Interview with Chris Kontos
Photographer and founder of Kennedy, the magazine about culture, music, cinema, photography, and menswear. Читайте это интервью на русском языке.
Kennedy Magazine is a biannual journal of curiosities: people, places, and culture. Eugene Bafaloukos, the wife of the director of ’Rockers’, a 70s Jamaican film staring the actual reggae artists. Allan Barrows, the gallerist who made his way through the 80s New York drug abuse. The Okura hotel in Tokyo which perfectly integrates Japanese traditions in mid-century modernist architecture. Polly Brown, the photographer who started her career by taking pictures of home plants in corporate offices.
The personal touch deserves even more attention. Each issue opens with an editor’s note which in fact is more of self-expression than a regular magazine overview. I really like it. I have to admit I’m kind of skeptical every time because you know I bought this magazine and the editor always finds an excuse not to write a proper note. But then again I always feel it. Chris Kontos’ notes express common fears. I really do feel the same. And the same goes for the contents. By the end of an issue, I usually feel like I lived through those stories with those people.
I expected to get an interview with Chris Kontos while on a trip to Athens. But he and his wife were expecting a son in Basel at the time. That’s why this interview happened via Google Docs, and I’m so grateful Chris made so much effort to do it. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.
You describe yourself as a photographer first. How did you start?
When I was around 15 I watched the movie ’Blow Up’ by Michelangelo Antonioni. My fondness for cinema I guess initiated my interest in photography. I discovered my dad’s old camera and started taking pictures of friends. After school I went to college and studied photography for 4 years. I have been a photographer since.
London seems to have a special place in your heart. What’s your story with this city? Did you study there?
London is indeed a dear place for me. I think I have spent more time in London than anywhere else except in Athens. My first trip to London was when I was 18. I had won tickets to a concert by Ocean Colour Scene. I had no clue where I was gonna stay. I called up a friend who was studying in Essex and asked him to stay at his dorm at the University of Colchester. I had not realized how far that is from the center of London. I remember walking a lot around Camden and buying a suede jacket and going to bar Italia that I knew from a Pulp song.
Since then I have been so many times I can’t even count them. I lived on and off for sometime during the winter of 2014. My best friends live there atm and I visit a lot for work too. I have a certain spot in my heart for it. It has something old about it, a Victorian feeling while being the most contemporary city in the world.
I love the food there, most restaurants that I love are in London. I love walking around St James park down from Piccadilly. It’s one of my favorite parts of London. The new Snow Peak store. The boat ride on the Thames from Tate Modern to Tate Britain. Lunch on my own at Rochelle Canteen. Drinks at the French House and cold udon noodles at Koya. And walking aimlessly around the Barbican.
Kennedy is now in its eleventh issue. Have you been able to make money doing the magazine or it’s still mostly photography that you do for a living?
Kennedy makes enough to produce another new issue, unfortunately or fortunately it doesn’t bring any income.
How did you manage to distribute Kennedy in the very beginning?
I had a few international contacts especially with menswear and I started sending out pdfs of the magazine before it was even released. The feedback was amazing and we got in some really good stores from day one. Even Tate Modern! From our second issue we were at Colette. I handled everything like up to this day on my own with the distribution.
You once mentioned that Kennedy is about people some might find obscure but to you they are legends. I wonder how did you get in this world of artists, filmmakers, and musicians? How did you even find them in the first place?
I will give you an example because the truth is I always reached out to people and I think it requires a special talent to go along with people. Our first interview for Kennedy was Whit Stillman. Whit was in Athens for the international film festival of Athens. I called the office of the festival and asked if I could meet him. So I went to one of his movie screenings and after the end of the film, I asked him to go for a drink and do the interview and shoot. We became friends and still have a cup of coffee every time I am in Paris.
How do you build relationships and make friends with these people? Both contributors and heroes of the magazine.
I guess they are people like everyone else. And I guess we share other friends in common that helps also. I was always introduced to so many people from other acquaintances. I guess it has to do with the fact that I travel a lot and my job is involved around people.
