A plastic tourist takes a selfie in front of the Evzones in Syntagma square, a little spaceman finds the perfect setting on a rocky Greek beach and a plastic, freckled monk smiles contentedly into the distance with Mount Athos as his backdrop. Nikos Rakkas’ photos evoke an innocence of a childhood long since over, while looking at adulthood through a medium which makes you smile and think “It’s not so bad”.
This is what photographer Rakkas has achieved. His fanciful photos of Playmobil figures on vacation, often in Greece, have won attention and acclaim both in and outside of Greece. Playmobil toys had always been a part of his life when he was younger, and a means of creating his own world. As he grew up, he began collecting the figures as an excuse to justify his continued interest in them into adulthood. “The Playmobil project began by accident. I was testing a new camera. I was in London for another exhibition, and when I saw the results of the photos, I decided that this is what I should be presenting in a city like London.”
That’s exactly what he did. Six months later, he presented his Playmobil photos in London under the title “Daydreamer”. The exhibition was a hit and garnered coverage from media outlets such as the Guardian and Independent. Success in London was almost instantaneous. “The most unexpected moment came when I saw my work as the cover of a seven inch vinyl as part of a group exhibition, SECRET 7, in London, next to artists like 3D, Massive Attack, Paul Smith and the Chapman Brothers!”
Describing his inspiration behind using the Playmobil figures as his subjects, Rakkas explains that it was about giving his happy little companions a renewed lease of life. “My aim with this project from the first moment is to give life to these little figures and have them move about in my world.” he says. “That’s the reason they’ve traveled to the same places as I have and live my ups and downs with me.”
He’s a fan of minimalism, which often shows in his photos – they are delightfully uncluttered and simple with bright colors and a straightforward composition. Many times, a close up of the toy’s face is the focus of the entire image. “The project is always developing and there are continuous challenges. What’s important is that I always have good company and a little smiling face to look at through my lense!”
Rakkas has traveled extensively in Greece with his figures, and says he struggles to pick a favorite location to photograph. “I become really attached to a place, either for its beauty, or the moments I experience there. I love the Cyclades, Naxos, Donoussa, Mykonos, Paros. I love the wild beauty I often encounter in Crete, or the unique atmosphere of Mani.” He adds that since he’s a city child, many of his photographs were taken on his favorite streets in Thessaloniki and Athens. All his work comes with the support of Playmobil Greece.
“Greece is truly unique. The light, the colors, but also that feeling of freedom you experience in your day to day life.” says Rakkas. “I’m still discovering places which have an authentic and genuine beauty. From the start I was interested in my photos having a strong Greek element and this light. That’s why I’ve almost never used artificial lighting.”
This love of Greece and the country’s famously photo-friendly light has translated into his photos. Rakkas says that people repeatedly tell him that his images moved them and made them look at Greece from a different perspective, one that was contemporary and traditional at the same time. “I feel extremely fortunate about how this project has been received by the public, how it touches people. After each exhibition I get many personal messages from people who saw my work. My photos have a nostalgic quality, because my models are characters which we all know and love.”