December 17th 2012 by Andrew S Gibson
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This article is part of a series of interviews with long exposure photographers to celebrate the release of my ebook Slow. You can keep track of the interviews by clicking on the Long Exposure Photography Interviews link under Categories in the right-hand sidebar.
Julia-Anna Gospodarou is an architect and fine art photographer who lives in Athens, Greece. Julia-Anna’s work combines her love for architecture and black and white photography. She gained a couple of honourable mentions in the International Photography Awards 2012 and has featured in numerous publications.
How would you describe your photographic vision? What kind of look do you try and create in your photos?
In my photography, just as in the rest of my life, I search for things to surprise me, to make me look at the world in a different way from the one I’ve been taught or I am expected to. I’m looking for things to make me wonder and to make me smile, not because they are funny but because they are beautiful, interesting and unexpected. Because they are perfect, in a word.
I think that what I search for is beauty that surprises me by its perfect unconventionality. Real beauty appeals to the senses as well as to the mind. This is what I try to create and convey through my images. A line can be beautiful, or a ray of light and the way it hits a surface, a tiny detail or the whole scene I see in front of me. I search for the original raw beauty, the one that hasn’t been seen or interpreted before. And I never know beforehand where I will find it.
Even if I plan my shooting outings quite carefully and I have an original idea about what I search for, I never know what I will find out there and when. That’s why I always keep my eyes open and always have my camera with me. Some of my most appreciated images have started from ideas that came to me while I was thinking about something totally different. This is a general rule for me, as the ideas I have and the way I reach my vision has to do with everything else I live, feel and think, related or not. I never know where that sparkle hides but I like to search for it. What I aim for when I create my images is for the viewer to have the same surprise I had, to see the same beauty, to feel the same need to smile in front of a perfect world and to be transported in it.
Name three photographers you like and why.
I could refer to famous photographers of all times here and there are a lot of them that I like, but this time I won’t. I’ll try to keep it personal, because one thing I believe and have experienced is that we tend to be more touched by the art of the people we know, of the tangible people that one way or the other have a relationship with our inner creative world. Art is one of the most personal things I can think of and the way we react to it has to do not only with its value per se but also with how we relate to it.
The artists that I will mention here make my world richer and challenge both my mind and my soul. I have to apologise but, since I have such a hard time choosing among the things I like, I will mention four photographers instead of three. They are not the only ones I like and I wish I had more space to mention even more artists whose work embellish my world.
Joel Tjintjelaar, because I can find perfection, force and sensibility in his work. He never ceases to surprise me with both his art and his ideas. For some reason I can relate to his photography beyond the usual conscious feeling of admiration I have for good art in general, in a way that has more to do with a spontaneous reaction to beauty than with careful analysis. I don’t need to find an explanation of his art or a hidden message in order to like it, which is what happens in general when I see true beauty.
Cole Thompson, because he has one of the most original ways of looking at the world and interpreting it. I feel extremely touched by a lot of his creations and ideas. I never know what to expect from him, as his work is quite variate. Every time his photographs manage to make me think very profoundly.
Nathan Wirth, because his art has the power to make me slow down and enter a state of total tranquility. It makes me reach a moment when I make peace with the world around me and accept it as it is. Because he can find so many facets of the same scene and every one of them will be different and the same intriguing. Because I can see a beautiful coherence in his work and his thoughts.
Pierre Pellegrini, because I see so much poetry in his work, so much attention to composition and to expressing his inner world in the most honest way possible. Because he understands and feels nature in a profound way, because he uses natural light in a way that very few do and his images seem to exist only in imagination.
Long exposure photography – what’s the attraction and why do you do it?
I have always loved to travel. Both literally as well as with my mind. I need to do it, I need to find myself in a different reality from time to time, be it another place on the map or just a mental journey to existent or non-existent places. Long exposure photography for me means traveling. Traveling with my mind to wherever I want, transposing myself in a reality that couldn’t exist without the ability to capture time and keep it forever in a flowing dance, as we do with capturing the motion and the stillness in long exposure photography.
