D: Welcome to www.iFocus.gr. We are looking forward to meeting you in Athens for the five-day workshop that will take place from June 6th until June 10th. Please tell us, how did you start out in photography, and what did it take to become a master of it? What played the most important role: talent or hard work?

Neither talent nor hard work, but a certain kind of magic, to which I succeeded to connect with. When I started, photographers developed and printed their work themselves. And there, under the red light of a darkroom, a white sheet of paper floating in a tray with developing liquid was slowly filling with an image. And, for the first time, you saw the result: from pressing the shutter button ‘till this moment some time elapsed, and this kept you in suspense. And you also had to remember all the technical secrets, sequentially poring different chemical liquids from tray to tray: developing, stop bath, printing; again developing, rinsing, drying. This artisan ritual created an artistic joy of belonging. Your own craftsmanship, passion for experimenting and perfectionism, led to one result or the other. You gained your experience yourself and you were always moving forward. That’s why I would not use the words talent or hard work. Unquestionably, in this process you can find both, but a more accurate word is passion.

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D. You are constantly making business trips, during which you have visited many countries and cities, where you came across different people and cultures. As this will be your first workshop in Athens, could you please formulate your requirements or conditions for the participants?

By and large, there is no need for any effort or knowledge. Unlike all other schools, where technical knowledge is required, my requirement is the opposite – an absence of it. The modern camera knows everything better than you. Your knowledge can only hinder it from bringing you the trophy. All that you need is to trust her. It seems to me that today (at least I’m striving for this) it is more important to be an amateur than a professional. Professionalism creates a certain technical entanglement. I choose an automatic mode: ISO, shutter speed, aperture, autofocus – all is taken care of by a modern, high-quality camera. All that remains for you is to observe and accept her suggestions by pushing the button. You should not be afraid to try anything. This is not a roll of film, an attempt does not cost anything. Value lies in accidentally finding something new, a surprise, that’s why experience and professionalism can become obstacles. So, it is quite the contrary: better to go where you have not been before. 

All knowledge except for one is prejudice. You will ask me: ‘and what is that one knowledge that is not a prejudice?’ To that I answer: The formula itself, that is the formula that any knowledge, any desire, any preconception of what you want to do and convey during the shooting is in fact prejudice. You should learn not to know anything, not to wish anything, not to expect anything, but to remain empty and hunt only for what will come up suddenly. All your knowledge is in fact techniques.

Cartier-Bresson once compared a photographer to a cat. You should evoke in yourself this animal reflex, that of a hunter, and at the same time you should remain empty, being in the state of zen. Instantaneous reaction to what life will offer you. You should act like a child, like an animal – do not doubt yourself. Do not fear anything, react primitively and I assure you, it will turn out to be not so primitive after all. 

That’s why an ideal participant of my workshop is a person who does not resist surprises, does not say: I want this and I do not want that. Stubbornness and ambitions are the arch-enemy, and often professional, self-assured photographers are infected by it.

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D. What does street photography mean to you?

To me, a street photograph is a photograph shot in the street, in a building or in the open air, in natural surroundings, without manipulations, without staging. This can be a documentary photograph depicting the decisive moment of some event, where the phases of all objects in the frame are interesting, but it can also be a photograph without any particular context: the most prosaic objects and non-remarkable spaces, but seen in an unexpected way and unusually composed, the types of pictures I am trying to post on Instagram. Figuratively speaking, it can be called poetic photography. Poetry here lies in metaphors, special visual rhythm, some sort of mystification. It’s not immediately understandable what is there, but all objects are necessarily real, not abstract and are ultimately recognisable. This can be a search for form, line rhyme. It is acceptable for a photograph not to contain a plot or a story. Information about an event is just a captured moment of a certain state in space and time, only exhibiting a particular rhythm. All this to me represents street photography.

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D. You are internationally recognised photographer of the highest class. Are you anxious about your next project? Are you worried if it turns out to be as worthy as the previous ones? Or, being on such a high level, you immerse yourself in work, disregarding anxiety?

Let’s begin by saying that I have never in my life had any ‘projects’. I had assignments. With my latest assignments, I was most often given carte blanche. My client understands that I am not going to illustrate his prejudices and desires. He provides a certain territory, space, object and expects from me an unexpected result. The result is unpredictable, not only for the client, but also for me. I myself do not know what will come of it, but I am always interested in experiencing a state of artistic passion. It seems to me that Cartier-Bresson did not work on any project either, but just as I do he undertook assignments, and only then he alone - or with someone else - developed a project based on those results achieved. You usually shoot gazillions of photographs. To me, worthy photographs make up not more than one percent of those, that is ten photographs out of a thousand, and maybe even less. That’s why, while working you are incessantly shooting. Not because you have to shoot, but because every second a new hypothesis appears: look here, there is something in it, let’s try. This is the starting point from which you begin and move further, changing, correcting, shifting. 

You can see this process on the contact sheets of Cartier-Bresson. It is incredibly interesting to see world famous images, which became iconic, and the images shot before them as premonition, a foretaste, a movement towards that iconic image, as well as the images shot after, where the photographer expected something else to happen. You never know anything beforehand and in this lies the quintessential nature of creativity in photography as well as in life. Photography is like a scale model of your behaviour. Thanks to this process, in real life you become more observant and fearless in your experiments. A person who has experienced it will never refuse such way of life. Thus, answering your question: I do not think of a result at all, whether I succeed or fail is not a criterion to me. Here everything revolves around your interest, your passion, and this is nothing but a process. More specifically, a creative process. You live through it and do not remember what you shot, do not have an idea of what you are going to shoot, just live through it and that’s all.

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D. What would you like to say to our readers and participants of your workshop as well as to your fans around the world regarding evolution of street photography and the future of modern photography in general?

It seems to me that the value of a photograph is in its uniqueness. Not commercial uniqueness, which is characteristic of vintage photographs – only one image and it’s second to none – this interests me least of all. Uniqueness is about something’s inability to be reproduced. Time has passed, the event is not going to be repeated, but a photograph will remain forever. Street photography is like a piece of reportage, an event, a fact and its value is in the decisive moment. Good luck is not only to be in the right place at the right time, but also to find a unique place in space to capture the moment. To me, the primary function of photography is bearing witness. But we should not forget that an image is a flat surface, governed by laws of visual harmony. That’s why to me geometry carries the same importance. A photograph should have culture, harmony in visual value system. Moreover, a photograph is not only a photograph, but also a means used by artists and scientists. And the goal of human activity is to preserve and keep a memory of us and our immediate environment for future generations. Undoubtedly, the value of photography is in its uniqueness, but I’ve already mentioned that for me the process is also important; that’s why photography is a game and people create their own rules for it. To me, an artist should be disinterested during shooting, you should not think of the exhibition, the book, the client for this photograph, or its price. Only when it is already created can it be commercially appraised. But as A. Pushkin said about poetry, ‘you can’t sell inspiration, but you can sell a manuscript.’


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