We are living in the age of technologies: live streaming, instant messaging, infinite content, fast delivery, AI, etc. Some of these technologies made our lives much more convenient. But it seems like we are losing something intangible. We used to spend hours, days, months to discover something cool. Now it’s all over the place, you just have to follow the right people. How do you see this?
I think even in this ocean of noise you can still have a filter for what is good and what is not. I mean you can make a playlist with music you don’t even own. That doesn’t make you a DJ. The real aficionado will go out and look for a record, keep it at home and take care of it.
Same with listening to music. Everyone is listening from a digital source to shitty headphones or small speakers. Music is not intended to be listened like this. Musicians spent time and money in a studio recording so it sounds as it’s intended to. I was amazed by Wolfgang Tillmans’ show at Tate a few years back. He had a room with a high-end sound system where he played his favorite music( mostly Colourbox) and explained music should be listened to properly.
Same with photography where Instagram gives you the chance to have a visual outlet. Not everyone is a photographer though. I believe the saturation of the digital world will eventually get filtered in a way that anyone who is not proficient and a hard worker will be obsolete. Without hard work there is nothing in life.
You’ve been talking about the overabundance of information on the internet since the very first issue of Kennedy. Since then it has become even more so. What are your thoughts on this now?
I love the internet and especially Instagram. Its an amazing tool and I’m not annoyed by too much information. The trick is to filter it and use it for your own sake. I’m a huge protege of the digital world. But I live in analog.
In the interviews you take you frequently ask guests on the topic of how corporations change the city environment. How everything loses its charm. But at the same time, it also leads to growth in consumption and therefore more good places are opening too. What do you think about it?
I think like you said there are two sides to it. For example Athens because of its growth as a tourist destination, has many more options for food, coffee, hotels, galleries, and so on. I mean getting decent food in Athens 10 years ago was an inconceivable concept. It was either the frozen moussaka taverna or expensive and mediocre restaurants. Now it’s blooming like most metropolitan areas worldwide. So in that sense, the city has evolved a lot and for me as a person who lives in Athens, it’s good.
I would not say I miss its old self but at the same time I believe there should be a limit to the growth. At the moment every corner you turn there is a new restaurant or a new hotel. Like with the term noise that I mentioned before I believe everything will be filtered eventually. Anyone who doesn’t make the grade will become obsolete.
I’ve been to Athens recently and I came to realize that no matter the city there are very similar places everywhere in the world now. For example, this Scandinavian minimalist coffee places. They do make really good coffee and have very nice people but the place has nothing special because there is a very similar one everywhere in the world now. Still I like some obscure concepts that seem to not have inherited connection to the city. For example the Birdman pub and grill in Athens. I don’t know if the food is truly Japanese but I genuinely enjoyed it. Even if it has nothing to do with Greece. What do you think about this?
I know what you mean. I don’t mind all these coffee places, to be honest. They are everywhere of course it’s part of worldwide gentrification. But they make good coffee and for me, that’s enough to like them. Athens has one of the best coffee scenes in the world. Like I said above I don’t miss the days where coffee meant a filter coffee like the ones they serve on planes or the dark espressos they used to serve everywhere. I like progress even if it has its downsides.
It’s funny you mentioned Birdman. It’s one of the best places to eat in Athens right now. I prefer it to a restaurant that will try to serve you bad greek food. masked as new greek cuisine. I don’t know if Birdman is that Japanese but its good quality food, nice wines, and bar vibe. I hate the idea of fine dining! it’s boring as hell.
I wanted to ask you about hidden gems. What is it about them? Why are we so tempted to finding one? Because as long as I can remember I was always trying to find cool things that nobody is aware of. It seems like you do this too. And Laurent Laporte from Whereisthecool does. And many others. Why do you think we do this? Why do we strive so much to find them but then are kind of hesitant to share them with the world?
It’s like finding a magnificent beach on an island and you are in solitude there. Who wants a herd of tourists playing rackets next to you next summer? I guess no one. You want to keep the place a personal secret. But the time of secret places is no more. Every little secret bookstore, restaurant, beach, island is no secret anymore. Just because more and more people have access to information online, everything is exposed. Also, cheap flights have made tourism easier.
