Stavros Stamatiou is one of most impressive street photographers we have come across and his images create what would normally be a routine and mundane view into a fantastic representation of a something that was obscured by an apparent reality. A very common every day activity and scenery becomes a cherished work art in his photography. he never fails to amaze us with his creativity, his mastery at composition and his iconic signature style. It pays well to wait for each his upload… every time. Street photography is the genre of the current times and there’s no dearth of amazing visual artists making their mark in this area, but, very few of them have their images so evocative and full of life. PhotoArtMag interviewed Stavros to know more about his life as a street photographer and here he goes:
I was born in Kozani, Greece, in 1965. Today I live in Perea, a suburb of Thessaloniki, and work as a teacher in the public sector. I am a father of three wonderful children. Music and cinema are my favorite hobbies. I also like to read books about art in general and historical novels. Progressive rock and minimal music are the genres I prefer to listen to. From the magical world of movies I love imaginative films with a surreal atmosphere – Terry Gilliam’s work for example – or a metaphysical and poetic cinema like the one that Andrei Tarkovsky produced. I cannot refer to photography as a hobby because it is something more to me.
It’s a necessity deep within me which pushes me to take photos on an almost daily basis. Photography is my way to see the world and at the same time it is the means to speak about myself, to communicate my visions, my dreams and nightmares. Sometimes I have the feeling that photography is a way to reconstruct my lost memories.
Even though I have been involved in photography since I was a student, I feel that I am a new photographer. In the past 7 years the transition from analog to digital photography gave me the opportunity to take photos more frequently, to experiment a lot, to deal with photography in a more systematic way. At the same time the internet kept me in touch with the work of many great photographers. Books, magazines and photographic forums have given me the chance to indulge in the essence of the art of photography.
I carry my camera wherever I go – “You can find pictures anywhere” said Elliot Erwitt and I know that well – except from the hours I spent in work. Some days I have the time for a full photo walk, some others I can only take a quick snap of something that comes up while I am out for another reason. The number of photos also depends on the theme. In a static situation (a landscape for example) I take one or two shots, in some other cases I can shoot more than 30 to take the one shot that satisfies me enough. I have a blog called “stavrosstam’s photodiary” in which I upload only one of the photos I have taken during the day. It is not necessarily the best, not even a good one, but it is a photo that represents my photographic day.
Street photography is what I like most but the street mentality is also present in whatever I photograph. Reality provides me the content I need to make a photograph. The few times I come to stage a photo it’s the reality again that has given me the inspiration to do it.
What camera/lenses and settings etc. do you use and why?
I use a Pentax K 30 with a 18-55 mm lens. A well built camera, tough for use in the fields where I like to wander, light enough and with great usability. About 95% of my photographs are made with the 18 mm (27 mm equivalent) but I am grateful to have more focal length options for the few times I need them, without being forced to carry a heavy bag all the time. I am not a sharpness fanatic and , though I would like a faster lens, I prefer the flexibility I get from a simple and light zoom lens. When I do street I use aperture priority settings and sometimes pre-focusing.
In the days I was using film I had my own dark room. Magical place, no doubt, but I needed hours to develop a film and to print some photos. Nowadays, editing is a much easier process. I use Photoshop to edit my pictures. Brightness, contrast and some masks – if it is necessary – are the only interventions I allow myself to do. I also use Silver Efex Pro for the conversion into b/w, since I always shoot in color. I believe that good editing is the one that is supporting the theme, not suppressing it. The less visible it is the better it works. I am a purist, so I do not manipulate my pictures. Generally I don’ t like manipulated pictures.
How do you proceed to create a photo? What is the idea or story behind all your wonderful images?
“Light turns the ordinary into magical” said Trent Parke. I believe that everything has it’s own perfect light and this is what I am after. I have taken photos from the same theme in several light conditions trying to find the most suitable for it- or should I say for my vision? When I find something interesting but the light is not good enough, I return over and over again until I get the best of it. I like to play with shadows, so early morning or late afternoon hours are perfect, as well as the winter time in Greece, which is my favorite season for photography. I also like to play with reflections- they are a great tool to make surreal images (which I am very fond of) without manipulation, just pure photography.
Most things are already said and done. I think that contemporary photography is trying desperately to find originality by dealing with the surface of the images. But the only originality that counts for me comes from the heart of the photographer. It is the personal vision, the unique way to see the world around him that makes the difference. I don’t know if I have achieved to build a personal style, this is something I leave for the others to acknowledge.
Tell us about your experience of shooting out there in Greece:
There are many ideal places around here for shooting – it depends on the photographer’s interests. I usually search my themes into the open spaces that surrounds Thessaloniki or in the town itself.
“If reality fails to fill us with wonder, it is because we have fallen into the habit of seeing it as ordinary.” This quote from Brassaï is resuming my view about photography. Reality is the best inspiration I can imagine. I just try to keep my eyes open to the world that surrounds me.
There are many photographers I admire, but I will name just three of them: André Kertész, Josef Koudelka and Trent Parke. Their work is a reference point and a shining example.
Say something to inspire new photographers etc.:
Study the work of the great photographers and practice as much as possible. Pay attention to the composition, never forget about the background and always treat the light in the benefit of your theme.