All images by Maria Kappatou. Used with permission.
Any number of factors can affect how people move and carry themselves on the street. In Athens and elsewhere in Greece, the ongoing financial crisis is ever-present, and photographer Maria Kappatou has seen firsthand how it has influenced life on the street and her own photography. Her images are often intricate visual narratives that point to something beyond the frame, particularly given the current circumstances. Here, she shares her insights to street photography in Greece and how the financial crisis has played a role in her photography.
Phoblographer: Your photographs are often marked by visual complexity in that they’re very layered. What do you look for when you’re on the street?
Maria: Being on the street for doing street photography, automatically places you in an environment that requires you to be aware of the unexpected. I think that if you do this long enough, you train yourself in a mentality which gives you the ability to apply this perception in all your shootings. And you don’t have to be only on the streets to do so. I have a thing for mystery and multileveled vision , that can provide a second reading to a photograph, that’s why I look for certain conditions sometimes, like reflections and such. Other than that I look for humor, harmony of form and color, and all the while wishing for my camera to focus on the right moment!
Phoblographer: You seem to move pretty fluidly through color and monochrome. How do you decide between the two?
Maria: I think the theme decides itself. When I was shooting film I usually preferred BW. After a while I started seeing things in monochrome, even before I pressed the shutter. With digital it was a whole new procedure all along , so I can’t say this is what happens exactly any more. It appears that a decision on whether a photo speaks better in BW or colour, happens during the editing process mostly. Except of course of the times that I shoot BW straight from the camera.
Phoblographer: How has the financial crisis affected the mood on the street, and has it affected how you take photographs?
Maria: All people, even if they realize it or not, get affected by their surroundings and the situations that occur during their lifetime. More so, a financial crisis to such an extent as the present one, cannot leave anybody untouched, especially those who deal with art or, at least, with the documentation of life around them. After the first three years of austerity,I found myself wanting to perform less and less street photography, in the sense that fun was diminished by the day, since most people on the streets seemed troubled and sad. As a result of that, I started taking pictures in a more introverted or should I say conceptual way, that let me express more of my feelings and perceptions of the current situation.
Phoblographer: Tell us about the triptych photographs like this one. What’s the idea behind these images and what are you trying to show?
Maria: Those photos were taken on a train returning to Athens from Thessaloníki, right after the elections that everybody thought would bring an new era on the Greek financial crisis. Now that I see it again and have to explain it, it doesn’t reflect the happiness that most of the people had from the results back then.It looks as if it is predicting the mood of the aftermath. A single photo wouldn’t be enough to describe what I felt inside as an omen.
Other diptychs or triptychs I make, might be based upon aesthetics, a visual play or the search of the interaction between different pictures and the feeling they produce when matched together. This is a study that I often enjoy doing, since I cannot distinguish myself from my background as a visual artist.
Phoblographer: One of the inherent challenges of street photography is the potential for conflict. Have you run into any problems, and if so, how have you dealt with them?
Maria: After shooting in different situations on the street,that challenged myself and the others (since I do it quite straight forward and boldly), I think that if you do it with confidence, respect and a little obsession, you will have little to confront in the way of conflict with the subjects. People sense the commitment, the joy, the fear, the respect or disrespect, the violation or exploitation, instinctively, and respond accordingly. Of course in most countries it is an asset to be a woman and shoot strangers…it seems like people feel less threatened. The very few times I experienced some kind of rage, was when people thought I was a journalist, which is not a very well appreciated profession in Greece nowadays.
Phoblographer: When you go out to photograph, do you have ideas in mind of photographs you’d like to get, or do you let life guide you?
Maria: Actually all of the above… Every time I go out to shoot is a new experience for me. I try to see things with new eyes, and this is what’s keeping me from not being bored after shooting my city for so many years now. Sometimes I go out and shoot under the instructions of a weekly or monthly theme ,-for the challenge and the discipline that this provides, given by some Flickr global groups I follow for that purpose. Whether I am shooting on the street, in a bar, on a train, or in a public event, etc, I always look for the unusual and the unexpected that life provides if you pay close attention.
Phoblographer: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a street photographer just starting out?
Maria: Be in love with it and do whatever your heart pleases.