Born in NYC in 1959, Costa Sakellariou studied Urdu and Persian philology. He’s a self taught photography, and finds himself lucky enough to be mentored by Costa Manos, Charles Harbutt and numerous other photographers. He freelanced for many years as a photographer in South Asia and the Middle East for weekly newsmagazines. Presently he’s teaching photography with an emphasis on street photography at Binghamton University in upstate New York since 1997.
Images featured here belong to his recent series ‘Around the Rust Belt’.
I moved into a loft in Boston’s Chinatown while I was in college which was populated by photographers. Me, I didn’t know which end of the camera the picture came out of. One of my roommates had been studying with Garry Winograd that year. Smoky late night sessions, the smell of darkroom chemicals and stacks of prints all over a big round table are my strongest memories of that time. In that environment, it wasn’t long before I began photographing.
I lived and worked for years in both the subcontinent and in the Middle East, making pictures for the weekly news magazines in both Europe and the US.
Since 1999, I have been teaching photography in a university in upstate New York. I never intended to be an educator, but now it is years that I have been teaching! There is no question in my mind that the endless critiques that I have conducted over the years have made me very clear about what I want to see in a good photograph. Plus, I’m doing my bit to encourage others to appreciate what it means to compose on the fly and create a complex image that has visual power… Working on the serendipitous streets takes much time and energy, as well as a fast eye.
Probably old fashioned, but I shoot with a Leica rangefinder and a 35 mm lens. I want a bright viewfinder with everything sharp both near and far. Juxtaposition of the foreground and background is important in my pictures, and only a rangefinder will provide that for me…
In fact, I still use match sticks glued to the barrel of my lens to aid in quick zone focusing, a trick Gilles Peress taught me years ago. Simple technology and a simple workflow!
I began making photographs of the depopulated post-industrial cities of central New York in 2015. Empty streets devoid of most life - and a very far cry from the sheer joy of shooting volume on the busy streets of a metropolis. Here, the rhythm is totally different - and much more sparse!
This Rust Belt work was first shot in black and white, and only in the autumn of 2016 did I begin the experiment of working in color, as I was curious whether it was possible to synthesize color and shadow at 1/1000th of a second and make photographs in this rather colorless region that were compelling.
It is ironic that these photographs are also the landscapes of Trumpland, and since his win of the US presidency, much has been made of these overlooked and left-behind places. Sometimes, as I pull into another small town, I am reminded of a line from a poem of Percy Bysshe Shelley, which, having described the ruins of a monument to a forgotten king lost in the wasteland, read ‘My name is Ozymadias, King of Kings, look upon my works ye mighty, and despair!’
All photos © Costa Sakellariou : Website