When I thought about asking Julia Anna Gospodarou about an Interview, it was mainly because I was so impressed by her otherworldly works. I sent her the questions by e-mail just before Berlin and she was one of the persons that made Berlin so special. Now that I’m reading her answers, I feel like sitting in a dark wooden room with a glass of wine having a very intense personal talk. This is probably the largest interview text ever on my blog, but it’s worth reading every line, as we take a deep dive into the thoughts behind her beautiful and inspiring photography.
Who are you and what are you doing?
I am an architect and I am a photographer. Or I am a photographer and I am an architect. I don’t really know which one comes first. And I am also some other things. I think I am all the things I love to do and there are quite a few of them.
By formation and as main profession I am an architect and I’m living in Athens, Greece. Athens is a beautiful place and very inspiring for all the beauty lovers out there, but I suppose this is not a secret. Everyone wants to come to Athens on holidays, so I guess I could say that I’m living a never ending holiday here. And I really feel like that sometimes. This is the best place for those who love history, who love to dream about old times, for those who love the sea and can’t live without it, like myself, and for those who love to wear a T-shirt till November and see the trees keeping their leaves on all winter long. Many of my photos are from Athens, even if I love to travel and I have a lot of photos from all over the world and from all over Greece as well. Most of them are not on the internet, since my internet presence is quite new. The truth is that I didn’t feel the need of exhibiting my photographs on the internet other than on my Facebook page, for my friends, till Google Plus came around. It was enough for me that I can take photos and fill the need I always had of thinking about the world around me in images and expressing what I have to say in frames. But Google Plus changed this and I think it was because of the amazing community spirit that exists there. Posting a photograph on Google+ is like hanging it on my wall to see it better, I’ve never had the impression that I’m actually exhibiting my work on Google+, it’s like showing it to friends. Of course after Google+ I’ve started spreading my work in different places like 500px, Art Limited, or Flickr, but still the most complete collection of my work can be found on Google+.
How did you choose photography?
I’ve wondered many times about this and I don’t think I ever chose it. It was always there. Maybe photography has chosen me, maybe we chose each other, and maybe taking photographs was like eating or sleeping for me, I just had to do it, no questions asked. Actually I’ve always been surrounded by photographs, even from the time I was a little kid, a baby. My father used to take a lot of them, my first memories of him are with a camera in his hand taking photos of me and my sister. That’s why I have a lot of photos, some of them really great, from when I was a kid. His print enlarger was my best toy when I was little, especially after I discovered where he was hiding it and I used to open it fascinated and mount it, even if I had no idea what to do with it afterwards than play with the loupe and my fingers making funny shapes on the paper. Can’t even say how much printing paper I ruined till I got caught and needed to find another game. And the next game was to ask for a camera for myself. Which I eventually got when I was a teenager. I still have it somewhere at my parents house, it was a Smena, an old Russian camera made by LOMO, that I was very proud of. And still am. All the photos that my father was taking, and that I was surrounded by as a kid and later on, were B&W. I didn’t even know that one can take color photos till I was big enough to look at the photos of others, and there was not even one color photo in our house till I started taking them myself. That’s why in the beginning I wasn’t even interested in taking B&W photos. Color was something so new that I was really excited to do it. But I was always drawn by B&W photographs and I realized it one day when I tried to see which are my favorite photographers. Needless to say that what I found was that 90% of them are B&W photographers. Speaking about first childhood impressions and experiences…
Where did you learn your current photo skills?
Well, I think it’s a process that started when I was a kid and my Dad was trying to explain me how to put a film in the camera and then wind it till the counter reads 1 and then I could click. And I guess I learned that lesson very well. So well that I’ve only lost one film due to misplacement in the film holder and that was when I was already big enough, namely it was last year in Geneva, when I realized after leaving the city that the second film I took there was still in its roll. I can’t even describe the sensation I had when I realized it. I’m still thinking about a few shots from that film that I would have absolutely loved to have, but that are going to be stored only in my mind. And that’s where digital is a savior; one can never take blanks with a digital camera.
But other than a few things that I picked up from my Dad, the rest of what I know, the serious stuff so to speak, is something that I gradually become interested in after 2008. I bought my first digital camera in 2007, a bridge camera, but not for primary use, as I was a big supporter of film and didn’t really trust the digital quality for a long time (yes, I’m pretty old school). And even if I would carry both of them with me in the beginning, the practical side of the digital won me in the end and I switched to it as my main camera. But this was also somehow imposed by the industry, it was more and more difficult to find film and good labs to print my photos and there were a few times that I had to print my photos at 3 different labs till I was happy with the results. So digital started to seem very logical as a main camera.