There is such a sweet poetry in this kind of photography, such a sensation of freedom but also of total abandonment that I find it irresistible. Long exposure photography is the most addictive form of art I know. It puts your mind in a totally different system, it challenges it in a very subtle but powerful way and by making you slow down it also connects you to the essence of the subject you’re photographing. By slowing down and studying everything more carefully it makes every click matter.
Every image is like a statement about the world, like a story you try to write with light and shadow. When you come home with five shots instead of 50 you know you put a lot more of yourself in each one of them. And this shows afterwards in how powerful and profound some long exposure images are. Aside for all these, there is no limit in how one can interpret a long exposure image by editing it, which is in itself a captivating and intriguing process of creation that I enjoy to the highest degree. I can get totally lost in it and spend endless hours playing with an image till I make it show my inner world.
Why black and white – what is the appeal for you?
In a word, it’s a hedonistic appeal.
I could spend hours talking about why I like it, what I see in it, where my preference comes from, relating it to my childhood and the visual experiences I had back then, as well as throughout the rest of my life, relating it to the way I’m seeing colour, but also with the fact that I’m trying to express myself by not using colour. I could speak about the years I was drawing and the way this led me to expressing myself in black and white before even considering doing the same in my photography. I could talk about the clarity of a black and white image, but also about the mystery that lies within, the way it shows volumes and surfaces and the way it can lead the eye to what’s essential in the image.
I could talk about the fact that black and white photography makes me think about the past, which is a fascinating thing for me, or that it makes me dream more than colour does. I could talk about the fact that I think that, just as sometimes you don’t need words to say something, just like this you don’t need colour to convey an emotion. I could also talk about the fact that my house is mostly decorated in black & white and that this doesn’t even have a relationship with my photography, but mostly with how I express myself in general.
I could talk about all these and more, and I’ve already done it in the past, but there’s something more than that in black and white. It’s the way it is speaking to my mind and senses, the spontaneous sensation of pleasure that I have when I see a good black and white image. And that definitely leads me to wanting to create in this medium too.
There are a lot of buildings in your portfolio. What is the attraction of the architecture for you as a subject? How does your profession influence the way you photograph buildings?
I don’t know if my profession influences the way I photograph buildings. It probably does subconsciously, but I’d say that my profession as well as the way I’m photographing buildings are influenced by my love for architecture and the built environment as way of life. What I do is use each in a different way and try to cover different aspects of architecture with each of them.
In my profession I have to be much more practical than in my photography. Each building has to reach the state where it exists as object, as functional object that will shelter people. That means you have a lot of constraints for the shape of the spaces, their dimensions and materials, the equipment and installations you have to add to it so that life can be possible in that volume. There’s also the constraint of the budget and the client’s preferences, as well as the constraints of the site that hosts the building itself. That means, not too much room for dreaming. Aside for “practical dreaming” at least.
But in the case of photographing buildings and other architectural structures, there is no limitation at all, except for the limitation we ourselves put to our imagination. In that case the building can become an “objet d’art” and play the role that every subject plays in a work of art: a base on which you can build your vision. In fine art photography the object exists not as an object in itself but as a tool for the artist to build on and express him/herself. The building-subject can be interpreted freely, as long as we understand its essence and how this affects us.
As long as we have a connection with it, there’s total freedom as for the creative interpretation of the subject. And this is the side of architecture I try to cover with my photography: finding the dream of the architect that designed the structure and adding to it my personal dream and what I feel about architecture in general and about the subject in particular. Sounds somehow complicated if put in words, but it comes very simply and naturally when I do it.
You participated in the Berlin Photo Walk during the summer. What did you learn from the experience?
I was one of the four main organisers of Berlin Photo Walk in May 2012 and I can say that this event was one of the most intense and revelatory in my life. Not only photography-wise but for the way people interacted and the strong relationships that can be created between people via internet and the way they translate in real life. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such an enthusiasm in people coming together, sharing their passion for photography and creating strong relationships based on that.
