“Like a domino effect”: How returning to the Middle East helped Prod Antzoulis tie his fashion photography in with his roots
Analogue photography, for the Cypriot-born and Dubai-based photographer, creates a “beautiful path of trust” between himself and his subject.
- Dalia Al-Dujaili
- 5 October 2021
The media and the mainstream don’t usually represent the Middle East with refined, cultured couture or soft, romantic imagery. But Prod Antzoulis’s photography refreshingly does so, unveiling the region’s uncharted territory in a style many photographers in the region are hesitant to employ.
Featured by the likes of i-D and Vogue and a favourite of GQ Middle East, the photographer got his career start in the shape of a little i-zone Polaroid camera at the age of 12. “Remembering the feeling of having that image in my hand, as not just a memory in my head but a tangible piece of an experience, makes me remember exactly why I stuck to analogue,” he says. At the age of 16, Prod had decided to move to the UK to complete his final years of high school, which was when he really delved into studying the technical side of photography.
Fashion was always a central topic for Prod and his family: his grandmother was a pattern maker during the 1960s and 70s, and would produce custom pieces for a lot of the women in the town where they lived. Meanwhile, Prod’s mother pursued her passion by becoming a fashion collector, and “she now has an archive filled with unique pieces which I hope to exhibit one day,” says Prod. After working with an Omani designer in 2016, Prod knew he wanted to take the profession up full-time. He moved back to Dubai in the same year, “and everything started aligning after that.” He had returned to the Middle East to rediscover his roots and upbringing, “which then eventually led to me exploring the working side of being a photographer – and that’s where I am today. It was all sort of like a domino effect.”
The Cypriot found it hard to define himself growing up, with Cyprus being such a hybrid country in itself: “it’s located in the Middle East, but it’s a Mediterranean country that has a lot of eastern influence in terms of values and morals,” he explains. Whereas Dubai offered him and his family the opportunity to work, to pursue different passions and to grow up in a safe environment, Cyprus on the other hand gave Prod a different kind of influence, “which was the opportunity to feel much more grounded, by being surrounded with nature and real-life settings that you wouldn’t experience in a big city. I definitely feel a lot closer to my roots being there.”
Throughout his time studying photography he stumbled upon the works of Irving Penn and Guy Bourdin, resonating with their work because of how raw and natural they felt to him: one image would tell a story of its own, he tells us, because of its colouring or bits of grain you can see in the negative. “With a digital camera you can shoot thousands of images and never really be satisfied,” he says. “When working with analogue, you only have 16 shots, what you’re shooting is a lot more particular, so you put a lot more energy into directing that one image and getting the angle right. I like to keep my photographs as raw as when they arrive from the developing studio, there’s never much editing involved.”
When it comes to working with fashion brands – and there have been many, from Gucci to Valentino to Saint Laurent – he delves into an almost academic and ritualistic research process, such as examining trend reports. “If they want to shoot in Dubai, it has to feel appropriate to the region as well,” he says. From there, he conducts an analysis on how to appropriate the brand to the current time and space. In an attempt to maintain the raw and unedited energy he finds most rewarding about the photographic practice, Prod gets inspiration from speaking to the talent he photographs themselves to get an idea of what they feel represents them the best, before trying to represent the brand itself, the history of it, and express the mood that the brand is after.
“A favourite project to date has to be the self-isolation cover story I shot for GQ Middle East during peak lockdown in 2020,” Prod explains, when asked about a special project of his. He explains that it was a beautiful process to shoot the whole story with a VHS camera that his dad had used to film his brother and him in the ’80s and ’90s. “I had spent around 18 hours on Zoom discussing styling, mood, elements that made the talent feel comfortable in their houses.” It was challenging when the person he was photographing could not see and feel his energy, so the most important thing for Prod was understanding what sort of environments his subjects felt comfortable being photographed in. “How do I make this person feel comfortable enough through their screen to open up to me and share their experiences with me?” he asked himself. “What I learnt from this is that human connection is possible through the internet.”
One of Prod’s many inspirations is working with people who share the same vision as him, “especially when working with brands that I appreciate and believe in. It’s not just about practicing my passion with them, but being able to grow together,” says Prod, speaking like a true lover of his art form and an artist willing to evolve his practice in order to excel. “When I’m handed the trust and confidence to create, it ignites an incredible feeling of drive and motivation. I start to get lost in a daze of creativity which is beautiful – it brings the unexpected to light, similar to how shooting analogue photography feels to me: it creates this beautiful path of trust between my subject and me.”
In the next few months, Prod is looking to finally finish his first photography book, which will include a combination of travels and personal work since his return to the Middle East six years ago. “I’m also working on a complete revamp of my website which I’m super excited about,” he says. “It’s going to include a lot of surprises!”
Prod Antzoulis: Emirates Woman Cover (Copyright © Prod Antzoulis, 2021)
About the Author
Dalia is a freelance writer, producer and editor based in London. She’s currently the digital editor of Azeema, and the editor-in-chief of The Road to Nowhere Magazine. Previously, she was news writer at It’s Nice That, after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh.