Born in Komotini, Petros Kotzabasis lived and worked in Athens for a decade in Athens, and returned to his homeland where he’s been taking splendid urban / street photos. Petros is inspired by the great masters of arts and literature and has a distinct personal philosophy that resonates in his works. Greece is homeland to a lot many master photographers and Petros is one of them making his mark with his classic images. His photos are very compelling and profound- some with a subtle humor, few with a silent pathos- all treat to eyes and food for thought. In his interview, Petros gives quite detailed and thoughtful answers to our questions and reading him between the lines will give everyone an insight into photography:
I was born in Komotini, a small town in the north of Greece, where I live. I took up photography in 1985, as soon as I entered university. However, there was a long period, from 1994 to 2004, when I took no photographs at all. Since 2004, however, I have been taking photographs of my “everyday life” on a daily basis.
Several years ago a single incident made me reconsider my philosophy on photography. I was in Athens, taking pictures in a neighborhood with antique stores below the Acropolis. Once I got tired, it occurred to me that a book would be the ideal companion as I was relishing my coffee. I chose one by the Greek poet and novelist, Odysseas Elytis among heaps of old books because of an inscription on the first page. I randomly opened the book on a quote that made me alter the way I see photography. The quote went as follows: “…with lime twigs you may capture birds, yet you never capture their singing. It takes a different kind of twig…”.
It is this “singing” that I am trying to capture with my photos. On the street, which is my field of reference, people, although stuck within their individuality, still interact with the environment, creating unknowingly compositions, rendering the photographer the hunter of time, light, shapes or lines. Lines and shapes appear and disappear instantaneously; they change from one minute to another and I work within this volatility and commotion, isolating various facets of reality through my lens.
I do nothing but seek the moment when narration becomes superfluous, with a view to creating a new universe, where everything is obvious yet hiding something, not through symbols but trough hints. I take photos in order to create a world of my own, setting it apart from real life, yet using elements from reality, which help me bring up elements scattered inside me, just like this quiz that used to feature in magazines with crossword puzzles, where by joining the dots you came up with a sketch.
All my pictures have, in my opinion, the same level of difficulty, but I would like to set one apart and give you the story behind it. A few years ago I set off to a traditional festival, which takes place up in the mountains, a two hour- drive from my place, on a steep dirt road. I set out with the intention of taking loads of pictures during the 3 days that the festival would last. Once I got there, I opened the car door to get off and I saw the frame that was created before my eyes, took the picture and felt such fulfillment, that I realized that there was no point in taking any more pictures; so I closed the door behind me and went back with just one single photo.
I do not travel to photograph; I take photos during the day in the small town I live in and at the end of that day I make a selection among the photos. I do not let them “mature”, because what is really important for me is the excitement of a good photo and since the next day new photos will be added, this creates a major problem in their management. I take photos in black and white; light is a very important element. There is no specific time when I prefer to take pictures, but every time I try to make the most of the light that exists.
I only use a Canon 5D with one single lens, a 35 mm one. It is very important for me to have only one lens, as it helps my eye see through this form; thus, I always know what is included in my frame, even before I put the camera before my eye.
What do you think about current trends in photography? Do you think we are going through a crisis of originality?
What I notice in art photography that I am involved in, is the ease with which some photographers have entered a competition to impress the public with “provocative” in terms of subject photos, as well as in terms of post-processing and size, creating images with blatant messages that are consumed directly by viewers because of their ease in being decoded. This has resulted in an ‘originality’, which is refuted at the same time it arises, to give way to the later ephemeral originality.
I try not to get carried away by these ‘sirens’ and stay true to the principles bequeathed by all those who gave us the pleasure to see beyond our own world, those who managed to create new universes different from one another and if they did not exist, we would never have the pleasure to witness them. These new universes still offer us their brilliance, even after the loss of their creators whether they are called Pessoa or Proust in literature, Elytis or Cavafy in poetry, Bresson or Kertesz in photography, or whatever their name might be.
Thank you. What I would advise a young person who has decided to take up photography is to let him “sink” into himself and try to find out the source of this urge to take pictures, so that they can express what preoccupies them and what is important for them.