Exploring queerness, Photography Spyros Rennt from the first solo exhibition ‘Body Heat’
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Soft sides, ‘Body Heat’: homoeroticism unveiled, lust and intimacy by Spyros Rennt

«Lust is carnal: it eats you up, ties in with the body, and you do not have to like someone to feel lust for them» – Spyros Rennt showing the vulnerable part of human beings

‘Body Heat’ – at Spazio Martin, Milan

Imagine an underground club where people take off their clothes to make and feel body heat. Under the bursts of colored streaks, a Greek photographer angles his camera to capture the lust, intimacy, sensuality, sexuality, freedom, vulnerability, and queerness that control and consume one’s identity. In one of the pictures, a man strips off his shirt and holds his body against another man’s bare back. His hands crawl onto the second man’s torso and palm his chest. The second man stretches his hands behind him and lays them on the first man’s buttocks. As their bodies intertwine and their skins touch, the first man closes his eyes, plants a kiss below the nape of the second man’s neck. He inhales his scent, oblivious to Spyros Rennt taking a shot of the scene before naming it ‘Your hands around his body’ for his first solo exhibition in Italy at Spazio Martin titled ‘Body Heat’.

Rennt at a corporate job

Before the Greek photographer delved into photography, Rennt wove into the fabric of applied sciences once he graduated in electrical and computer engineering. He had received high grades in mathematics and physics during his high school. Growing up and living in Greece, a conservative country as he considers it, the culture of pursuing what one seems to be great at influenced him to take up engineering. «It is fairly common that when you are good and doing well at something, you should go for and study it at a top-level university so that your degree can provide you with a good life and profession such as becoming a lawyer, doctor, or in my case, engineer. I did not know any better; I did not know I would be an artist. I was not even 18 when I had to decide what to study, but since I had always been good at mathematics and physics, plus the idea coming from my family, it was pretty much a natural step to take,» Rennt recounts. After he received his diploma, he moved to Munich for a job at a multinational engineering company, came to work every day, interacted with his colleagues of forty or fifty years old, listened to them talk about their cars and family, suffered from cultural differences as a queer person, and felt miserable and disconnected.

Engineering photography in Berlin

He flew to the United States for a year to study Project Management, his way of expanding what he knew outside engineering, but had to return to Germany when his visa expired. Choosing the flights on his way back, he did not purchase a ticket to Munich. Instead, he bought a one-way trip to Berlin. As he stepped into the city, he knew he had found his home. «I spent my first years in Berlin trying to figure out my next steps. Since I did not want to get back into engineering, I decided to work as a web developer because, as an engineer, it was easier for me to jump into this field. I got into web development for a while, and then I realized it was not for me.» Running out of options, Rennt tinkered with photography. He fished out his iPhone, documented himself and his friends with the phone’s camera, and posted them on his Instagram, which he had created in 2013. Scrolling down to the bottom of his 1,169 posts, the rawness that the images confer to the viewers attracts intimacy and lust, two of the core themes Rennt engages within his practice. 

Homoerotic hunting

On November 20, 2015, Rennt hopped on a bus with a friend and took a photo of his thighs as the man tugged his Puma shorts towards his groin to expose his skin. Nine days after, Rennt posted an image of a man whose sculpted abs steal the frame. A hand covered the man’s left nipple from behind while he, entranced by the heat of the hand’s touch, pointed to his crotch where his shaft bulged through his jogger pants. On December 8, 2015, his caption tfw u 2 dirrty 2 ever b clean accompanied a man whose body sunk into the bathtub. The water afforded the view of his torso as he laid his head on the edge of the tub, eyes closed and hair wet while he accepted the toes of another person in the tub into his mouth. Twelve days after the New Year’s Day of 2016, Rennt wrote #cocktaildamore to caption the two men pissing in a bathroom where the left man took a peek at the right man’s cock. The series continued three months later when the photographer shot a man peeing by the river and in public as he looked at Rennt’s lens, raised his middle finger, and stuck his tongue out. 

Two months later, Rennt displayed a self-portrait through a traffic mirror on a street wearing sunglasses and board shorts. He jotted down never not appropriating greek trash as the caption. On September 22, 2016, Rennt, in bed, pulled up his gray shirt, loosened the strings of his shorts, greeted his followers with a picture of his eight-pack abs, and posted it with tfw ur ready to start ur day and the thot (or τσόλι if ur greek) takes over. Two months later, one finds out why his Instagram username – spyressence – as he shared a picture of two firefighters in their locker room. The left one looked up to the right one buttoned up his pants, exposing his toned body for Rennt to capture. ’Putting the SPY in spyressence’: a collection of photos intruding on unsuspecting males’ privacy in public spaces exhibited as part of the Berliner Zimmer 3: Versteckt / Hidden group show, the Greek photographer explains.

