“A man is born within the white rocks of the Earth’s vagina – a coast painted white due to a volcanic ejaculation. He is the very fruit of this eruption, a ‘blooming’ peach across the face of a lunar surface. He forms his yet unknown sand-made other with a caress in the rough Grecian landscape. The now rotten peach will dry out, staring into the sunset of a lost love... amo.”
Informed by two main mythologies – ancient Greece’s and 20th-century gay culture –, photographer Helias Doulis presents Amo, a story of two nude males in an almost abstract white island (Milos). Intimacy, love, freedom, carelessness, and even some sort of nostalgia emanate from the pictures, where the two bodies share, intertwine, and interact with each other. A delicate story on creation, beauty and ephemerality.
Set in the island of Milos in Greece, this shooting’s starting point is a sort of mythological story you have invented. Why was it important for you to have this storytelling?
I tend to look back to antiquity as the creators of nude paintings before Manet’s Olympia did once. The point is not to avoid the censorship that I encounter often enough but to avoid getting the viewer focusing on a lower text beyond the story given. There should be no unconscious implications driving his thoughts. With my storytelling being placed in the antiquity, abstraction and intense colours create a non-place, a potential location in one’s soul. I seek the pure caress of the viewer to whom I stretch my hand through my work.
Would you say Greek mythology – or any other mythology, for that matter – has informed the way you photograph or your gaze?
Being a gay Greek man, two mythologies have nestled in my memory and sprung up in my art: first, the Greek mythology with the worship of the body and pre-Christian non-dogmatic love, and second, the gay mythology of the 20th century with the stigmatization of the above and the holiness of the streets. Strolling through Soho and its various theatres where spectators in the 1950s made their way to the public toilets – this ‘West Side vice’ sensation gets me hard. Just like when I am in Monastiraki Square, passing by Hadrian’s monuments, who fell in love with Antinous. My gaze tries to penetrate the gaze of the other, of every boy who has dared to look at the lens in dangerous times or places. I am inspired by them, and these are the real myths in my work, the need for the individual to give space for love.
If all stories related to the beginning of humankind feature a straight couple of man/woman (so they can procreate and expand the human race), why did you decide to feature two men for this one? The second guy who appears is born ‘thanks to’ the first one, who caresses the landscape.
Parables are customized myths about religions, and the heteronormative model served in times when reproduction was of major importance for expansionist state policies. It is not my goal to please the Christians for whom I will always be a target.
The story is titled Amo, which in Spanish and Italian means ‘I love’. One of the guys is born within the white rocks, and the other one is a sort of creation made by the first. What type of love is it then? Romantic like the one depicted in movies, or is it more self-reflective and ‘Narcissus-like’?
The title was chosen because of its dual meaning of ‘love’ and ‘hook’ in Italian. At the same time, it is a homophonous word to the Greek 'άμμος', referring to the ‘sand’. As for the main character, it could be anything you mentioned or none of it. He could be, why not, another Pygmalion flirting with the rocks to mould and moisten them in order to form a companion. He may lament, faint, find love or not even be there himself. The feeling that my work will evoke to the viewer is his own call.
In most of the pictures, the landscape seems like a perfect mix of nature and artificiality; when you don’t see the sea, the bodies are decontextualized and some shots even seem abstract. In what ways do you feel this approach contributes to the story itself? Did you thought of the shooting like this since the beginning, or did you improvise a bit when you got to the location?
Milos’ beauty makes it almost impossible to focus on specific parts of the island as the time passes by, embracing the moon while the sun is getting closer to its own shadow. You’d feel like begging to be burnt and then turn to the sea for your own escape. I had, in fact, some ideas on how the sea would be positioned in my photographs and some postures that would enhance the storytelling. However, it’d never be certain what two bodies would give to each other and what would be ‘worthy’ to be kept from this union. Photography reflects itself on love.