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Monday, May 23, 2022

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Arts + CultureArtIn Neo Serafimidis' photographs, mysteries permeate the familiar

In Neo Serafimidis’ photographs, mysteries permeate the familiar

Everyday objects—and an ingenious series documenting people peering from their homes during the pandemic—are all in his purview.

For multimedia photographer Neo Serafimidis, art is nourishing. He feels a need to create, to try to communicate emotions and ideas through art. 

He’s explored this in various forms over the years, from experimental/electronic music, poetry, performance art, and most successfully through photography. Serafimidis feels that our collective mental health, and the state of the world, would be much better if everyone had the opportunity to express themselves creatively. 

“Making art is fun and incredibly satisfying, even though it is sometimes challenging and frustrating,” Serafimidis told 48hills. “But I sincerely believe everyone should have a creative outlet.” 

The artist gleans a huge amount of inspiration from other artists working at all levels—from hobbyists to professional artists, across all disciplines and genres. Through their expressions, he discovers new ways to see and think about the world, then communicates his own experience and world view through images. For Serafimidis, it is like participating in a big, exciting conversation that feeds his own work and urges him forward.

Neo Serafimidis, from the series ‘Object/Memory (Power)

Serafimidis grew up and attended college in Fresno, then moved to Seattle to attend graduate school, completing a PhD in philosophy at the University of Washington. Returning to the Bay Area, he has lived here with his wife for 22 years, currently residing in Albany. Apart from his photographic work, his day job is managing the IT department for an Oakland publishing company. He derives personal enjoyment from cooking, gardening, hiking and biking, and walking the East Bay hills exploring the hidden paths and creeks.

Referring to his work, the words memory, discovery, and emergence are what guide and permeate most tangibly for Serafimidis. The artist always has a camera with him, shooting whatever grabs his curiosity when out on the street in the neighborhoods around his home. 

At the end of each excursion, he returns to his home office full of books, musical instruments, prints and other clutter, to transfer images onto his computer for an initial edit. Thus begins a process of culling and discarding images, notating, tagging and organizing the remaining collection. 

Neo Serafimidis, ‘Three Demitasse Cups’

“I often wait for some weeks to pass to accumulate images and to get some distance from my initial impressions,” Serafimidis said.

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At that point, he reviews the images to see where they are going and begins experimenting with printing and compiling them into a viable series for exhibition.

His photographic works involve old artifacts such as automobiles, houses, furniture, jewelry, and ephemeral objects. On the surface, though it may initially appear as trite or shallow nostalgia, Serafimidis has come to understand this in its provenance; as a painful, deep longing for home and place. Simultaneously, his work involves simply noticing the mundane, quotidian details of public spaces that turn out to be funny or confusing or mysterious or poignant when examined more closely. 

Neo Serafimidis

“I am in love with the unexpected and mysterious qualities that can arise from it—when the familiar becomes mysterious,” he said

Working in his home office, there is always music playing—whether rock, ambient/electronic, jazz, or classical—creating a mood that bears influence on his work. You can also find him in his garage, photographing ephemera, family heirlooms or yard sale finds for a couple of ongoing series he’s working on. 

A month into shelter-in-place, he started going on long walks at night and communicating with friends, arranging to photograph them in the windows of their homes. Serafimidis effectively captured an historic moment in time within an eerie depiction of our collective isolation. That curiosity turned into a series of over 80 portraits of people sheltering indoors during those first few stressful months. The series, titled “The Sheltering Night,” generated a lot of interest and was included in the de Young Open show of Bay Area artists in 2021.

“Like all of us, the pandemic has been a dark cloud, albeit with a silver lining,” Serafimidis said. 

Neo Serafimidis, ‘The Sheltering Night #57,’ 2020-2021

That lining for him was a change in his previous reticence about attempting portraits, opening him up and drawing him out of his comfort zone, and allowing him to create a definitive, seminal collection.

Serafimidis is beginning work on a documentary series of his father’s possessions. The film is smaller in scale but similar to an extensive previous work of documenting his mother’s house full of belongings when she moved into a memory care facility. He’s also been working on a set of nighttime landscapes along the Bay shoreline. 

“And there’s some other stuff. There’s always something simmering in the background,” he said.

The artist hopes people have both an emotional and intellectual response to his work, from personal reflections and memories triggered by images of familiar artifacts. Or through interpretation of possible narratives suggested by different elements in his images and their relationships to one another. Perhaps such a response is unavoidable for the viewer as the juxtaposition of the surreal with everyday presumptive acquaintance tugs at something deep within us. 

Neo Serafimidis is a member of Mercury Twenty Gallery in Oakland, where he recently exhibited prints from his “Cold Tone City” series from the years before the pandemic. A solo exhibition is slated for September 9-October 15. He will also participate in a group show with the Bay Area Photographers Collective, from Oct. 19-Nov. 22, at Minnesota Street Project in San Francisco’s Dogpatch district.

For more information, visit neoserafimidis.com and his Instagram account.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Mary Corbin
Mary Corbin is an artist and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She can’t get enough vivid colors, walks in the woods and well-told tales. She recently published her first nonfiction book. Visit her website at marycorbinwrites.com.

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