “I’m really passionate about capturing the essence of a person, like really making them shine through a portrait,” the Greece-born, Berlin-based artist says in this interview.
After several self-published zines, prints, and two other photo books, Spyros is back at it with a new volume documenting wild nights out, home parties, fun trips with friends, and intimate portraits of people he knows and loves. “It’s very much about the documentation of a lifestyle,” someone said about Corporeal, and the photographer couldn’t be happier about it. Below, we catch up with Spyros to discuss the importance of feeling part of a community, partying during lockdown, and the independence self-publishing gives him.
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Originally from Greece, you moved to Berlin several years ago. The city is known for its openness and acceptance, which makes it a perfect place for queer people to explore their identities. How has Berlin affected/influenced your identity since you got there?
Well… To put it simply, I don’t think I would have gotten into photography had I not been living here. I have a very different (far from creative) background having studied engineering, but in 2021 I moved to Berlin because I was in love with the city, the club scene, and the kind of life queer people could have here. I struggled following my old career: I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I thought that the things that I was experiencing and the people who surrounded me were fascinating and I slowly started documenting these.
Berlin was far more affordable back in the day, which also allowed for this type of creative experimentation. One thing led to another (nothing happens overnight, of course) and, eventually, did manage to sustain myself through photography. But Berlin played a defining role in this, in more ways than one.
Your work mainly features your social circle, especially your close friends and friends of friends. How do the people you encounter inform the way you look through the lens and portray them?
A person who was looking through my book recently commented that it’s very much about the documentation of a lifestyle, which I found very accurate. My friends and the people from my wider circle all move in the queerness spectrum, as do I. It’s just easier (and more interesting) for me to document people who ‘get’ what I and my work are about. It’s not about a documentation of objective beauty or sexiness; it’s about fitting into my perception of these concepts and my own aesthetics.
You’ve just presented Corporeal, your third self-published book. It features 150 new photos of your personal experiences with friends – in nightclubs, at house parties, in hotel rooms, etc. Tell us more about how it came about.
I felt that there were enough images in my archive that, when put together, they could tell one (or more than one) stories, so I made an initial (larger) selection and started processing it. This was around the beginning of spring – it is now the start of summer and the book is a reality. It has also been around three years since my last book, Lust Surrender, came out, and the timing just felt right.
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Corporeal features a foreword by curator Maia Kennedy. How did you meet her, and why was she the right person to write about your work?
Maia was the curator of the group exhibition Sweet Harmony, which was presented last year in Het Hem in the Netherlands. It was a group show about rave culture and clubbing, and I was one of the participating artists. She wrote a wonderful text about my work on the occasion of the exhibition, so I approached her while I was preparing the book and suggested that she writes the foreword text to it. She accepted and I am really happy and grateful she did, as the text she contributed (Phantom hands: on embodied desire in Spyros Rennt’s photography) is an integral part of the book and perfectly captures the essence of Corporeal.
The book explores queer identity and expression, the underground party scene, but also your travels and activities. However, the main focus is always people – not the places or the events. Have you always been interested in portraiture? How has your view on the subject changed throughout the years?
I’m really passionate about capturing the essence of a person, like really making them shine through a portrait. I guess this explains my interest in portraiture. I think that I’m also good at capturing situations (let’s call it ‘vibe’), but I think that, somehow, in this book the focus is more on the portraits. I’m actually super excited at all the people who agreed to be a part of Corporeal.
I’d say the main themes in Corporeal are community, freedom, and sexuality. They’re very abstract subjects, how do you make them more ‘material’ through your pictures?
The fact that the images are presented in book format helps with this. The pages and the various images are complementing each other in that the reader can feel immersed in these concepts – and I think this is the magic of presenting a photography book. An image on its own can never inform someone about what the photographer’s interests are; a collection of images can do that.
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Since your body of work is based on your private life and experiences (and those of your friends), how do you choose what images to make public and what others to keep to yourself? Where do you draw the line?
I like my work to be uplifting and my subjects to feel good and sexy seeing themselves in my images. I don’t like images of people looking wasted in any way – this type of documentation is also valid, of course, it just isn’t what I want to create.
In a city as strict as Berlin when it comes to documenting nightlife, how do you approach taking pictures of your nights out and the parties you attend? What’s the most important thing you want to immortalise?
I think that in this book, since a good amount of the images were taken during covid, there are fewer club shots and more of house parties, so the Berlin club photography ban was not that big of an issue. I used to take more pictures in clubs before covid (and still do, but to a lesser extent). Despite the fact that clubs are anti-photos, I might still get hired by a party to take photos for their archives and to promote the event, which is a lovely opportunity, but even then, I always approach people and ask if I may shoot them and I also try to keep a discrete profile i.e. don’t take a camera out and start shooting on a busy dancefloor.
The pandemic forced governments to take radical, strict action, which turned into a worldwide lockdown. Since people and partying seem to be two strong pillars in your work and life, how were those first months for you?
The first months of the 2020 lockdown were indeed really boring and unproductive. As soon as the summer of 2020 came though and things started opening up, a lot of fun home gatherings were happening and my photography picked up again – a lot of images from those times are actually in Corporeal.
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Smartphones have made it possible for everyone to document their lives non-stop. As someone who works taking pictures, how do you separate the more banal, everyday snapshots to keep as memories and the more professional photos?
Well, it’s as you said. Keep the smartphones for the banal, everyday moments and the cameras for work. Smartphone photography does make my life easier as well, but there is an undeniable flatness to images produced on mobile phones. I shoot primarily on film, so the difference in quality really shows.
I feel like you love anything paper-based. You’ve self-published your work through books, zines, prints… What does the materiality of the paper make you feel, and how do you think it affects the perception of your work?
I am really grateful for self-publishing and creating publications in general. Making my first book, Another Excess, in 2018 really pushed my career forward and created multiple opportunities for me. What’s not to love though, really? I’ve shipped my books to the four corners of the world, it’s truly wonderful making objects that people cherish and appreciate. Plus it allows me to communicate my work to its full extent, which is not possible in the current age of online censorship.
To finish, let’s take a small break from the visual world and discuss other media. What songs/albums are you currently obsessed with? Or any books you’ve read lately that can recommend?
I’ve enjoyed the new albums by Tygapaw and Evita Manji a lot, especially the latter’s tracks have really been my 2023 soundtrack so far. As far as books go, I’d recommend An apartment on Uranus by Paul Preciado. It’s truly a wonderful collection of insightful essays reflecting on gender transitioning, but going far beyond that.
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