Throughout his career, Gavriil Papadiotis has honed his skills in both the technical and creative aspects of lighting design, however one thing has always remained constant: his love of photography.
“It’s a bit of a cliché, but light has always played a role in how I express myself creatively.”
Sometimes even the most clichéd of statements prove true, as is the case with Greek lighting designer and photographer Gavriil Papadiotis. Throughout his lighting design career, his passion for photography, and even in his early years as a graffiti artist, ‘light’ has been a constant source of inspiration, both figuratively and literally.
“When I was 15, my graffiti tag was ‘fos’, which is ‘light’ in Greek,” he told me.
“Going through my old notebooks back in Athens, I came across a little sketchbook I used to draw graffiti pieces in to experiment with different techniques, fonts, colour and scale.
“My older brother’s interest in street art inspired and motivated me to experiment with different styles of graffiti, and I managed to draw three of those pieces in public places but ironically, despite my passion for photography, I have no photos of them, and by now they have been covered by another 100 designs.”
From these artistic beginnings as a teenager, Papadiotis became fascinated by the technical elements of lighting and photometry, completing a master’s in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the National Technical University of Athens. Working on a lighting-related topic for his thesis, under the supervision of professor Dr. Fragkiskos Topalis and Costis Bouroussis, Papadiotis’ main focus was on developing an image recognition algorithm to facilitate street and tunnel lighting measurements – a hybrid topic of lighting measurements, computer vision and programming.
“Using a camera’s live feed, the algorithm would automatically track street lanes for real time luminance measurements from a moving vehicle, instead of having to close off parts of the road and start taking stills every ten metres or so,” he explained.
“If we try to simplify a digital photo, we would be looking at a huge array of pixels, where every pixel is represented by a numerical digit. Needless to say, that with all this binary pixel-by-pixel analysis, after a certain point I had started seeing zeros for dark areas and ones for bright areas – a bit like The Matrix, but without the moving streams of green binary code!
“The algorithm was successful though, and I’m happy to say that it has helped set the ground work for further research into utilising these kind of measurements on a more practical and commercial level.”
However, while the thesis proved to be a success, it wasn’t satiating Papadiotis’ creative tendencies, so after being awarded a European funded scholarship, he headed back into education, this time at UCL, London, to complete his MSc in Light & Lighting at the Bartlett.
“I decided that even though I loved the technical side of lighting and photometry, it was not offering much room for creativity,” he said. “Both my parents were primary school teachers, so I was raised in a rather imaginative environment, always seeking new ways to be creative.
“The Light & Lighting MSc seemed like the right choice, as it introduced me to the world of architectural lighting design and built upon everything I had already learned during my previous masters.”
While at the Bartlett, Papadiotis was awarded the Electrical Safety Council/Lightmongers Lighting Award for ‘Best Exterior Lighting’ scheme, while his MSc dissertation on the use of LEDs in office environments was published in the Lighting Journal.
In 2012, alongside working on his thesis, Papadiotis freelanced briefly at Illumination Works, before joining Lighting Design International (LDI). Initially working part-time as he was completing his studies, following his graduation in September 2012, he was offered a full-time designer position.
At LDI, he worked on a variety of projects, both in the UK and worldwide, ranging from large, luxurious residential developments, high-end private residences and super yachts, to hotels, restaurants, retail showrooms, art galleries and office spaces. Notable projects include Bell Court in Stratford-upon-Avon, The George Hotel in Edinburgh, 77 South Audley Street – a residential development in London, and the Four Seasons in Jordan. After three years at LDI, Papadiotis was promoted to Senior Designer in 2015.
Alongside his work at LDI, Papadiotis co-founded the lighting artists group GMT Light, to work on art installations for festivals of light.
As with artists in any field, Papadiotis cites his upbringing in the ‘abundant sunshine’ of Greece as a major influence, both in his work, and on who he is as a person. “Having spent the first 25 years of my life in Greece, this has contributed to the way I think, the way I see, and the way I design with light, and has subconsciously led me to seek the sun wherever I go,” he said. “The contrast between light and shadow, created by strong direct sunlight, is the type of drama I add to both a lighting project and image alike.”
But throughout his time in the lighting design world, photography, and his love of the camera, remained constant. “I have always been taking photos, but it was not until a few years into lighting design that I realised I was subconsciously putting a lot of time and effort into learning how to aesthetically and technically combine the two things I love the most, lighting and photography.”
This quest to combine his two greatest passions led to Papadiotis trying to utilise his photography skills in his lighting design work, as a means of documenting the creative process, from the initial planning stages, right through to completion, to make the whole process more accessible to those with no background in design.