It taught me that no matter how perfect and evolved the world may become, no matter the tools we might have for communication in ten, or twenty, or even more years, there will still be nothing like people meeting in real life, doing what they love with others that love the same things. This was the first lesson Berlin taught me.
Of course there were others, more practical, as how to organise an event of this magnitude and how to do it well so everyone feels good and learns new things. How to handle large groups of people, how to speak in public and a lot of other lessons (like how to find an original angle to shoot a building when 60 other people are shooting the same subject).
We were working to organise this event for more than six months and this meant everything from narrowing down ten buildings to shoot from more than 60 potential, to writing a detailed architectural description of each of the buildings on the route to provide information to the participants, information that can help them understand better what they are photographing. It was a lot of work, but a very enjoyable one and I would repeat the whole process tomorrow already (we will most probably repeat it next year, actually). Of course it helped a lot having a great team: Joel Tjintjelaar, Athena Carey, Jörg Jung, with Luca Cesari, Marc Koegel and Michael Diblicek joining afterwards. All wonderful people and a pleasure to work and have fun with. In one word, I’m very happy to have lived this experience and I can say it left indelible traces in my memory.
Tell us a little about the Athens Photo Walk? What’s it about and (assuming there will be more in the future) how can people get involved?
Athens Workshop and Photo Walk was born from a few different reasons and it benefited a lot from the Berlin lesson. One of the reasons was to try showing the endless photographic possibilities of Greece as a country and of Athens as its capital. The first formula of this workshop was thought as being a part of a series of workshops held in different places as a team by me and a few friends who are Greek photographers.
It then evolved in being an independent event and the first one in a series I intend to organise, in a team or independently, not only in Athens but also in other cities with interesting architecture, in Greece and elsewhere. Some of them are thought as simple photo walks and some others as workshops and photo walks together. The workshop and the theoretical part of this first event was something that was gradually built as idea and that eventually became a very strong part of the whole event.
It came as an answer to a few needs that I was noticing around me and was thought as a practical answer to those needs. From basic rules that help put one’s creative ideas in order and that explain how to build a powerful architectural image, to advanced processing techniques for black and white and long exposure images, everything was based on real questions that people asked me over time or that I considered would enrich the experience of architectural photography and lead to high quality results. The experience of this first event in Athens was extremely good. The results in the work of the students participating are really impressive. I admit that they passed by far my expectations. So like I said, next year you can expect more of this kind of events from me. How people can get involved? There are definitely a lot of ways that people can get involved and I will talk about them when time comes and I have more details to share.
In your interview with Nathan Wirth you mention the influence of Joel Tjintjelaar. How important has his advice been in your development as a photographer? Do you think it’s important to have a photographic or artistic mentor?
Indeed, meeting Joel Tjintjelaar and his work can be considered as a turing point in my photographic journey. I discovered Joel totally by chance as, for different reasons, I was not intensively posting my work on the internet at the time and didn’t know much about the work of other long exposure photographers present on the internet. But what I saw when I first found one of his photos was something that immediately clicked with my idea about how photography should be. And so were the next things I discovered. I myself was in a moment of searching for a new way of expressing myself, dabbling with long exposure that I was founding fascinating but still not sure where I would go with it.
I believe that there are some people we meet in life that can act as an inspiration and that can help us discover ourselves. I consider Joel as one of the people that had this role in my life. And still has. As for the mentoring part, I don’t know. For better or for worse, I’m too stubborn to have a real mentor, but I consider important for an artist to be able to talk to someone that has the same ideas and a similar way of interpreting the world. It can help both parts and it definitely helped me. And yes, if I were to have a mentor, Joel would be the closest thing to it as I have learned a lot of things from him and his advice and friendship helped me gain confidence in my work and realise how much I love what I do.
