I am Not a Voyeur: Michael Katakis and His Photographic Approach

Michael Katakis
BY Ralph Elliott Starkweather

A versatile voyager over the past three decades, Michael Katakis is keen in portraying images that speak with a strong social integrity. His photographic art also reflects his travels across different continents and wide-ranging cultural interests. To date, venues that have exhibited or acquired his work include the Smithsonian Institution, the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Army Museum in London, Stanford University, the Wright Museum of Art, the Monterey Museum of Art, the Center for Photographic Art, and the National Portrait Gallery, among many others.

Katakis has also authored photography books such as The Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Crown, 1988), Evacuating Voices: Listening to Photographs of Native Americans (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaelogy and Anthropology, 1998), and most recently, Traveller (Burton & Parks, 2008) among several others. In 1999, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in London. Currently, he lives in Carmel, California with his wife, the anthropologist Kris Hardin, while continuing to visit France, which he regards as his second home. His website is www.mkatakis.org.

Having been a photographer for more than thirty years, do you have a credo for your art?

As a photographer, I always feel responsible for creating images that people can invest in. A beautiful photograph is not enough. Sometimes, it can even risk being frivolous, or trivial. A good photograph must be a declarative statement. It needs to bear out the “major part of the story” right on the spot. But that does not mean that photography cannot endure beyond an instant. Quite the contrary, it is an ethereal art that must last.

How has your relationship with the camera evolved over the years?

I have been working towards caring less and less for the camera. Solid photographic artists like Henri Cartier-Bresson understand the importance of the camera being invisible to himself. It is very easy, actually, to have the camera invisible to others, but not to the camera man himself. It is like a pianist, constantly working to render the piano invisible to himself. Although a camera is small, many who hold it are very conscious of it. Some even end up constructing impressions of themselves with it. The truth is, you don’t need to look like a photographer in order to be a photographer! Defining photography is very different from defining camera.

Being invisible is crucial to taking the most subtle photographs. When I was in India, my camera never came out until one month later. I think being invisible is one way a photographer shows respect for others and his environment.

Writing seems to be a vital component of your creative process, for you often furnish text for the photographs. Does the process of expressing yourself through words contradict the silence behind your images?

What you said is very interesting. For some reason, word and image are always one thing for me. Word and image are the same thing, that is. No difference betwen them, at least for me. The relationship between the two is such that one leads to another.

I have been writing daily for more than thirty years. I have also been traveling for more than thirty years, and I don’t feel tired. In fact, I feel tired only when I stop writing or am no longer taking good photographs! So switching gears from one medium to another is not tiring for me. I don’t want to stop traveling, either. Sometimes, I feel that I am “everywhere.” I keep a journal. Traveller begins from there: it unfolds as a series of journal entries, except without a chronological sequence. I don’t like things that match or are strictly symmetrical, and I don’t think in numbers or sequences! In a way, I also like to think of the prose snapshots in my texts as the photographs I took.


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