But after a while I had pushed my bridge camera to its limits and after a trip to New York in 2009 I realized that I absolutely needed a DSLR. There were so many things I wanted to do and couldn’t with the one I had. But I couldn’t decide to invest in a second camera, so I kept having the intention to buy one, but not doing anything till one fine day my bridge camera broke and fixing it was so expensive that it was just not worth it. So I had to upgrade. But that only happened some months later, maybe half year. During that half year and maybe more I started to seriously study everything about photography. I bought books, I was reading literally every serious photo site on the net, I was watching videos about all styles of photography. I don’t think I was doing much else with my free time than studying the theory behind the art of photography. And that was so precious. I can say now that I’m pretty familiar with everything photography means, from portraiture till sport or landscape or even wedding photography, especially from a theoretical point of view. I’ve learned things about lighting, gear, techniques, filters, post processing, you name it. I started seriously processing my photographs, I started learning Photoshop and Lightroom, I discovered Nik’s plugins, that I’m still using intensively, I tried a lot of other editing programs or plugins on the market. And that using as a camera only my film camera and my phone. After having learned all that (and I’m still learning, I still read everything I can get my hands on) I felt that I needed a good DSLR as I needed air. So I finally bought my present camera and I may say that from the moment I bought it, it stays with me at all time. That’s why my purse is so big, because in time, next to the camera came to sit a few ND filters, another lens, a remote control and what not.
And then there’s a second part of my learning curve, a very important one, the long exposure part of my photography. I was always fascinated by this technique and its results, even years ago when I had no idea about the way it is used to produce fine art photography. I remember I was still little and I used to think about how fascinating must have been in the beginnings of photography, when one had to wait such a long time for the photograph to write on the plate. It seemed like creating the world from the beginning. We use to think about photography as a way of capturing the moment, but by exposing the film or sensor long enough, we’re actually capturing history, we witness the world as it is changing, we manage to travel to where the mind can’t access under normal circumstances, and this is so fascinating, so different from the way we are used and programmed to see the world. So, many years and experiences after me discovering this and still being fascinated by it, I started to see around me more and more long exposure photographs. With the internet came the phenomenal easiness of finding everything in seconds and little by little I started wanting to do that myself. But I couldn’t with the equipment I had, so I kept looking at what others were doing and the need was building inside me every day. Then, one day I got my DSLR and next thing I know was starting to search information about this subject. A couple of months later and many hours of reading about whatever I could find about LE, I was buying my first two ND filters and tripod. My first LE shots were done in my balcony. Just as all my trial shots with every new piece of equipment I acquire. I can see the Lycabetus Hill form my balcony, a pretty nice and quite famous place in Athens, so I have photographed the Lycabettus Hill in all possible lighting, and with all possible techniques, including infrared LE. Best exercise ever! And then I landed on Google Plus and found there a lot of artists doing this kind of photography with some amazing results, which was extremely inspiring for me, and most of all I was impressed and inspired by the work of Joel Tjintjelaar. Joel is an amazing artist and one of the best LE photographers out there, definitely the best LE architectural photographer I know, and funny how things happen sometimes, he was the one who helped me the most in my LE quests and also the one who inspired me to get back to my first big love, architectural photography.
When I look at your portfolio, you are more and more going from 2:3 color/bw to square black and white photography. What’s your motivation behind it?
Experimenting. I’m always experimenting. Format-wise and color-wise. I don’t want to put labels on my photography. I wouldn’t feel free if I did. I want to have the choices open to whatever I feel like doing tomorrow. I may have found what I’m looking for and that’s how I feel now, but I never know. We can’t know who we really are till we reach the end, the very end, so today I am what I am, tomorrow this can change dramatically. Even if I think that the actual “me” and my actual quest are going to last for a very long time. I feel every day that there’s more to it than it was yesterday and there will be even more tomorrow.
So, why B&W? Because it speaks to me. Because I love light and shadow, because I love contrasts, I love pure shapes, I love the way you can emphasize just an element in B&W, I love that B&W is not reality, but the poetry of it. I don’t intend to see the world as it really is in my photography. That’s not what I’m looking for, I want to see what’s impressing me and what is drawing me by the sleeve saying: “make that click”. And a lot of times lately that something is not color. I’m not against color, I love it as well, but I think my real self is in my B&W photographs.
And why square? Because it’s challenging for the eye and mind. The eye is used to see a rectangle, that is the traditional way of photographing, that’s how it would be “normal” to see life, since we see it with a pair of eyes disposed next to each other. When you switch to square, you force the eye to make an effort and leave the comfort zone to search for new rules. By that you force the mind to seek deeply into your frame and go beyond the rule of thirds and the rest of the usual things, you can play with the mind of the viewer suggesting new rules and interpretations. And, very important too, you can focus more on your subject and have a less cluttered frame. Maybe that’s what I like best about the square format. It’s the most minimal looking of all formats.
Are there any specific places you love to shoot? Why?
