Vangelis Ioakimidis

Dimitri Soulas, the author of everyday life
Walker Evans

Press photographer Dimitri Soulas viewed the streets as an inexhaustible source of material he could reinvent and rediscover in every sequence. The street as a public space, people and their interpersonal relationships that become visible only under certain circumstances – it was not the individuals but rather the different levels of communication between couples, groups and people that were the focus of Dimitri Soulas’ work.

His work as a photographer coincided with the Greek military junta of 1967-1974. Although he had been living in Germany since 1959 and therefore did not choose to go into exile, the junta affected his professional career. In 1967, he and other Greeks founded the Panhellenic Antidicatorial Union, and in April of the same year, the Greek Consul in Munich rescinded his passport. Shortly after, the commercial attaché at the embassy contacted his employer and demanded his resignation, but Soulas refused to leave the Union and the company’s management eventually fired him in 1968. He used the severance payment to purchase equipment and started working as a freelance press photographer. In a sense, his dismissal was a rather ironic new beginning – after all, the Regime of the Colonels had created the conditions for his freelance-work.

One might expect stereotype photographs like monuments, city landscapes or otherwise predictable images from a Greek press photographer living in Germany – motifs chosen by someone who does not have an existential relationship to the place where he lives and works. However, Dimitri Soulas had already been living in Germany for ten years by the time he started to photograph. At this point, and due to his personality as well as his social and political stance, he had integrated into the German life completely. Thus he took photos of the world, the public space, around him.

In “Vita Activa” Hannah Arendt defines public space as “[. . .] the symbiosis of the world where things stand between those who share it, just like a table stands between those sitting around it. The world and all that lies ‘in between’ both connects and separates people.”

Dimitri Soulas’ photo sequences show that which connects and separates us. His theme is the “movement of the puppets at the table” in the all-encompassing street theater. He moves around the table to capture and experience life in the street, the market, the protests, the train stations. As an observer with an ironic viewpoint, he presents the contrariness of social conventions through random contrasting images that sometimes interrupt the realistic flow of the photo – such as the picture of the woman in front of a shop window which has a sticker of a gun with the barrel pointed at her head on it. At the same time, the photos have an almost theatrical quality, because the photographer himself becomes part of the scene when taking pictures of street artists or people standing in front of, or behind, a shop window. Mostly, however, his work shows humanity. In his Munich photos in particular, Soulas manages to make the environment, the living conditions and the visible actions of people the central point and thereby characterize them.

It might be unimaginative to say Dimitri Soulas was influenced by Henri Cartier-Bresson. In addition to the “right moment” being dominant in his work, the humanistic artist considered one other thing crucial for a photographer’s attitude: the harmony between sight, spirit and soul. This is how Soulas tells his Munich stories – he coexists with the students, the protesters, the shoppers, the men attempting to approach women in the street, the flirtatious strangers and the Bavarians following their rustic, picturesque traditions.

They are snapshots immortalizing the fleeting moments in life. According to his biography, that which fascinated Soulas most in photography was the fleeting moments no artist could ever hope to capture. He however did – thousands of them, in his photos.

When Ulrich Pohlmann, director of the Munich Fotomuseum, contacted him 35 years later to purchase part of his works for the museum, Soulas donated his complete archive.

The two museums worked together on the exhibition and the accompanying catalogue and this presented the perfect opportunity to meet and get to know each other better. We did not just follow the path of a Greek press photographer living and working under conditions he would never have experienced in Greece. It was also the path of the relationship of Dimitri Soulas to Munich and a Greek to Germany.

Most of the time, such “transnational” works have us searching for the “German” or “Greek” characteristics and the resulting differences. Dimitri Soulas’ works, however, show the intimate relationship with another country that can develop for someone who is proficient in the German language, managing to become one with others and capture the citizens of Munich in their everyday emotive, humorous and even less attractive moments.

A press photographer must act both sensitively and confidently in his environment to captue the defining moment of a situation (except for war photographers, of course). Dimitri Soulas has this talent. Combined with his ingenuity and energetic personality, German society was his stepping-stone to becoming a photographer.

We often search for ‘facts’ to help us put together an identity, but in the process, we fail to realize that they can actually be found in the practical experience and the framework they are derived from.

For this reason, it is important to note that Soulas’ archive is of even greater use to the Munich Fotomuseum: it is the archive of a non-German who has lived and worked in Germany, who has created visual tales and his own picture of this city. If we follow the path Dimitri Soulas shows us, we can discover an important era of the city and an author who lives in constant awareness of everyday life.