‘Another Excess’ and the beginning of his zines

These images prelude Rennt’s decision to stick with photography and the elements he yearns to chronicle. In 2017, he ditched the use of his phone’s camera to explore the analog camera. Between 2017 and 2018, he went on the streets of Berlin and into the clubs and bars and alleys and bedrooms and living rooms and basements and parking lots and wherever he found himself into, connected with people rather than just meeting them, establishing a bond where both parties felt enough trust to reveal themselves through their faces, their skins, their bodies, and their lifestyles – the smokes, the lipsticks, the underwears, the French kisses, and the three dogs waiting for their food. By the time he got home, he had captured photographs of cultures far from his upbringing, tapped Elias Karniaris to cram them into page layouts, nudged Riki Syed and Dan Thawley to submit their foreword texts, saved the file, and printed it to introduce his entrance to self-publishing as he presented his first book, Another Excess

«I was still new to photography, and there were artists whose books I looked up to. It was a gamble. I saved up money to cover the printing costs, and I did not have a huge following, so I was not sure if the book would sell. I was referred to a person running a project space in Berlin, and he was happy to help me plan a book launch. People came: some talked about the book, others bought their copy. This led to an exhibition a couple of months later, and the book kept selling. I had no idea of what would come out of it. There were a lot of trials and errors of trying all things out to see if they would work out. I started going to book fairs too to study how the publishing process works, the conceptual part of the making.» A year passed, and Rennt turned to zine-making to sustain his publications. «When I make a zine, it is not produced in the same number as books. They are cheaper than books, they are less formal than books, and I can be more experimental with them.» He has experimented with the zines since. His trilogy in 2019 – echoes remain forever, slightly obsessed, and new demons – recollects the essence of youth, liberty, and expression as bodies mesh, kisses collapse, tongues lash, and eroticism traps. The three zines also gaze at Rennt’s rebirth in photography as the way he captures his images calculates the angles, positions, and lightings while commanding the readers to graze their eyes on his ability to summon nostalgia and reverence for humans as subjects rather than objects, from the sun rays that silhouettes a man’s face and body to the clasps of the wrists of a dressed-up man, ready for work.

The series of ‘Non-essential’

Enter 2020, and Rennt gravitated towards the exploration of what he knows best with his four zines titled non-essential: lust, intimacy, sensuality, and vulnerability. «Yes, there is a difference between lust and intimacy. Lust is very much carnal: it eats you up, ties in with the body, and you do not have to like someone to feel lust for them. Intimacy is about connection: the appreciation of the other person, the ability to be intimate with someone over the phone, through text, without touching them. You feel closer to someone when you say that you are intimate with them.»

Non-essential #1: At a house party, Celine hops on Thomas’ back and holds onto his neck as he laughs and lets his hair dangling over his eyes. Billie, in his white tank top and black trousers, looks up to the ceiling, punctuating the crevices of his neck and muscles. Rafi holds his cigarette between his forefinger and middle finger as he smokes behind the plants and in front of the windows of an apartment, the sun rays warming his naked back. An old woman in her beige coat stands before the row of fridges at the meat section of a supermarket. «I definitely appreciate the feeling of lust towards someone. Both are interesting to photograph because they are very special situations, and it is not easy to access both themes. You need to work on building a relationship first with people before they let you in. These are the kind of images that I mostly enjoy because it is a privilege to shoot people in these situations. It is like a sense of vulnerability.» 

Non-essential #2: A young man at Sonnenallee, wearing a red jacket and a black pair of jogger pants, clutches his bags of groceries and waits for the cars to pass by, so he can cross the road. Thomas closes his eyes as he accepts the blast of the laser-red light over his body. Matt, Rafi, and Andrea share kisses on a mattress. A man eats his breakfast – a bowl of cereal – on his bed with his legs arched and open to display his groin. «I would say yes: there is a connection between sensuality and vulnerability. The way I see sensuality is that you put your guard down; there is a sense of softness to it. I think sensuality can be linked to seduction, but there is something just so pure about sensuality.»

Non-essential #3: Salim walks to the rooftop of Rennt’s home in Athens, drops his gray pants to show his gray underwear, and holds the balustrade’s railing behind him as he poses. A man tops a man below him whose hands crawl over his buttocks inside an apartment at Soho. PK tilts his fanny pack to refrain it from hindering his movement as he dances in an underground rave. «Sensuality and vulnerability are interconnected. I am a fan of vulnerability. I appreciate it when people show that. Also, when I connect with someone, I cannot come close to a person without making them vulnerable and without being vulnerable with them. As people, we all have our soft sides. It is not possible to have a connection where we just put up a giant wall.»

Non-essential #4: Andrea, wearing a blue shirt, stares at Rennt’s lens as he drinks up his beverage from a white ceramic cup. A man twists and bends his legs and arms on a bed, his limbs all tangled. Rennt takes a picture of tree branches resembling ginger before writing too many branches.

‘Lust Surrender’

Rennt’s second photography book, titled Lust Surrender, composes of the images he had compiled between 2017 and 2020 and includes the foreword by Selin Davasse: Towards an orificial notion of sex and photography in the practice of Spyros Rennt. His book launch would have been fused with his exhibit in Milan had it not been for the pandemic. «Now, it is no longer necessary to just tie in my exhibit at Spazio Martin with my second book. Rather, the curation is very much centered around the body as my work revolves around it, among other themes. It is going to be on the sexy and sensual side of belonging and community.» In his personal life and expression, the Greek photographer does not care about the way he presents himself or acts as a queer person. Freedom has formed part of the subjects he has been interested in lately, threading it with how he perceives vulnerability — for him, showing the vulnerable side that often becomes suppressed or hidden signals a display of liberation. He documents the freedom people express and his personal experiences with self-release; he does not separate but combines them. As part of Spyros Rennt’s concluding words to Lampoon, there is a story behind every image I make.

Spyros Rennt

Greek photographer living and working between Athens and Berlin. His photographic work documents queer sexuality and the rave subculture through a personal lens. He has published two photographic books, Another Excess (2018) and Lust Surrender (2020). He has exhibited his work in group shows in Europe and the US, in spaces like the Schinkel Pavillon (Berlin, 2019) and the Schwules Museum (Berlin, 2021). His work has been featured in publications worldwide, such as Interview, i-D, Dazed, Sleek, Indie, Electronic Beats, and Kaltblut, among others. He has been awarded the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Artist Fellowship by ARTWORKS (2021).

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