From the Editors: Interview with Julia Anna Gospodarou who talks about her views on fine art photography, architecture, long exposure. She is a founder of (en)Visionography and has published a book "From Basics to Fine Art - B&W Photography".
I am both an architect and a photographer and if you ask me which one comes first for me, the answer is both. They cover different sides of my personality, they give me different means of expression and I have realized with each one different things, but the things both photography and architecture gave me were essential and molded the person and the artist I am now. Giving birth to a building or to a photograph is different in practice, they imply different approaches and actions, but they complete each other and in many ways they are similar. As a photographer, when you shoot architecture, you can be an admirer of the architectural object you shoot, a critic, but also a creator. I am all the three, but mostly a creator. When I photograph a building, I don't only show it as it is, I show it as I would want it to be, as I would design it. This means I change the reality I see to match my vision. This is the part I love and need most in photography, to create my own world, a perfect world where my vision can take shape, and I create that world by using architectural symbols, since architecture is where I find myself at home.
I was photographing the world around me for a long time, shooting architecture and not only and the “camera” was always an important object in my life from about 14 year old when I got my first analog camera. Besides being a photographer and architect, I'm also a writer and a teacher. I like to put my thoughts, experiences and knowledge in words and pass it to the others so it can help them too and one of the results of this side of my self was the book I wrote together with award-winning B&W photographer Joel Tjintjelaar and that we recently published. Its name is “From Basics to Fine Art – B&W Photography – Architecture and Beyond”. The book had fantastic reviews so far and it is an extensive study of B&W Photography, with an accent on architectural fine art and long exposure photography, but going far beyond it, architecture being only a pretext to talk about how to create good photography in general.
I don't consider equipment vital, but I do consider vision vital. Vision and a good eye for space, volumes, geometrical objects, relations between full and void, positive and negative space, between light and shadow, a good eye for composition and a need to do it. This is the most important ingredient: the NEED to do it. Otherwise you can't do any kind of photography, but in particular architectural fine art photography. Architecture is art in itself and fine art photography aims to recreate the world in the way an artist sees it. Art comes from a deep need to create, so without feeling this need in a genuine way, the results will be mediocre. Mediocre in the sense that they will fail showing the soul of the building that is photographed and the soul of the artist. And without that there is no art, there is just technique. Equipment is a tool and should always be looked at as a tool. Of course artists need their tools just like any other professional. And the better the tools are, the further they can get you. But they will not get you anywhere if you don't know where you want to go. So we're back to vision and intention, as first ingredients in art – be it photography, painting, architecture or else.
However, if I were to talk about equipment, let me tell you what I use. I shoot with 2 cameras, one full frame, one crop frame, I use mostly wide angle and tilt-shift lenses in my architectural work, I use two kinds of tripods, a heavy and very stable one for bad weather and windy situations, one lighter for traveling, different intensities ND filters (10+6+3 stops), both circular and square ones, for different kind of light and exposure situations, a circular polarizing filter, a remote control to avoid the vibrations of the camera when I shoot on a tripod, and especially for my long exposure work, sometimes an angle viewfinder or an external screen for composing my shot in difficult conditions (a tablet can do the work wonderfully), a Hoodman loupe for checking the results afterwards on the back LCD screen and a few other pieces of equipment less important. As you see, not so many things, but they are enough for me to express my vision.
It's difficult to choose, because each project I'm starting is an exciting one, and a challenging one as well, and this is because every time I try to walk on a different path than the one I walked before so this means finding new ways of expression, new ways of working with the subjects, new subjects as well, that many of them might not be very easy to reach or to shoot. But I like challenge, I like the excitement a new project gives me. I get very easily bored creatively, because I have a very curious mind and I constantly need stimuli for my work. This is why you may even see the that my artistic “periods” (as in “periods in an artistic current”) don't last too long. Also I'm not producing a large quantity of work. I don't think this is essential, I even think this is harmful for creation because what you do in a large quantity using the same rules and the same way of expression can become mannerism and this is what kills originality and freshness. Not to be mistaken for style, the style of an artist is one thing, mannerism is another thing. You can have a style that is coherent because it has to do with who you are and that doesn't change, you use a personal language to express yourself that can create different stories even if it uses the same words, but when we talk about mannerism we talk about a work that would use the same stories many times in a row, because it has lost its freshness and originality and can't create something different.
