Tony Koukos - No Fear

by Lisa Sandham - Bayview Magazine Winter 2011

We all have dreams. To many of us our dreams seem impossible, but in order to accomplish great things, dreamers must also act and believe. The dreamer must embrace the unknown, find the courage to overcome his or her fears and create a realm of possibilities.

For Thunder Bay native Tony Koukos, his dreams fueled his ambitions and fear encouraged him to reach for greater heights in his career. "Fear can hold us back - especially the fear of failure when embarking on a new venture. Fear stimulates and motivates me though. It gets the wheels turning, and my problem-solving mode kicks in. I visualize the destination of my goals and then dissect and work backwards on how to achieve them."

Within the last seven years Tony has accomplished more than most of us could hope for in our lifetime. The 35 year old, self-taught photographer has travelled to 38 countries, has created a global web of contacts and collaborators, and has seen his work distributed through both Ikea and Home Outfitters.

Despite working in a very competitive market and having been through numerous rejections early on, Tony never questioned his decision to leave a successful career in finance to pursue photography, "In 2004, I reached a point where I felt unfulfilled. I wasn't 100% satisfied with an office job; I was confined and bored. I knew I wanted more out of life, and so I went for it." His life philosophy to "always keep moving forward" and belief in his talents kept him on course and have propelled him into a successful career and sought-after world travel photographer. Tony's life is now anything but boring. Each photo shoot presents a new experience and adventure. Whether he is riding a camel into the sunset in the Sahara Desert, scuba-diving in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia or getting lost in the white-washed labyrinths of the Greek Islands, his most memorable moments are reminiscent of a Hollywood script.

Each country he has visited holds a certain allure but he is most inspired by the Mediterranean culture and history of Italy and Greece. The one photograph that touches him personally more than any other is a black and white image of a table and chairs by the ocean in Mykonos. "It radiates simplicity and tells a story as to what Greece truly means to me: the sea, the sun and the food!" I always ask people "Why do you love this picture?" and they all respond that they can imagine being there in that exact moment. The image is like an outlet to bliss."

Pursuing his dream has been a life-changing experience for Tony, "My mind is completely open now and each country makes me appreciate the world, more and more. Discovering differences in cultures, food, architecture, landscape and people…our world is truly an incredible place."

Tony's passion for photography first seeded itself on a trip to Greece in 1998. Shortly after obtaining a Bachelor of Adminstration degree from Lakehead University he decided to journey to Greece to reconnect with his roots. He purchased a small point-and-shoot Pentax camera to document his journey. When he developed the film he was shocked by what he saw, "When I received them back I thought there had been a mix-up at the photo lab. I thought to myself…these look like postcards, and there is no way they are mine! I didn't believe it until I reached the last roll where some group shots were. And so my curiosity grew and I began to wonder as to where, what and how I could continue taking pictures that inspire me."

Tony credits his family and especially parents Nick and Joyce on his views on life, work and success, "My parents have always had a positive influence on me and have shown me first-hand that anything is possible. They emigrated from Greece, didn't know a word of English upon arrival, and with hard-work ethics and faith made a living. I always believed with a university education, and the support of my parents and siblings, I could achieve success."

In 2004 Tony relocated to Toronto to pursue a career in photography. One of the first contacts he made when he relocated was with Brian Gluckstein and Michelle Hanna of Gluckstein Design. "When I left the bank and decided to move to Toronto my first priority was to property shop. I went to a condominium presentation centre for a new development and saw a large collection of black and white photography on a wall. Approximately one hundred pieces, all framed up in different sizes and frames. I thought to myself "I can do that," and so I asked the realtor who the designer was. The next morning I was knocking on their door. Brian works on very exclusive projects, so I felt honoured that they would even consider my work for their projects."

From the very beginning Gluckstein saw Tony's potential in the mass-market and the two have worked together on many high profile projects, including The Four Seasons in Toronto. Most recently Tony was asked to curate a collection of his photographs to complement the Gluckstein Home Collection distributed nationally through Home Outfitters. "Tony has a very sophisticated eye particularly in his selection of architecture and landscape," explains Gluckstein, "That's always appealed to us. His variety of work is tremendous and that affords us the ability to constantly reference his work - it's so diverse. Tony is incredibly enthusiastic and positive and that makes him great to work with on a personal level as well."

Along with Gluckstein, Tony credits two other of his dearest friends as having had a significant influence on his career: Gregory Pappas and Colin Cowie. Gregory Pappas, a Chicago publisher and founder of The Greek America Foundation has published Tony in two issues of Greek America Magazine both in 2005 and 2006. Colin Cowie, uber-talented author, events planner, television personality and interior designer features Tony on his Colin Cowie: Life & Style website under "Fabulous Friends". "Both inspire me beyond words," reflects Tony, "When you surround yourself with success, it is impossible that it won't infiltrate your life."

You may think that this photographer lives a charmed life but his success has not come without a lot of hard work and dedication. "The truth is, photographing encompasses a small percentage of the year, perhaps two to three weeks of shooting; the other 49 weeks are business, selling, production, shows, meetings, etc.," he says. For Tony 70 hour weeks are not uncommon but his ability to achieve balance between both the business and creative aspects of his life allows him the time to pause and look toward future endeavors.

So what is next for Tony Koukos? With thousands of photographs in his arsenal Tony is focusing on publication. Currently in the early stages of researching the industry, his goal is to produce a series of books featuring travel imagery from Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Thailand and Morocco. He is looking toward new horizons with India being among them. Tony is fascinated. "The colours, people, food and architecture; I imagine it would be sensory overload! If I could board the next flight I would."

Tony Koukos' advice to other young artists who are afraid to explore their passion is to start small and work your way up. "Just do it! Start planting seeds, and eventually something will grow. You can always start by working on projects in the evenings, build up to part-time and then transition to full-time. The key is to start somewhere and don't look back."

This photographer has a serious case of wanderlust that is only matched by his extraordinary talent to capture our world in its entire splendor, but the message he wishes to convey runs deep.

"Nothing lasts forever. I want people to realize and remember what a beautiful world we live in, that the planet is a constant, ever-changing palette. Preservation of existing architectural masterpieces and landscapes is crucial." The legacy of this artist will be that he captured a beautiful moment in time and held it in his lense forever unchanged.

To learn more about Tony Koukos visit his website: www.tonykoukos.com and follow his travel blog which can be found on Tony Koukos World Travel Photography on Facebook.

Lisa Sandham is an interior designer, home designer and freelance writer. She can be contacted at info(at)lisasandham(dot)com or visit her website at lisasandham.com