You can’t keep that tiny trattoria in Sicily a secret anymore, cause you have already posted it on your Instagram. People will ask ‘’Where is this”? You can tell them it’s in China for what it’s worth but eventually they will find out anyway. And next time you go it’s gonna be packed.
I will tell you a funny story. There is a popular ‘’hidden’’ taverna in Athens called Diporto. It used to be quite exclusive to Greeks and usually people eating around the grand central market. Now it’s a tourist attraction and I guess people like me can be blamed for that. One day while I was waiting for a table on the doorsteps of Diporto, a family of Spanish tourists approached me and asked “Is this the secret taverna?’’ I replied if you found it I guess it’s not a secret anymore right?
I want to ask you about your style. It looks to me like the contemporary version of American Ivy in a way. Probably even a Japanese interpretation of it. It looks timeless yet contemporary. Can you elaborate on it?
My style is quite like you described it. A lot of American influences in the way Brooks Brothers made popular and American Ivy League universities but I try not to get niched really. I think trying too hard makes you look like a jerk most of the time. I guess my style now that I’m 40 is trying to less as stupid as possible. It’s true I wear a lot of Japanese brands especially orSlow and Camoshita, Snow Peak and of course denim. I try mixing a bit of everything to keep things interesting.
I assume you don’t pay much attention to trends. Yet what do you think about the constant change of fashion? Do you think the world will ever stop running for the next cool thing and stick to something timeless?
I think this is impossible. Most people for reasons that are really philosophical will never settle for anything timeless. People are in constant search for something new. I know it will sound absurd but most people are really afraid of dying. I’m also one of them but I try not to fill my life with pointless inanimate things that I will throw away in a month just to feel better about life. And death. It’s harsh but most people can’t even stand a minute alone. You might think it doesn’t relate to your question but it does. Existence is a tricky thing. Some people manage it, and some don’t. That’s why fleeting fashions have a fertile ground always to flourish upon. Vanity. Sites like Hypebeast, Highsnobiety, and so on base their model upon the people’s need to find the new thing.
I wonder how you manage to dress up every day. You should have accumulated lots of clothes over the years. And those are very well made things that do not tear up fast. So over time there are more and more things in your closet. How do you choose between items to dress up on an everyday basis?
I don’t have that many, to be honest. And I tend to wear the same things a lot! I don’t buy that many clothes. I try to buy basic things every year. A nice blazer jacket is always a good investment, a couple of sweaters, and good quality white tees. The thing I buy a lot and can’t have enough of is shirts. Especially Gitman and Engineered Garments. So they take a lot of space in my closet. I guess deciding what to wear is not that hard since I have some combinations I tend to wear a lot and go with them with confidence.
Do you still wear your Momotaros from 2015? How do they hold?
They look amazing but I don’t fit in them. I have had them since 2014 actually. I have gained at least 10 kilos since then, so now my wife is proudly wearing them!
In this age of our iPhone addiction how do you keep your concentration ability fit? When you constantly switch from one thing to another it becomes harder to focus on one particular task even for 5 minutes straight.
I don’t! I’m all over the place and I have a quite healthy unhealthy addiction to Instagram. And answering emails is one of the hardest tasks. But what I really miss is the ability to read a book undistracted!
You once mentioned that Kennedy is a way for you to connect with the world outside Greece. As a reader I do relate to that. I’m reading Kennedy and feel connected. But it’s an illusion. It’s the same as the internet. I hardly ever meet these people even though I get a glimpse of their lives through the magazine. How do you see this?
I guess illusions are enough to keep us going. Think for a minute people are privileged enough to travel so easily meet new places, and people like never before in history. I like something Lucien Freud said in an interview:
«I almost never leave London. My idea of travel is downward travel, really. Getting to know where you are better, and exploring feelings that you know more deeply. I always think that ‘knowing something by heart’ gives you a depth of possibility which has more potential than seeing new sights, however marvelous and exciting they are.»