“Once I forgot about the photo and went on a date with the subject.”
A conversation with Greek street photographer Antonis Damolis (born 1980) about humourous and soulful street photography and why he stopped shooting street.
Antonis Damolis, you haven’t been shooting street photography that long, since 2009. What were your main references at the beginning?
First of all I want to mention that I don’t shoot street any more. After 3 years of continuous shooting I have to say that there are about 8-9 street photos that still satisfy me and about 10-15 more that I still keep them because they are funny.
I like humor and appreciate the photographer who takes good humorous pictures (because there is also the bad humor which is awful), but these pictures don’t last unfortunately.
I don’t know why that is. Maybe because of our tendency towards drama. It’s like the movies, you can’t watch “The life of Brian” for more than 4, 5 times. It get’s boring. But I would watch “The Wild Strawberries” for the 6th time without thinking about it.
All this being said, the main reference would be Robert Frank. His “The Americans” is the essence of street in my opinion.
Also Josef Kudelka and his Exiles, although Exiles can’t really be categorised as street. Henri Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winogrand, Trent Parke, even Martin Parr are also interesting, but I can’t relate to their images like with Frank or Kudelka.
Was it learning by doing or did you investigate beforehand about the genre and studied the work of other street photographers?
Nowadays I find extremely helpful the vision of Ania Vouloudi with whom we administer a street photography group on flickr called “Small Growers Street Association”, and Dimitris Makrygiannakis with whom I always enjoy a good fight on photography.
Can you still remember your first day going out to shoot street?
What were the greatest challenges and maybe fears you encountered in the beginning?
In the beginning? Not getting beaten up. Later I realised that this doesn’t really happen unless you are really a dick.
What does a good street photograph need in your opinion in order to stand out and get noticed? Especially keeping in mind the abundance of visual imagery in today’s society?
“A good photo is a quiet one.”
Soul! One should avoid visual puns or emotional bullying. A good photo is a quiet one.
Usually it doesn’t scream for attention and you get to appreciate it even more the second time you see it.
What reaction do you intend to provoke in people looking at your images?
Reflect on themselves (and maybe on myself if the photo is good).
How do you handle uncomfortable situations while shooting street photography? People, for example, not wanting to have their picture taken or not understanding the concept of street photography.
When someone notices me and doesn’t want the photo taken I don’t take it.
I used to be a dick and harass them but not any more. If they get upset I talk to them and they calm down.
If they see you are sincere then they calm down.
What’s your strategy when you walk up close to people? Do you interact with them or take the shot and move on?
Both, sometimes I just take the photo and go, other times I take the photo and smile at them while going away and others I talk to them and make a portrait.
Once I forgot about the photo and went on a date with the subject.
What qualities and characteristics does a good street photographer need?
“…an indirect viewing of things.”
What Szarkowski used to say “the photographer’s eye”. This basically means an indirect viewing of things.
Street photography is very much about seizing the moment. Things usually happen unexpectedly. How do you train your eyes to “know” when a special moment is about to come?
It comes with experience. You can also predict a scene sometimes.
Your pictures combine a lot of compositional elements: lines, shapes, shadows etc. How much of that is planned and how important is intuition and a quick hand to press the shutter button?
Basically I try to avoid too much geometry. I care only about the good subject.
If the subject is good enough all rest doesn’t matter.
You are a member of the street photographer collective “Observe Collective”. What does the collective mean to you and what’s the idea behind it?
It’s funny because now that I don’t care about street photography any more, I got to be in a street collective.
I like those people, we chat about photography and try to become better at it.
Any kind of participation in a community is good for me because I’m an only child and have some socialization issues.
Last but not least, let’s switch roles: Which question would you have liked to be asked in this interview about your work that I didn’t ask? Please feel free to add it – as well as the answer.
Q: Has photography helped you become a better man?
A: Sometimes no. I can be a pain in the ass especially for the ones close to me.
Other times yes, but it has certainly helped me evolve as a person and understand things about me and those around.