I had the honor to be interviewed by the most important photography magazine in Germany, KWERFELDEIN, and I can say it was a wonderful and very inspiring experience. My interviewer, Robert Herrmann, had some really interesting questions for me that gave me the chance to speak in depth about the way I think and create, about my two passions: photography and architecture and about my future plans and ideas.
Here is the link to the original article in the magazine in German and below the full text in English. http://kwerfeldein.de/2013/07/12/im-gesprach-mit-julia-anna-gospodarou/
Robert Herrmann: Hey Julia, you are an architect and a photographer. These are, of course, two fields that for a very long time have been known to be a great couple. When and how did you realize that you not only wanted to be an architect?
Julia Anna Gospodarou: Somehow, I was a photographer even before being an architect. I didn’t know yet how to talk when I first laid my hand on a camera and I grew up surrounded by my father’s black and white photographs, whose subject I was many times. When I became a practicing architect photography was my best friend for documenting the buildings I saw, the places I went to and also helped me imagine a space and how to fill it. I have always been doing architectural photography, even when I didn’t know yet it is a genre of its own. It is part of my way of expression, trying to capture shapes and volumes and how the light is playing with them. Like with many other things I did in my life, here too, I didn’t have to choose what to do. They chose me even before I realized it and I still don’t know which one I love more.
Robert: Did you have something like an eye-opener? A picture you took, that you consider a very important one for your photographic development?
Julia Anna: I had different moments that I consider eye-openers over the years and they marked my photographic evolution in different ways. As I said, architectural photography has always been one of my passions. That is probably because I love the challenge to capture a
three-dimensional complex object, translate it into two-dimensional language and by doing so still express its three-dimensional nature. Possibly the moment I started to see architectural photography as something more than just a documentary tool for buildings, as a way of
seeing the volumes from a more artistic perspective, was many years ago when I still was a student of architecture. It was during an educational journey to Germany, and especially a visit to Frankfurt. I immediately was fascinated by the modern architecture of this city and I still remember it so vividly. The key moment I would say was when I discovered the DZ Bank Building and started photographing it. I think it is a very elegant and original building which remains one of the most characteristic buildings in Frankfurt, even now, many years after its construction and after so many other great additions to the city’s skyline. Back then I was still shooting film and I remember I was very careful not to use too many frames on each subject as I had a lot of things to capture and developing and printing photos was not exactly inexpensive. But despite my decision to limit myself I used almost half of the 36 pictures I had on the roll in an attempt to capture the essence of this building. I surely would have taken even more photos if I had been in the digital age. The result is that even after so many years I still have all the details of this building in mind and also the joy I felt while discovering its hidden side with my camera.
Robert: That sounds like a true initial moment. And then, what was next?
Julia Anna: Well, another benchmark in my photography was a few years ago when I made my first trip to New York City. That was when I started experimenting more seriously with abstract architectural photography. I began playing with my compositions, trying to move away from recognizable forms and ignore the rules of gravity or the way we are used to see the interactions between a building and its context. As a result I discovered new ways to first look at the built environment and then identify the elements that when combined can show a new aesthetic dimension of architectural photography. A third and maybe most important moment of revelation in terms of my photography was when I started to work with long exposures and the turn I made towards black and white. Embracing these two technical aspects opened a completely new world for me and gave me the total freedom of expression I had always been looking for. I discovered a way to extend the moment of perception that is a photograph beyond what reality shows me by adding the element of time and thus taking an essential step towards what humanity has always been striving for: the idea of eternity and the state of perfection that it evokes. Concomitantly, removing color from my visual toolbox and reducing the scene to only shades of light enabled me to move closer to the essence of the subject and the primordial emotion that an image can convey.
Robert: Regarding your most recent works a certain abstraction and, at the same time, a concentration of simplicity become obvious. It is quite interesting that you seem to have a rather reflective (no pun intended) approach to photography. To achieve an appealing quality, what do you think is more important: Educating yourself about the subject in advance or, apart from that, somehow emotionally perceiving it and reacting to it on site?
Julia Anna: I think the most important in art is emotional perception and the ability to relate to the subject on a deeper level than just the conscious act of studying and analyzing it by theoretical means and at the same time the ability to convey the emotion the subject awakened in us and to recreate it for the viewer. However, even if I do believe in a spontaneous artistic emotional relation to the subject, I always study my subject in advance and try to understand it with my mind, before I let it speak to my soul. I do so as often as possible. Yet, sometimes you just find a subject that charms you that you don’t know anything about. So the only time you can study it is on the spot. As for the element of surprise this implies I might say, I rather enjoy finding an unknown subject that impresses me than shooting something I have already studied. On the other side, nothing compares to finally finding yourself face to face with a building you have been admiring and studying in detail for a long time. The joy of seeing the real building and photographing what you so far only imagined or know from other images is one of the best feelings I have ever experienced.