“I started seeing photography as more than just a hobby, mostly because I wanted to document my lighting projects, and when possible those of colleagues,” he explained.
“Hand sketches and CAD drawings help with describing lighting concept proposals to another designer, engineer or lighting manufacturer. Photos on the other hand, speak miles to anyone with no design background.
“It is not just the finished product, perfect photos taken at the end of the project, but also the ones that serve as a record of all stages of the design process.”
Taking pictures of completed projects, both designed by himself and his colleagues, gives Papadiotis the chance to take stock of his work and appreciate it in a whole new way. He explained: “Seeing projects you have worked on for many years being completed is one of the best satisfactions a designer can ask for.
“For me personally, the highlight has always been the few hours after everyone has gone home for the day when I can solely concentrate on taking photos. The whole process of prepping a space to capture it at its best is extremely satisfying.
“It all depends on the type of project, but I usually begin with taking a couple of wide-angle shots that show each space for the purpose they serve. A photo does not necessarily have to include the whole room or all the lighting effects, as it might get too busy, but it should tell a story. Following this, I take close-up and detail shots, which can be used to explain a detail or lighting effect to a future client.
“At the end of a shoot, I like wrapping up by taking a few quirky shots: different viewing angles that show more unique and eye-catching perspectives of a project, maybe with some sort of reflection or by shooting through an object.
“For lighting designers, capturing the exact same shot during different lighting scene settings is an excellent way to demonstrate how a room’s general ambience and mood can change by selectively playing up or down the various lighting elements.”
Alongside this desire to document the design process, Papadiotis believes that photography and lighting design are intrinsically linked through the experiences that they can create.
He explained: “The word ‘photography’ was created from the Greek roots ‘fotos’ – which is genitive of ‘fos’, meaning ‘light’ – and grafí – which translates as ‘representation by means of lines’ or ‘drawing’ – together meaning ‘drawing with light’.
“Cameras allow us to manipulate light and time in order to freeze memorable moments in a unique way, which bears great resemblance to how we, as lighting designers, use contrast, colour, light and darkness to create unique spaces and memorable experiences.
“What we selectively choose to light, or highlight and focus on within a photo, is what we want people to experience first, by guiding their attention to parts of an image or a space. In photography we have so many ways to manipulate an image in order to convey our message. For example by selectively adjusting saturation we can focus the viewer’s eyes on our subject.
“The same principles can also be applied to a lighting project where ambient lighting would be played down (e.g. chandeliers in a dining room) while the focal point is dramatically accented for a more theatrical effect (single narrow beam spotlight to dining table centrepiece flowers). Of course perspective is everything!”
As with his work in lighting design, Papadiotis doesn’t conform to a particular style throughout his photography portfolio, instead allowing the form to dictate the style, making decisions based on the character of the space being illuminated or photographed. However, there are parallels between the two mediums.
“A camera’s dynamic range is nowhere near that of the human eye,” he explained. “I always try to properly expose for the brighter parts in a photo. This way you don’t lose details and valuable information in the highlights, which can happen if an image gets too overexposed. Always shooting in RAW, I can then brighten the darker parts of a photo (‘shadows’) in post-production to bring in detail that might seem to have been lost.
“My approach of first lighting the darker, more intimate parts of a space, and then adding more light only where required could be seen as a similar approach.”
An area that shows how Papadiotis’ lighting work has influenced his photography in a unique and outstanding way is in his recent work with drones, capturing scenes from a birds-eye view to provide a totally new perspective on a shot.
“I have recently started using a drone to capture perspectives of landscapes normally only accessible to those with a helicopter or airplane,” he said. “These views are such an integral part of the landscape that surrounds us, but underappreciated due to their colossal nature, making it difficult to fully capture their beauty, even from higher ground.
“I believe this is quite similar to designing. One can focus on specific, more visible parts of a project, but it is the grand scheme of things that harmonises what we actually perceive. Maintaining this synchronisation between what we see and cannot see is something that I intend to continue exploring and integrating into both my photography and lighting design approach in the future.”
This leads nicely to ask what the next step is for Papadiotis. Despite having recently left his role as Senior Designer at LDI, he shows no signs of wanting to step away from the world of lighting design entirely, instead continuing to work with the firm on a consultancy basis.
However, this slight change of course will allow him to devote more time to his photography. “I am currently focusing on photography of lighting schemes, amongst other areas,” he told us. “This is more specialised than just architectural photography, as artificial lighting needs a different, more layered, if you like, approach to ensure that it is captured more realistically.”
Outside of this, Papadiotis remains actively involved within the lighting design community, as a member of both the IALD and SLL, and he vows to continue promoting the lighting design industry both within the design community and to the general public.