There’s one thing that I was always happy to shoot and that’s buildings. I think they cover at least 70% of all the things I’ve shot in my life. So I think that the answer is cities. And since over the last few years I have become more and more fascinated and interested in street photography, but most of the time combined with architectural elements, again I’d say the city is my thing. I also love the sea, the other extreme. I’m generally drawn by extremes, not really a middle way person and that happens also in my photography. I love the buzz and the filled with constructions sky of the city and I love the perfect stillness and the immensity of the sea. Just as I like to be surrounded by people as much as I like to be alone. Each end gives me something else, inspires me in different ways and I need both to create balance, both in my work as well as in my life.
What was your most interesting thing that happened when photographing?
The most interesting thing when photographing… I understood that I feel perfect doing it.
Other than that …all kinds of interesting things happen when I’m photographing, but I don’t notice much of what’s going on around me when I’m doing it. I’m too concentrated at what I do and many times I totally disconnect with the rest of the world, except me and my subject. That’s how I almost got myself falling from a cliff last winter when photographing a seascape on a very windy day. As I wanted to find a better point of view I kept pushing my tripod on the edge of a cliff while just having an eye on what was happening around me, the other eye being on the viewfinder, so I can compose. But this was not really helping at understanding where to stop. When I was almost done and wanted to make a step back to look around a blast of wind came and it was so strong that made my cable release fly from its hook on the tripod, disconnect from the cable and end up on a rock in the sea below, and me, not understanding how much room I had in front of me, to try to catch it in the air as it was flying before my eyes, slip, lose balance and almost end up on the same rock with my cable release in the sea. I still don’t know how I didn’t end up there, as I was half way into the hole underneath. I was so shocked when I realized what was about to happen that I needed 10 minutes there to sit and calm down. And then, because I never learn, I started to think how to climb down the cliff to go get my lost cable release back. Of course, I came to my senses and didn’t climb down, and that’s why you can still read about me at present tense.
Not exactly something interesting, but certainly something that will stay in my mind for a long time.
Where do you see your photography in 10 years?
I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to know, I want it to be a surprise and I’ll just enjoy the ride. I want to surprise myself, and I’m really curious to see what life will bring. But I suppose I will be doing what I do today much better, I will have learned tons of new things, maybe I will have experienced with different other styles of photography, I will surely have bought a big and beautiful new camera so I can take photos while I’m waiting for my long exposures to wrap up, I will have shot most of the celebrities on the planet, won every photography award around and my work will be exhibited at the best galleries all over the world. .. Did I also mention that I like to daydream??….
More seriously now, and speaking about things I know and not only suppose or play with, I’m trying these days to do some moves in order to organize better my work, build a personal site and even try to see photography as a source of revenue and not only a hobby, even if it will also remain one of my most beloved hobbies, and there is actually an interesting project I’m working on with a few other Greek photographers that will probably benefit of some interesting international participation, but since it’s still in a incipient phase, I don’t have too many details to share for the moment. I can just say that it’s is going to be very interesting and fun.
As for 10 years from now …can I answer in 9 years?
If a beginning photographer would ask your for an advice to get constantly better, what would you tell him?
I would start by quoting Walker Evans, one of my favorite classic photographers.
“Stare. It is the way to educate your eye. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.”
It’s what I do. I stare. I listen. I learn. I leave the world to amaze me through its images. I see it every day as it was the first time. I always think that the next photo I will take is right in front of me. And when I see it I have to be able to capture it. That’s why my camera always stays with me. And that’s the next thing I would say as an advice: always have your camera with you and use it.
Third: listen to what others say, copy if needed, learn, then do it your way, it will be much more fun like this.
Fourth: have confidence in your art, love it and it will love you back. Don’t let anyone tell you that something you believe in is not good enough and never apologize for your art. It’s who you are and if you do it, it means that you need it and that is the only thing that matters. Nowhere, never in no circumstance is it possible that all will like what you do, the only important thing is if you like what you do. As they say, you’re your worst critique and if you please yourself then your need will be filled and your art will have a sense.
Then once you learned something, once you were amazed and charmed by the world around you and by the people living in it, share. Share your knowledge, your vision, your discoveries. Give to others a new way of seeing things, leave them have access to your mind and experiences and learn from them. It will all come back to you, one way or the other. First, you’ll understand what you know, what you discovered. Then you’ll be able to perfect it through interaction and discover new things. I have learned so many things from the questions I’ve been asked by the people wanting to learn something from me. We are not alone here, and photography is about connecting with the world around and with the people living in it.
And last but not least, have fun, laugh with your shots, laugh with your subjects, regardless if they are people, or just buildings or leaves. That’s why you do it, to feel good.
And now Matthias, allow me please to close by thanking you for being so kind to offer me the chance to speak about myself and my work. It’s a real honor for me to be interviewed by a photographer that I admire so much.