Robert: So for you, in this case, the joy of the photographer is doubled by the joy of the architect, I suppose?
Julia Anna: When seeing a beautiful structure that is exactly what happens. So I could say I am somehow privileged. I find myself in a better position than if I was only one or the other. As to what you have mentioned observing in my work, indeed, I tend to add a level of abstraction to my photography. This is related to the way I think and to my artistic education and background. It also links to the preferences I have in art as a whole: photography, painting, sculpture, design and architecture. But I am not abstracting to such an extent that my images become only a combination of shapes. What I am trying to convey through my photography is a totally different way of looking at buildings – different from the one we are born with and the one that we are brought up with, different to the “official” aesthetic point of view. I do that by emphasizing and presenting the almost abstract structural details that you see in my work, without completely removing the factors of scale, form and context, although they could help identify the object. My aim with this “almost abstract” approach to a building is to put the viewer’s mind into a different space, where he needs to find different rules to interpret what he sees. Still, I am not interested to show only an interesting or unexpected play of lines or patterns, but also help the viewer have a glance at the essence, the soul of the structure that I photographed, which for me gives substance and emotional value to the image. That gives it a warm and lively touch and helps find a quicker way to the viewer’s soul, which after all is what I eventually aim to touch with my work. Fundamentally I am not aiming to reach a logical perfection, but an emotional one. In this respect, I may call my architectural photography style “emotionally abstract”, a term that also defines my way of thinking in general. This is what defines my work and makes it stand apart. I call this process (en)visionography, an alternative name for photography that I find more suitable for what I do. The result of this process is a fusion of reality and imagination, where the image starts by being a white board onto which I design and build my photograph by sourcing from reality only those elements that help me convey my vision and the idea I want to present in the end. Processing is the tool I use to achieve my vision. I do it in a way just as if I drew the photograph with a pencil. That is why I prefer to speak of “drawing my photographs” instead of processing them. In essence, I try to take a raw image from the world and mold it into the shape of my mind and soul, so I can identify with it. It is a very personal process, as the creation process is for every artist, and it first has a meaning and value to me and then to others. Therefore, the conclusion is: both approaches are important in order to create an image that speaks to the viewer. On one side the theoretical approach: a research on the building and its designer (since we talk about architectural photography), a historical, functional and artistic study of the building, its shape and color, light conditions, context and micro-climate, its structure and details plus a research concerning practical aspects of the shooting itself: such as location, access, orientation and necessary equipment, to name just a few. And then, on the other side, the emotional approach: cultivating yourself on a way to open your eyes and soul in order to realize the connection to the subject you work with. This is essential. I think, it is possible to create art without a mind, but it is impossible to do it without a soul. You have to be happy when you photograph and process your work, you have to be happy that you do it. Not just content or satisfied – but happy.
Robert: I like that you relate to photography with a very wide sense having in mind aspects of architecture and other fields of art.
Julia Anna: That’s right, my photographic results are not only inspired by other photographers. I could say that, at least on a conscious level, I’m just as inspired by other fields of art and life. And if I was to give a spontaneous answer to the question what inspires me except for photography, a “roman-fleuve” type of answer would be: Art Nouveau, Gothic, Deconstructivism, Russian Constructivism, the color black, old cities and their history, old deserted houses, drawing with a black pencil, the drawings of Albrecht Dürer and Leonardo da Vinci, South American literature, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Beethoven, Schubert, Billie Holiday, Chopin, the sea, film noir, the languages of the world, good humor, Keith Jarrett, Horowitz, van Gogh, Goya, Rembrandt, El Greco, Vermeer, Francis Bacon (the painter), Giacometti, Lucian Freud (the painter also), Karl Jung, Toulouse Lautrec, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Gaudi, the Expressionists, Paris, New York, the ocean, fresh snow, solitude, Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind, Rem Koolhaas, traveling to unknown places, the night … and generally beauty in all its forms.
Robert: And who are there photographers that specifically inspire you?
