LOST IN TIME. Miguel Flores-Vianna is an Argentine photographer whose latest large format book HAUTE BOHEMIANS: GREECE is much acclaimed. Best known for architecture and interiors, he has worked for publications including World of Interiors, Cabana, Architectural Digest, and T, the New York Times style magazine.
Miguel Flores-Vianna, can you tell me about your new book in the Haute Bohemians collection that will be published by the Vendome Press on May 4th?
This one is focused on Greece. I have been a lover of Greece for many years, not only because I visit it every summer, but also because my parents were fervent Greek admirers and my mother studied classical civilizations at university, so it was very present at home. As a kid, I kept on saying goodbye to them every time that they went to Greece on holidays. They wouldn’t take me then, but as soon as I was a teenager I started going. I like the geography and the weather in the summer, but I also like the people very much. In many ways, the Greeks are similar to the Argentines, so I feel very at home there.
Greece is made up of diverse parts, the mainland and the Peloponnese and the big and smaller islands. What did you want to show?
I felt that a book that showed just the summer side of Greece would be a disservice to the country so I tried to show different homes that belong both to living people and historical figures. I went more or less as far as I could go in the Greek geography, so there are island homes in Hydra, Lesbos, Paros, Patmos.
What do you really mean by home?
I chose houses that I felt were an extension of the personalities of the owners, not where they just went and stayed for a few weeks in summer, but their summer arm, their place where they live in the summer when they become either a Greek or an islander. That was reflected in the way they lived and how they furnished the houses.
“Authenticity gives rooms and spaces a sense of authority and poetry which moves me.“
Miguel Flores-Vianna, you didn’t want to leave the impression that Greece is just a country for holidays?
No, because there’s so much more to Greece than what you see during the summer. One of the conscious decisions was to also show some historical places which are part of the Greek psyche and which are not very well known to the outside world. For example, the home of a merchant who dealt with colour pigments in the 18th century, selling them to the Austrian empire. That house is in a village in the mountains in the north of Greece. It’s the first village that became a co-operative in the history of Europe, created by all the people who worked in the colour dye business who became extremely wealthy and decided that everybody should share that wealth. Yorgos Mavros built himself a palatial wooden and stone home, painted incredibly beautifully inside and today open to the public. I also show the house of Nikos Ghika in Corfu, one of the most beautiful houses I have ever seen, this Arcadian palace of good taste and high art to which I’m very attracted. I have tried to use some historical places and then some of the houses are owned by either Greeks or foreigners who go to Greece, to different islands, because you cannot negate the fact that Greece is a huge destination in the summer.
Why did you decide to photograph houses instead of people?
I’m quite shy, so it’s easier to photograph a room than to photograph a person. When you stand in front of the person you’re going to photograph it’s quite an intimate act, and there are many more people who handle that much better than I do. The rooms that I photograph are extensions of the people who live in there. Rooms are part of your personality, of your culture, of who you are. If you let that room become you and furnish it with the things that you love, that you’re passionate about, that you have collected on trips, whether they’re expensive or very cheap, those kinds of rooms really fascinate me because they tell me a lot about the people who live there.
Do you photograph luxurious houses as well as simple homes?
Yes. If a house is authentic, your financial station in the world doesn’t matter. In this book I tell a story of when I was in in the Canary Islands with Min Hogg, who started the World of Interiors. I went there to photograph her house and then Min said to me, why don’t you stay one or two days more and I’ll show you the island. We spent a whole day driving around and seeing different places and at the end of that first day, she said to me, tomorrow I want to show you some houses. I was prepared to see grand Manor Houses, and the first house she took me to see was the house of her housekeeper. When we walked into the house, I realised why. It was a very humble house but it was done with an immense care of the aesthetics within the means of this person, and with a great sense of respect for whatever object this woman kept and for the few very simple things that she hung on the wall. The whole thing was absolutely beautiful. It was poetic and it reflected the woman. Authenticity gives rooms and spaces a sense of authority and poetry which moves me.