Back to challenge, I may say that one of the most challenging projects I worked on is the series I'm working on right now, called Fluid Time, which is an architectural monograph of Chicago, where I use the tilt-shift blur and the technique of long exposure to express my vision and this is something that I constantly had to research, to experiment with, both in capturing the images I work on as well as in processing them. There are not many examples of this kind to study, if any, so it's for me to discover the right way ever time.
One of the buildings I'm eagerly waiting to be finished here in Athens, so I can shoot it is the new Opera House and new Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center designed by Renzo Piano and that is being built at this time. It will be a fantastic building from many points of view and it is on my shooting list for very soon. Besides what I want to shoot close to my base, I have a few favorite architects whose projects around the world I intend to shoot at some point. I'm talking here about Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind, Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry and a few others that inspire me from both architectural and photographic point of view and are also high on my shooting list.
In two words - the freedom of expression. I see photography as a way of expressing myself and it is the mean that allows me to be as free as I feel the need to be when I create it. Freedom is important to me, freedom of thought, freedom of feeling, of expression, freedom of action. Photography gives me that and this helps me be myself as an artist. Besides that, I like to work with light, with shapes, I like to use reality to create something else with the help of light, and this is something photography allows me to do in my own way. It allows me to put my feelings and impressions about the world into images that explain them to me. I try to explain the world through photography and I feel that this form of art gives me the freedom to do it and helps me cover the “need” to create that I feel and that I was talking about earlier. The fact that I can also make from this a profession is fantastic and makes the leasure of doing it even bigger.
As a matter of fact, I don't promote my work too much to certain clients. Not even to a certain client type. I work very much intuitively and I promote my work generally, I promote its qualities in general and the clients just see it and they come to me. I don't have enough time to make a targeted promotion of my work. I'm too busy working to be able to do it, even if I intended to do it more than once. But all the plans for a coordinated promotion have failed so far for lack of time. At this point I'm still pondering over this issue, but in the near future I intend to get more organized and promote my work in a more structured way. What I use as “promotion” tools for now are: my website, the social networks I'm present on, the articles that are published about my work in different magazines etc., the interviews I give, and then the word of mouth. I can say that the word of mouth is one of the best promoting tools. You can't control it but if you're a good professional it will work for you. That and recurring clients. Which means it is all about being a good professional and delivering the best quality, no matter what. This are the most important principles in my work and I think this is generally what makes the difference.
Understanding it. Identifying yourself with it. Understanding what the architect meant when he/she designed and built it. Of course, when I talk about these aspects I consider that the theoretical and technical aspects of photographing a building are covered. That the use of specific techniques and equipment for photographing architecture is something familiar to the photographer.
Even if the creative aspect plays the main role in how the final result will look like, many times photographing architecture might be a challenging task also from a physical point of view. Not only you need to sometimes travel a long way to reach your subject (this could be seen as an advantage actually by some, namely by the “traveler” type of photographer, which is the type I belong to), but you may need to shoot from very strange or uncomfortable positions or spots in order to get the result that you need. Space is many times an issue and you may need to shoot in very narrow spaces, or even risk shooting from positions that might not be the safest, everything is possible when you shoot architecture, even if it might not seem like this at a first sight. But if you ask me, if you really love something, then you don't think about the challenges, you just do it because you simply can't do otherwise. Of course, you should always be careful. No photograph in the world is worth you risking your integrity.
First, communicating with the viewer. If you managed to keep the viewer into the frame to explore the image and you make him feel something, you won the game, no matter what genre you shoot. This is why you have to show what you feel about the subject in front of you and not make a copy of reality. Fine art photography is about this, no matter if we talk about architecture or other style. You have the chance to express your unique view over the world through the subject you choose to photograph, use it to communicative to the viewer the things that made you wonder, that moved you about the subject. Sometimes you don't even need the subject, because the subject is only a pretext for your vision to take shape. The subject is a symbol and a tool.