Julia Anna: One of the photographers that always fascinated me for his ability to “see” and to compose his frame, to capture that unique moment in time where everything is in place and where the emotion is sustained by every single element in the image, is Henri Cartier-Bresson. I greatly admire his ability to see the light and the combination of shapes that the light reveals. I think Cartier-Bresson is one of the very few photographers that embraced light as a whole and really understood what it can do to a scene. I like to compare him with Leonardo da Vinci because of his ability to see in space, his artistic originality and the surprise that his photography provokes. Other photographers who very much inspire me are Dorothea Lange for the authenticity and the emotion that her portraits of simple people show and Imogen Cunningham for her flower still life, her nudes and portraits. Furthermore, Helmut Newton for his edgy provocative, but so original style, as well as Irving Penn and Richard Avedon for some of the most expressive and powerful portraits I have ever seen. As to more contemporary artists, there are a few fine art photographers, whose work made a strong impact on me since the first moment I have seen it. They keep impressing me with their creations. One of them is Alexey Titarenko, whose motion blur series of people “City of Shadows” marked a turning point in my artistic evolution. Another one is Joel Tjintjelaar, who is one of the pioneers of long exposure photography and one of the few photographers that can convey a deep emotion through his fine art architectural photography, with an almost human depth, very difficult to achieve when working with inanimate objects and especially with buildings. And a third one is Cole Thompson, who is another exceptional artist that can move you with almost any subject he would touch and who has created some of the most iconic fine art images of the last years.
Robert: Thank you so far, Julia. Now, do you have any plans for the future, any project in mind that you are soon going to realize?
Julia Anna: I have quite a few plans for the future, short term and long term. One of the short term ones is to learn more about fine art printing. For the moment I’m not dealing too much with printing my images, but I have been growing an interest in this process. My goal is to study it more in the period to come and launch myself into this field. Another project I have in mind for some time now, is a motion blur project that will extend my work in this field and give it new dimensions. Many of its raw images already exist and I have quite a clear idea about what I need as for the rest of the images, but I didn’t yet have enough time to work on it. One example of what I have done so far is a series called “Shadows Of A Soul” in which I follow “Her”, the main character of the story, throughout her life and existentialist quests. The next chapter of the story is about “Him” and there is more to come afterwards. In the same field of exploring the dreamy, surreal, transcendental side of photography is a series of ICM (intentional camera movement) images that I’ve already shot and that I will hopefully soon be able to process. The ICM technique and approach, together with motion blur and especially long exposure are the three pylons of my photographic vision and identity and that is where I intend to move in the next period of time.
Robert: And how about your architectural photography?
Julia Anna: Of course, all these directions will go in parallel with my work in architectural fine art photography, which is my main interest. It is what I am considered best at. As I have already won awards with it, I intend to win some more. Well, I don’t know if winning awards can be considered a plan, but it is definitely something I am aiming at. Another direction in my photographic activity is organizing and teaching fine art architectural photography workshops, private ones as well as for groups of photographers. This is also something I want to follow in the time to come, as it answers to my love for sharing my knowledge and helping people become better at what they do. I want to help others realize their dreams, become better professionals and manage to express themselves through images, through the art of photography. I think this is the dream of many photographers, experienced or aspiring. One of my biggest joys is to share with others what I discovered in my professions (architecture and photography) – the things which helped me get to the point where I am now, where I can say that what I do is what I feel, that my art, my photography completely expresses my personal vision and helps me discover new things about me as a person, as an artist and also about the world around me. Not struggling with technical processing and theoretical issues tremendously contributes to discover and follow your vision. It helps to develop a style and this is what I want to help my students achieve: be happy with what they do and draw inspiration from their own work. I have two events planned for the near future that I could mention: a Fine Art Architectural Workshop in Chicago, in the beginning of September. There I will be teaching together with a fantastic team of international awarded fine art photographers. We will cover everything fine art related, from developing a personal vision and capturing the image to professional black and white processing to realizing high-end fine art prints of the images we took. All this in a fantastic city from an architectural and a historical point of view. A second event that I could mention is another Fine Art Architectural Workshop, this time held in Athens, Greece. It will more or less be based on the same principles, focusing on modern and ancient architecture, with a touch of seascapes (since Greece is famous for its sea) combined with instructional sessions on long exposure and black and white processing, theory of composition and vision developing techniques. This event will take place at the end of October and more details about it and the events to come can be found on my website.
Now I would like to thank you very much for hosting me here and for the wonderful questions in this interview. It was an honor and a pleasure to answer them.
Robert: Thank you for this interview, Julia. Good luck and success with all your plans and keep up the good work.