What is the secret of a photographer of houses or monuments?
Every photographer who photographs interiors tries to photograph the mood of the place. I try to catch it at a time when perhaps the room is not as well-lit as when the sun is pouring in, because I try to capture the mood. That mood can vary according to the mood of the photographer and also the mood of the people who are letting you in. If you were to send me to photograph a house today and then you were going to send someone else to photograph it tomorrow, not only the images will be composed differently, but also the mood and the light will keep a patina in every frame. One room can be seen in different ways by different people.
Do you also like to write about what you see?
Yes, all the books that I have published I’ve done the text because what you say with words can actually help the person looking at the picture understand why you are taking pictures that way and the mood of the place that they’re looking at. The mood is the soul. The light is the soul.
Is it different to photograph for Architectural Digest or other magazines or to photograph for a book?
Photographers cover style, and so the style will always be the same, whether you’re photographing for a magazine or for a book. What is different is that a book allows you to go really deep into a subject, for example Natalie Farman-Farma’s book Decors Barbares. She’s a fabric designer and collector and what was amazing about working with Nat was that not only did we photograph her design process, but also her vast collection of fabrics and ethnic jewellery. You spend a few months submerging yourself in a topic and that is very fascinating. Last year I did a book for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in the United States and I spent three weeks at different times of the year in Monticello, the house that Thomas Jefferson built in Virginia for himself. It was moving to be able to get so deep into the life of someone and photography is also a way of learning. I love going into a house, a place, a city, and being there for a few days. It becomes intense because you’re absorbing a lot, and every time that I finish a job I have another layer of patina. I learned something else, and that for me is a great, great privilege. I’m very grateful for that.
“An haute bohemian may imagine that some of the objects in his or her collection are related and have conversations amongst each other.“
Miguel Flores-Vianna, what do you do for the magazine called Cabana, published by Martina Mondadori?
Martina has created Cabana, this little jewel which I love, this mixture of high interiors with low interiors, and grand travelling with humble travelling, and that all comes together in every issue. Right now I’m working in a more intense capacity and Martina made me the deputy editor of Cabana, greatly privileged to be able to help put together every issue and work as the old uncle who says, maybe we should change that, or maybe we should add something else.
Have you witnessed great changes in taste over your working life?
I have witnessed a change in taste in general. In my late twenties I moved to New York and became an editor working for magazines that dealt with interior design. The taste from the 1990s till now has changed immensely, and my taste has changed immensely. The world has become less traditional and less layered and is less concerned with things that one should or should not do.
That’s a big statement because we lived in a world where there was a lot of should and should not do. Now they even change novels because they’re not politically correct.
In interior design, something like that has happened. The world has embraced other cultures much more openly and has embraced things like colour and patterns in a way that before was not so popular. We’re also realising that what we saw until recently as luxury now is really not so luxurious. There’s a new discovery of handicraft, of artisanal work. These things are changing constantly and I have witnessed that, but I come from Argentina where the writer Borges always used to say that not to change is not very smart. One has to change because nothing stays static. Time moves and things change.
When you photograph the someone’s house what is your relationship with the owner?
Any homeowner would like to be seen in the best light possible, and I respect that. I don’t want to go to someone’s house and show things in probably not the best way to show them. I try to be as understanding of someone who owns the house as possible. I want them to look good.
Do they sometimes become friends?
It’s something that develops. Sometimes you sense that there’s an attraction in personalities, and lots of them absolutely become friends. Some of them you never see again, but it’s still a good experience to have been there.
Why do you always publish your books with Vendome press? And what is this Haute Bohemians series?
Vendome are very nice people to work with and they have become friends in the process. An haute bohemian is someone who has created a language of putting his or her house together, and that house represents their interests, their lives, what they’ve done. They’re very personal, and the haute bohemian tends to be attached to certain material things in the house that they feel are very important, they almost give it a personality. An haute bohemian may imagine that some of the objects in his or her collection are related and have conversations amongst each other. These haute bohemians give almost a lifelike quality to some of the objects in their rooms, and they’re probably just as happy in a party as they are by themselves at home with the things that they collect and love. I have to stress that those collections have nothing to do with materiality. You fall in love with something and that’s why you have to have it.