As for if it’s important to have an artistic mentor, I think I somehow answered this, but I could add that generally in art (as in any field that has to do with our work being interpreted by a public, which is an aleatory thing) it’s important to have someone that shares your ideas, or that supports you because that makes it much easier to feel good about what you create and go on with it when doubt sets in. You can learn new things from a lot of sources, but honest critique and true appreciation from someone you trust is what will make the difference.
How important is light in your imagery? What types of light do you prefer for long exposure photography?
Light is everything. My photography would simply not exist without it. So, that’s how important it is.
But light can be both captured and created. Since my kind of photography is not only based on capturing the moment, but mostly on capturing a base for my future creation, I know that I can influence the results in a great measure. Quite a few of my photos have been taken under much less than ideal conditions as you can’t always have all the ingredients together and, while I agree that one should keep shooting a scene till it obtains the best result, I most of the times don’t have the luxury to revisit a lot of the places I photograph, time being the biggest hindrance here. So I have to work with what I have. But that doesn’t really scare me, on the contrary, the more limitations one has the most inventive they have to be in order to overcome them. And one of the limitations can be bad light. What I think is that once your image is good compositionally and smart as a subject, you can always help the bad light in a considerable measure in post processing.
For long exposure, especially for seascapes, I prefer low light, stormy weather, low clouds, a moody day that adds mystery to the scene, sun filtered by the clouds, especially if this happens around sunset (I’m not really the sunrise type, more probable will I catch it by not sleeping at all, than by waking up for it). In architectural long exposure, I don’t chase as much the light as I chase the clouds. In architecture’s case I do need the sun and of course I need the clouds, but in a different combination than for a seascape/landscape. I need the sun to be bright and the clouds not too many so they can have definition against the blue sky and contrast with it, I prefer the clouds to be fast, which I don’t care so much in seascapes, and I also don’t mind shooting at any hour of the day, all that counts as for the time of day is how the shadows behave and how they are cast on my subject.
There is a strong design element in your compositions – an awareness of geometry, graphic design and negative space. Do you agree? How would you sum up your approach to composition? How has it been influenced by your experience as an architect?
Design is part of my life. I’m used to think of the world in lines and shapes and volumes and nothing can make me more happy than seeing beautiful harmonious combinations of these things around me. From the time I was a kid I remember myself with a pencil in my hand (later on I fell in love with fountain pens and switched to them and now I’m using the same fountain pen for more than 15 years). I was always trying to play with lines and shapes, combining them and being amazed at what one can get by even just playing. This translates in the way I see the world and obviously in how I design and how I approach photography.
I consider a good composition as the first and most important step in any kind of visual creation, be it design, drawing, painting, photography or any other visual installation. Nothing can be more pleasing than seeing a harmonious mix of shapes, volumes, textures and negative space. No matter how beautiful the light is or how masterfully one processes a photograph, if the image is not harmonious to begin with, the result will be doubtful. The eye knows exactly what it wants, it’s so well trained after thousand of years of watching harmonious combinations in nature, so it can’t be fooled by a less than perfect composition.
I believe in this and I am seeing it around me every day. So this is the first thing I do with an image, try to reduce it to lines and shades and find the best way that these would work together, so my eyes can be happy when they see it. I’m probably influenced in doing this by my profession and the way I approach the shapes in that case, I always thought and saw it in practice, that creating a beautiful building starts with creating a harmonious first sketch of it. This is the base and this comprises inside the vision I have for the final result and the tools to attain it. And this stands for both architecture and photography.
Here are some more interviews with Julia-Anna:
Here are some more of Julia-Anna’s photos:
If you’d like to learn more about long exposure photography, my ebook Slow takes you through the creative possibilities of using slow shutter speeds, from blurring motion with a shutter speed of 1/30 second all the way to long exposure techniques using shutter speeds of five minutes or longer.
All photos in this interview are protected by copyright. Please contact the photographer for permission to use in any way.
P.S. Don't forget to check out the Ultimate Photography Bundle