But if you create architectural photography, architecture should be your mean of expression. Therefore, to create a good architectural photograph, aside from finding a way to communicate your feelings about the subject to the viewer, you also need to think in architectural terms: harmonious geometrical composition, creating depth in the image so the objects, the shapes and volumes are perceived in a three-dimensional way, use light to emphasize or hide spaces, positive or negative spaces, use the background (the sky in many architectural photographs) in your advantage, in order to emphasize the building, use B&W to concentrate on shapes and light, to underline the design of the building.
My way of working has two sides, two aspects: the intuitive one and the theoretical and practical one. I “feel” what I need to do but then I have to back it up from a theoretical and practical point of view. I use my intuition to show me the way, but then I use my logic and experience to verify and confirm that this was the right way and to improve it also, since at that point I know why I want to do something and where my basis and tools are. It might seem complicated but it works very well in practice. In two words it is as if you “felt” that blue goes well with orange, but if you know the theory of art, the theory of color (yes, you should know the theory of color even I you are a B&W photographer or even more then) you will know that blue and orange are complementary colors and this is why they go well together. This is why I recommend so warmly to my students and to everyone as well to study art and the foundations of it, to get familiar with the theory of art and also the theory behind the practice, the rules of composition and so on. All these are things that one will find extremely valuable in guiding him in his photography quest and are all things I talk about much more extensively in the book “From Basics to Fine Art” that I mentioned in the beginning. This book comprises my credo in photography and I explain there all the things that happen behind the result one sees in my images.
I'm a rebel by nature and I like to walk on my own path, but I deeply admire and I am moved by the work of some architects, painters and photographers. Yet I don't think I have a role model. I don't believe in that because it can limit you. And limiting yourself is the worst thing one can do in art. You need to be free to create, you need to be crazy. You need to be free of influences and crazy as for how far you can go with your vision and with putting it in practice. So I try to stay free from too serious influences, generally in my work, not only in photography but as a principle. But of course there are artists that move me, there are those who make me think, those who always surprise me with their talent, sensibility and genius, those who probably also influence my work, even without me understanding it.
However, if I were to say who I admire in photography, it would be simple and complicated at the same time. Simple because I like many artists, classics and contemporary, complicated because I always find lists complicated. If I need to say a few names I would choose a few of the classics and a few of the contemporary photography artists. From the classics I am moved and amazed by Henri Cartier-Bresson for the way he knew to tell a story by using light and lines, meaning light and composition, by Dorothea Lange and Imogen Cunningham for the way they know to use their subjects and environment, each in a different way but both opening new paths in photography, by Richard Avedon and Robert Mapplethorpe for their original and perfectly thought out and realized B&W portraits, and I could go on with more, Like Man Ray, Bill Brandt or Edward Weston.
From the more contemporary photographers, the one that probably opened my eyes over fine art photography was Alexey Titarenko, with his motion blur series City of Shadows and that was at the time something very original and beautiful aesthetically, also very powerful as message and image. Then, if we are to talk about fine art architectural photography, there is always one name that comes to my mind and that I can say innovates and offers a totally different look at architecture than what was the norm in the past, and I'm talking about my co-author to the book “From Basics to Fine Art”, Joel Tjintjelaar. I want to also mention, from the artists that live and create next to us and that I'm sure will be remembered for many years: Nathan Wirth, for his wonderful seascapes, infrared work and his famous self-portraits, Hengki Koentjoro, who is a beautiful and complete B&W artist, Leo Bugaev, a very original photographer, and there are more.
This past year was mainly related with shooting in the US. I've photographed in Chicago, San Francisco, San Antonio and Houston over last year, mainly during the workshops that I did there, but also on trips meant only for shooting or combined: visiting and shooting. It was every time a fantastic experience, generally shooting in the big American cities is an experience hard to beat by something else, and this is why I have quite a few of these cities om my “next to go to” list. Generally I find myself fascinated by shooting in a big city due to the diversity and richness of sensations such a place can offer and these were some of the places that provided this excitement in really large doses.