Aboard the Agios Nikolaos, the restored traditional karavoskaro schooner of Dimitrios Konstantinidis Soutsos.
The Consul’s House of Kyrios and Kyria X, in Chora, Patmos. A Venetian mirror in the upper-floor Sala. Venetian mirors were very fashionable in traditional Patmos interiors in 18th and 19th centuries.
Between The Woods and The Water. Joan and Patrick Leigh Fermor’s house at Kardamyli, Messenia
The Girl on the 1,000 Drachma Note. Katerina Paouris, Hydra Port, Hydra. The large collection of copper pots in all shapes and sizes is the kitchen’s most distinctive feature.
A Fragment of Fruit of the pottery lovers of Molyvos, Lesbos. A collection of Lesbos ceramicsfrom the 1940s and 1950s, representing different fruits, hangs in a small room next to the kitchen.
The Master’s Eyes. The Patmos residence of John Stefanidis.
“You are almost lost in time. Greece has that quality because it sits in between the West and the East...”
Miguel Flores-Vianna, why did you fall in love with London? Is it because London is a very important place for houses?
Yes, the English know how to make their homes very comfortable and have a sense of humour that translates into their houses. There’s a certain irreverence but, at the same time, respect for many different things that live in a room together. The English are very good at putting rooms together with things that come from different places.
In this are they very different from the Americans?
English rooms are populated by a dichotomy of things that in American homes you would never find. There’s a certain disregard to personal comfort, they are not particularly concerned if the windows are draughty or not, which Americans are very much concerned about. The English know how to light rooms very well and they are different, but that doesn’t mean that they are better than any other amazing houses, other rooms.
Do you like to photograph gardens?
I love gardens, and they’re very difficult to photograph because you have to be prepared with enormous patience. You may decide to do something but in the end it depends on other forces that you cannot control; meaning the light, the weather and the time. There is just one moment in which you can photograph one specific corner, and if you are not there at that specific moment you lose that and you have to come back the next day. I approach gardening photography with enormous respect and a certain degree of fear.
In your book about Greece you talk about many people, the islands, but do I perceive a special love for the region of the Peloponnese called Mani?
Yes. In previous centuries, when people thought of Greece they imagined this sort of verdant arcadia, full of forests and beautiful, clear water and filtered light. Greece is not really like that. Greece is more like Mani, where there’s this rawness; and not only in the landscape, but also in the people. There’s no messing around with that kind of landscape, with that kind of people. What you have in front of your eyes is what it is, and so the way you find subtleties in places like that is by observing the movement of the light, how it plays with the elements, with the geography, with the architecture, with the urban spaces and how the wind and the water and the sun play on the faces of the people who live there. I really like that. It’s to me, very real. You are almost lost in time. Greece has that quality because it sits in between the West and the East, and I have grown up with so many stories that are related to Greece that it plays with my mind and my imagination.
I the pampas of Argentina is also extendable like that. Did you work a lot in your own country?
I have taken photographs in my country, but I have not really lived in Argentina since I was a teenager because I went to school outside of Argentina and I never really went back. Having said that, I feel very Argentine in many aspects, one of which is the fascination with magical realism that is shared by lots of Latin American countries. You never know when reality ends and fantasy begins, which is something that I find in Greece and Argentina. Greece is at the end of Europe or at the beginning of Asia; and Argentina is at the end of the world. Being on the edge makes them similar. Perhaps that’s why I feel very much at home in Greece.
Thank you very much.
Haute Bohemians: Greece by Miguel Flores-Vianna will be published by Vendome Press on May 4, 2023, and is available to order from all good bookstores and online. €90.
All images courtesy and copyright of Miguel Flores-Vianna, Haute Bohemians Greece.
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