Nikos Economopoulos: a Greek in Magnum

Nikos Economopoulos is one of the most famous living greek photographers. He grew up in Kalamata and studied Law in Parma. During his studies, he remained an avid reader. He collected vinyls and literary books. His first contact with photography was at a friend’s house in Italy where he picked up a book of Henri Cartier Bresson. He was immediately fascinated by Bresson’s compositions and he started a collection of photography books at his own home library. It is common for amateurs to start shooting before taking an interest in the history of photography. Most of us don’t come from a family background of photographers. However, Economopoulos started backwards; he studied photography books for 5 years before he started taking photos. This helped him cultivate a background that is unusual for a beginner to have, but critical for anyone who wants to become a full-time photographer or a very advanced amateur. 

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When he speaks about his first steps in the world of photography, he makes it clear that he started shooting with an intention. He was working as a journalist at the time but his passion for documentary photography was slowly starting to take over his life. Economopoulos quit journalism to pursue photography full time. He started shooting in black and white in Turkey and Greece. His encounter with fellow photographer Costa Manos had a decisive impact in his career. Manos encouraged him to apply for a membership in Magnum Photos, the world’s most renowned photographic cooperative. He got accepted in 1990 as an associate member and continued his photographic journeys in the Balkans. In 1992 he won the “Mother Jones Award” for work in progress as a documentary photographer. Since then, Nikos Economopoulos has published six books and is constantly travelling and teaching street photography all over the world with this long-time workshop On the Road. His work has been published in the The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, El Pais etc making him the most renowned Greek photographer of our time. 

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For the first part of his career Economopoulos made a conscious choice of shooting only in black and white. His style is simple but not simplistic. His compositions have a remarkable balance whether it is created by displaced hands or cropped faces and shadows. His photos aren’t the result of a preconceived plan or idea but rather a product of his photographic intuition. As he says, he is constantly trying to portray his relation to a specific place. Those places aren’t randomly selected; they stand out for their authenticity and originality; they haven’t been touched by capitalism as much and their inhabitants are open and warm. Don’t get confused, though; his photos are not about tradition, customs or history. They are about the photographer’s individual experience in each place. Economopoulos said it himself; he doesn’t care about telling the truth as it is. “I think what I am looking for is not the truth, in the sense of the unique and uncontested truth. Ultimately it is the lie, the suspension of disbelief. It’s like asking a question and going about it without an answer, without uncovering the underlying truth, but uncovering layers and layers of other questions taking you along divergent paths. Just like in real life.” In other words, for Economopoulos, photography can very likely be a game of association as much as documentation. This is why it is very hard to call his work strictly documentary.

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After a long time shooting exclusively in black and white, Economopoulos felt that his work in black and white was starting to become repetitive. There was no challenge or novelty in what he was doing and he felt a creative stagnation. These feelings were the main motives behind his decision to switch to color exclusively. Shooting in colour film was for Economopoulos a new challenge that he welcomed with openness. To him, color was a difficult to master. He felt like a beginner once again and that refuelled his creative juices. Very quickly, he realised that for color to work, a photographer needs to work harder. “Visual validity therefore requires greater effort. It’s not enough to have the right balance of form and content that is sufficient in black and white.As you are describing reality with greater detail and precision, you run the risk of ending up with something conventional”. He often insists on the importance of balance of hues and colors in photos and states that light plays a prominent role in making a photo worth looking at. In recent years he has been shooting a lot in Ghana,Cuba and Tunisia. Nikos Economopoulos will always have an eye out for warm, original places that remind him of home. However, his photos never end up looking familiar.

 

RESOURCES:

  1. Magnum’s website: https://www.magnumphotos.com/photographer/nikos-economopoulos/
  2. Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikos_Economopoulos

 

 

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