Not a particular place, but somehow I find Daniel Libeskind architecture challenging to shoot in order to capture that “je ne sais quoi” that every building has, the soul, the spirit that lies underneath the shell. It is possibly the complexity of the deconstructivist architectural objects Libeskind designs that leaves you the freedom to interpret them in so many ways, it is also possible that the Libeskind buildings I've shot were related to older constructions so I had to deal also with a dialogue between styles, at least in principles, and especially one of them was placed in a very difficult location to shoot (a very narrow space that wouldn't allow many angles of view, and with a very busy built environment around the actual building). However, all the Libeskind buildings I've shot or seen gave me an intense feeling of fascination, they moved me profoundly, but they also gave me the feeling of a difficult task as for putting that fascination and emotion in images. They still remain a subject to decipher for me in the future, even if I have won several awards with photos of these buildings. But as I said, I like challenge so I can't wait to shoot my next Libeskind building.
I use quite a few. I'm a believer in software in the sense that I believe and know that the software we use can help us take the photograph from the state of dream, of idea, or vision, to the state of reality, of an actual image that can convey our thoughts and feelings. There are two phases in this transformation, the part where we capture the photograph, creating the best basis for our processing and eventually for the creation of the final image, and there is the part where we use software to work on this basis and give it the shape we imagined, shape that might be very different from what we originally shot. The software I use most in my processing is Photoshop, Lightroom, the Topaz Labs plugins, the DxO Labs plugins, in some cases also the Google NIK Software, plus a few plugins and extensions from independent creators, and for me this combination covers very well my needs in post-processing and they give me the results I'm after in my work.
I wish I knew my future. In all seriousness now, I can never know what the future holds for me. I know my projects and I could talk about a few photography trips I'm planning, but I'm used to my plans being much less than what the reality turns out to be in the end. It is happening from as long as I know myself. So, now that I have this experience, and considering the we can rely on a prediction of the future based on the facts of the past (I hope I'm not becoming too philosophical now) what I can say is that, no matter what my plans are, the reality will turn out much more exciting. And this is what I like most about both my professions, architecture and photography. There is an almost anecdotal story in my life, at some point, in my late 20s, I said to myself out of an enthusiastic burst that over the next year I would be working with Santiago Calatrava. I can't say that I did anything special to reach my goal back then, but somehow after less than one year I was working in Calatrava's team of architects for the Olympic Complex in Athens. It was a fantastic experience that I will remember for my entire life and it started from a “joke”, more or less. This is not the only example, I could provide more, but probably it involves the most famous persons I’ve worked with. So, the future? Looking forward to it, it can only be exciting!
Now as for the projects I have, well, one of them is to challenge myself. I want to shoot more people. So far I'm not really a “people photographer“, even if I love people photography. I'd like to explore this side of photography more and find some new ways of expression through it. And for this what I plan to do is to go to South America, to the Americas, both North and South. Some of the most interesting symbols in my cultural background come from these areas and I need to go there very soon to study these symbols.
Love architecture and everything else will follow. The number one professional advice I would give to anyone is to do what they love, no matter the challenges. The satisfaction you get when you do what you like professionally is worth the effort you may need to put into chasing your dream. Loving architecture means also understanding it and this is also important to an architectural photographer. An architectural photographer needs to know many things about the building before shooting it, he needs to know its function or functions, the way they are disposed in space and in the volumes he sees, he needs to know about the architect's intentions and concept that was at the base of the design. Of course you can shoot a building without knowing all these details, but it will show in your final image. Without understanding the building from an architectural point of view it is very difficult to go beyond the object you see and create that outstanding image that will show more than we can see at the surface. Aside from this, it is obvious that the architectural photographer needs to know how to work with the equipment he uses and to know how to work with light too.
