Photography of Eleni Mahera is very intense and dramatic. It has the quality of visual narratives of experimental old films of 1950s with its strong shadows and blur. She’s one of the many talented female photographers of Greece that are on their way to define their style and make their mark. In her detailed answers to our questions, Eleni shares with us her passion of photography and also tells us why there are so many talented photographers in Greece.
I was born and raised in Agios Lavrentios, a small village on Mt Pelion, Greece. I have studied English Language and Literature and I am currently involved with Adult Education. For the past 6 years I have been living and working in Komotini, a small provincial town in northern Greece. I am very keen on travelling and reading. I have taken up photography quite recently but it is a hobby that has become a desire, occupying both my time and my mind.
My first contact with photography came in 2009 through a course offered by a local photography club. For a year or so I had been photographing landscapes and generally things that all newcomers into photography are initially drawn to. It is assumed that by looking at a person’s photos, you can get an insight into them. Now that I look back on those “early attempts” retrospectively, I cannot recognize anything that actually depicts me in them; they were nothing but a documentation of the reality that surrounded me. What actually changed my perspective not only in photography but in life altogether was the loss of a beloved person: my mother. It got me started into a journey into my inner self, with photography being the means to my end. My camera is only a tool, an indispensable tool, in my life-long personal quest; it serves as a kind of diary not of memories but of my personal interpretation of everyday scenes. After all, as Dorothea Lange rightly pointed out “A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.”
About this observation of yours, I cannot help but say that we feel honored if something like that comes across to you. I can give nothing but my personal interpretation based on my own experience: there are many photography clubs guided by noteworthy photographers all over Greece doing a remarkable job. Personally, I feel very fortunate to be a member of such a club, the Photography Club of Komotini, and to have an inspiring mentor like Petros Kotzabasis.
What I find really intriguing in street photography is this subtle interaction with your subject that has to be established within a split second. It’s really challenging that you set out not having the slightest idea of what you are going to shoot and yet you instinctively react to the stimulus that ” aligns the head, the eye and the heart” . This gives you a sense of freedom, which is an integral part of me.
I guess the reason why so many photographers are so infatuated with street photography lies within the very nature of the genre itself. Being drawn to the energy of the city, they deem the street as a potential stage with passers-by being the street performers and the photographer acting as the director, who is trying to achieve a maximum degree of concentration in this hustle and bustle in order to direct his/her shot . Actually, that’s what I feel about street photography.
Soon after I began shooting, I bought a Canon 550D and the moment I realized that the “street” was for me, I purchased a 28mm/1.8, which is my only gear. I am not one of the lucky ones who tried their hand at developing their photos in a dark room; I am a fan of digital photography although I do not consider myself an expert neither at editing and post-processing nor at photo manipulation. Though a teacher by profession, I will always be a student when it comes to photography.
It is a picture (see below) showing a man running along the street with a flock of birds and a car following, as if in close pursuit of him. The reason why I feel so attached to this shot is twofold. Firstly, because it was taken during my first steps in photography and secondly because of the way it was captured. I was driving along the main street of a nearby town when I witnessed this scene; I could immediately form a mental frame of the picture but my camera was not somewhere handy, so I had to pull over and run after the young man. I managed to get 3 frames of the scene and then the birds changed direction.
I can’t say that I have “achieved” something noteworthy in my photographic course so far, other than gaining loyal friends that accompany me in my photographic pursuit.
When it comes to being a female photographer, it is one of the few cases that being a woman is to your advantage; your “subjects” open up more easily when you are a woman and a plain smile can sweep away even the slightest hesitation on their part to be photographed. On the other hand, you don’t always earn the necessary recognition from your male counterparts.
Working on projects or assignments is one of the current trends in photography which actually goes against my principles, as I feel that it deprives you of the freedom to follow your intuition and smothers your creativity.
The question of what the future holds for street photography is a question that could apply to art as well. Many artists try to be “pioneers” just by being provocative, without having a statement to make. Being different just for the sake of going against the current doesn’t always coincide with innovation. Art cannot avoid being repetitive. After all, there is no parthenogenesis in art and the chances of creating something original dwindle in the art of photography, where the medium is so readily accessible to almost everybody. Thus, you cannot help but follow in the footsteps of the masters of photography like H.C. Bresson , Andre Kertesz or Robert Frank to name but a few.
I am not an ambitious type of person who likes making future plans; this can save me from frustration. My future plans go as far as an evening out with my friends or my next trip. Recently I feel that I have reached a stalemate in photography as I get the sense that I am repeating myself so I feel the urge to resort to poetry and literature. A good read can always be a source of inspiration. I also spend a great deal of time on a daily basis studying the work of photographers that I really admire like Josef Koudelka, Bernard Plossu or Garry Winograd.
I would advise them to “sink” into photography in every possible way; photography can be the key to a whole new reality, a good chance for introspection, a means to transform memories and feelings into visual stimuli.
All photos © Eleni Mahera links: Flickr