I’m very glad to re-start, after a quite long time, the 10photos10question10answers section. Today we have here one of the mighty “doctors” of street photography: Dimitris Makrygiannakis, aka ngravity. Let’s start with the interview!
1. Ciao Dimitris and pleased to “meet you”. I can clearly remember when i was new to street photography and found your stream in the flickr world. I was amazed by shots that showed a very personal and sophisticated language. When did you start with your photography? Did you start with street photography or with something else?
Ciao Giorgio and thank you for this interview and for your nice words. I started photography in the summer of 2010, after joining Flickr. A friend I met in India in 2008 had recommended me to join Flickr since I already had in that moment some interest in touristic photography, but, I don’t know why, it took me a couple of more years to join. When I joined Flickr I had recently broken my leg and I started reading some books about framing, ISOs and all that basic stuff, I got interested and decided to finally open an account. The second day of using it, I just wanted to check photos from Crete, the place I come from. So I went to the Flickr map thing. Random photos of Crete was what I found, and among a vast majority of holiday photos from Crete I found a street photo of Lukas Vasilikos taken in Crete. This is how it all started. I got immediately hooked and since then there has not been a day without photography. And yes, I started with street photography, probably because the first influences have been street photographers.
2. Where are you actually based? Do you think that the place you are shooting influences the way you shoot? Also, do you think that being a medical doctor affects your photography?
I am based in Stockhom, Sweden since 2004; before that I was living in Crete, Greece. Regarding the place, India in comparison to Sweden is different. Living in a big city or in a small village is also different. But once somebody understands what artistic photography is about, then any place can be good for photos. And once you get to have your own language as a photographer, the place does not play such a big role as in the beginning. I like to travel, it’s great to break the everyday routine here in Sweden, so my photographic work is from different parts of the world, mainly Barcelona, India, Stockholm. But when I look at my photos, I see myself in them, and not the place they were shot. Being a medical doctor got me very interested in people and I guess this is why I first was only interested in photos with people, even though this has changed lately. Moreover, practicing medicine is a good exercise for the brain, and I feel that this keeps me mentally sharp for photography as well.
3. As i was saying before, you use a very sophisticated photographic language. I must add that i feel this is a very “modern” approach to the streets. Where do you get your inspiration? Do you have some personal masters? Do you get inspired from something else than photography?
I get my inspiration from any photographer whose work I appreciate. I study photos carefully, I study photographers carefully. Personal masters? Hmm, difficult question. I was inspired by the older works of Nicos Economopoulos and Martin Parr. Talking about “newer” photographers, I may say Dirty Harrry and Mark Powell. I guess that inspiration comes from everything I experience in my life.
4. How much do you shoot? Do you spend more time shooting or editing? Do you take/discard a lot of pictures?
Let’s say I shoot every day for one month per year. Usually on 2 trips somewhere in the world, 2 weeks each. Sometimes, I will be able to make it 5 or 6 weeks per year. Those weeks are made every day of a lot of walking and shooting, and nothing else. I just breathe photography. For the rest of the year, I am happy if I will get 3 hours of shooting every week; sometimes it can be 3 hours of shooting per month, depending on family and job needs. But photography is in every day of my life. So when I don’t shoot I study and edit. I don’t know if I take a lot of pictures. Lets say that in my trips -in the every day shooting mode- it’s around 100 shots per day. Another 100-200 shots get deleted during the day and never make it to my computer’s hard drive.
5. Let’s talk about the way you shoot. Do you prefer to go shooting alone or with someone else? When you shoot you are just out shooting or you also take your camera while doing something else? And then, since we are all fetishists about gear: what camera/lens combo do you use?
Always alone. Except in workshops, where I have to show students some of the tricks. But I equally enjoy this experience too. I take my camera often with me, even if I take my 3-year old son for a walk with the stroller. But I usually can’t focus in a situation like this. It is rare that I take good photos when I am not alone and focused. I use a Canon EOS 5D MarkIII with a 35mm lens and a small flash. I am using only this for the last 3 years and I don’t have any other equipment. I own the lens and the flash since about 5 years. I am not a gear enthusiast. I found a combo that suits me fine and I don’t have a plan to change it for now. I would be interested to try 28mm at some time, but it could happen in another life.
6. Let’s go deeper. Having a look at your stream and website, looks like you also went “personal” with street photography. I’m thinking for example about your project “29+3” that talks about the birth of your son. It shows a very “street” approach to a very personal situation, and i feel this is really touching and probably not easy to show to the “world”. How did it started? What are your feeling about this project? Do you think that street photography can “meet” projects or when we go out with already an idea of what to shoot we are talking about another genre of photography?
Oh the story behind 29+3? I ll try to make it short. When my wife got pregnant, I was planning to make photos of her being pregnant when her belly would grow. When she got admitted in the hospital with premature contractions in week 27 of the pregnancy, I didn’t have any photo of her pregnancy yet. This pregnancy could come to an end any minute. From that moment, I decided that I wanted to shoot every moment I could see in an artistic way. She was pregnant 2 more weeks, and at week 29 “it happened”. Then we stayed 2 more weeks in the hospital, where both my wife and our son fought for their lives. It was the most dramatic period of my life. Every time I shot a photo, I had a clear idea why i was taking it. All my pain and thoughts became photos. Through this project, I defined my family and the term “family” as I have it in my head. This project changed a lot my view about what I am looking for in photography. I think it took my photography in general into a more meaningful approach. I have for sure a street photographic esthetic in this project. If it can be defined as street or not street, I honestly don’t care.
7. Difficult one: what is your personal definition of street photography? Does “street photography” exhists for you?
Street is whatever can be shot in the streets and not only in the streets. It is a certain approach that some of the masters taught us and that is hard to define, but I have a strong “feeling” for it. This approach is now getting re-defined by the newer generation of street photographers or at least by some of them. For sure street photography exists for me. I spend 90% of my photographic time walking around in the streets of any place in the world. But what I care is to be a good photographer, without more specifications.
8. Do you think that the search for “social approval” may alter a photographer’s path? What do you think about social networks? Do you find them useful? Did they ever “help” you and your photography in any way?
Yes, I think that the search for ‘’social approval’’ can be a trap and not help people develop and explore other paths just for the fear to lose popularity. Lately, I try to listen to myself: if I like a photo I took, this is enough for me. I think that social networks are very useful. Surely both Flickr and Facebook help me to be in contact with the latest things going on in photography. Without Flickr I wouldn’t even be a photographer, so how can I deny that it helped me? But in a deeper research about photography, I think we need to find “ourselves” alone, away from networks.
9. You are member of Burn My Eye collective. What do you think about photographic collectives? What is their role? Can they be more than a showcase?
10. What does photography mean to you? And, to finish the interview, please give an advice to a newcome in street photography, and a book he/she shouldn’t miss.
It is a way to discover myself, probably between the most interesting ones I experienced in my life so far. It also helps to re-discover and define in a personal way the world I live in. About the advice: if you believe that it will happen, it will happen. Just work as hard as you can. And if there would be one book not too miss, it would be Christophe Agou’s ‘Life below’.