BY SAVVAS TSESTOS LIMNATITIS
Angelo Tzortzinis was born in November 1984 in Egaleo, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Athens. He was raised amongst proverty and squaldron, playing in the fields with his friends, while nearby Iranian refugees tried their hand at survival. Often five or six of them in a single room, in cramped basement appartments. ‘We’d play basketball in the streets and do the usual things children of that age do, but I always wondered how these people ended up in Greece and what they had left behind – their families, their lives.”
Since then Tzortzinis has come a long way. So far that he was recently nominated Time’s 2015 Wire Photographer of the Year title for his heartfelt work documenting his country’s response to two unprecedented crises. Not bad for a boy who never had any aspirations of taking up photography. Growing up, the only thing he was sure of was finding a way out, of escaping the card life had dealt him. Then again our past experiences are always with us no matter where we go, no more how far we manage to run. And it’s those experiences, along with the notion that nothing can be taken for granted, that inform his work.
In 2006, he joined the Leica Academy of Creative Photography in Athens, after which he realized that the camera could be that path “My goal is not to promote myself in photography,” he insists. “Instead I want people to see my pictures and understand what they mean to me.”
Tzortzinis started collaborating with Agence France-Presse in 2007, while pursuing a career as a freelancer working on personal projects in Egypt, Libya, Turkey and Greece, as well as on assignment for the New York Times. Tzortzinis believes photography is not just about getting the shot. “A good photographer is not someone who takes nice photos,” he says. “It’s a much more complicated process. The photographer’s values and experiences form a large part of it and [seep through] into his or her photographs. That’s why I want to cover stories that affect my daily life and concern me, like the economic crisis in Greece and the refugee situation.”
Naturally, Greece’s descend into the hellish world of corruption and crisis informs his best work. “I’m interested because I’m part of it,” he says. “I’m not just a visitor. I live inside the problem and I feel it daily. I’m really confused and troubled by it, so I try to find answers to the questions I have through my photos.”
When Tzortzinis saw images of dead bodies washing up on his country’s shores, he couldn’t help but think about the migrants’ dreams of a better future. Dreams that ended up as mere two-minute news bulletins on TV screens, the life those people once lived totally forgotten by the waste side. “My goal is not to be one more witness to this situation,” he says. “I try to keep as much distance as possible and show things people might not usually see. I want to make images that pose questions about the future of these people.”