I'd say in a very important degree. Internet was and is the tool I use mostly to promote my work, to work with my students and clients, to educate myself and to be inspired by other artists. The communities of photographers that were created over the last few years are one of the most amazing phenomenon of our time. It is not only happening in photography, but photography being an essentially visual art with so much impact to the viewer, these communities of photographers have seen the biggest impact in their work than any other professional community using internet to reach its audience.
If I were to talk about my experience, the promotion I received from photography magazines, through the publication of my work or the interviews or articles about what I do, was one of the things that pushed my work the most and helped me have the amount of recognition I have now.
On this general photograph scene, Camerapixo is one of the magazines that stood out from the beginning and in a very impressive and spectacular way. This is a magazine lead by two very creative and hard working professionals, Artur and Anetta Heller, and it was among the first photography magazines that exhibited on the internet high quality photography work from any genres and that promoted in such an enthusiastic and effective way the the photographers they work with. I will always remember with great pleasure my first publication in Camerapixo and the moment I met Anetta and Artur Heller.
The book is called From Basics to Fine Art - Black and White Photography – Architecture and Beyond and, it counts 424 pages and, as I mentioned before, is a collaboration with award-winning B&W photographer Joel Tjintjelaar. It is an extensive study on B&W Photography, with an accent on architectural fine art and long exposure photography, but going far beyond it. We cover subject belonging to the artistic side, the practical side, the philosophical side but also the business and financial side of photography.
We are talking about our B&W processing methods, our long exposure methods and workflows analyzed in depth with examples and extensive hands-on explanations, we make an extended analysis of our award-winning images, plus provide the theoretical base for what we do so the readers won't just apply a method, but start creating their own B&W style right away.
The decision to publish a book came from the desire to share our knowledge, a desire that both the authors fell deeply, and we considered that a book would offer us the freedom and give us enough space to develop our subjects, more space than any other mean would,. Writing enables us to present all the ideas we touch in a way that is accessible to everyone, thoroughly elaborated and easy to consult and put in practice. It is also easier to follow and assimilate even for the non-native English speakers that will more easily understand a written study material.
The decision to write this book with Joel as co-author was a very simple one to make. Why? Because Joel is the best in his field, he is a great professional and one of the best B&W fine art photographers in the world. His ideas are ground-breaking and he is a symbol in fine art photography and one of those that put the basis of B&W long exposure and helped spreading it in the artistic community. Therefore it was obvious that he had the most to offer to this project so we can make this book become something that can change the established way of thinking in photography, which is what we intend with publishing it. Besides the qualities Joel has as artist and professional, there was also a practical aspect of this collaboration. Writing a 424 pages book with someone else is not a simple thing to do, you need to synchronize yourself with a different person and create something that is coherent and that works as a whole. So you need to have the same way of thinking and beliefs with your co-author and an ability to collaborate in a very harmonious and effective way. I am choosing my collaborators with very much care, because I know how important working well as a team is in order to have a great result. Even the best ideas can die in a poor collaboration, this is how important your collaborators are. So, the fact that me and Joel could collaborate in a very good way was another important reason of why this book is already a success.
The graphic design of this book has been realized by Artur J. Heller and Camerapixo and I have to say it is one of the best book designs I've seen in a long time. I'm not saying this because it is my book, I'm saying it because I work with image for the longest time and I have a good eye for these things and also this is what everyone reading the book says. So, I'm using this opportunity to thank Artur and Anetta Heller for their great ideas and professionalism not only in creating the design but in our entire collaboration working at this book, which was impeccable.
We launched the book a little while ago and the response to it was already fantastic. It was compared to Ansel Adams' or to Bruce Barnbaum's books on photography, that, as we all know, are fundamental learning resources for the photography of the 20th and 21st Century. The enthusiastic reactions of the readers, that we are receiving every day, are a great reward for us and for all the hard work and passion we put into it during the last two years.
For everyone interested in it, the book can be found at this link
Thank you Julia Anna for taking the time to do this interview.
We are happy to welcome you on board among other photographers.
Your photography is very valuable in this community and very beneficial for our readers.