Interview On the Road to Nikos Economopoulos

by Marco Cortesi for LuganoPhotoDays
dated August 23rd, 2012 on the road between Constanța e București in Romania
in occasion of the Black Sea Expedition (workshop On the Road)

How did you approach the world of photography?
When did you become a professional photographer?

Initially I was not interested to take pictures and I never thought of becoming a professional photographer. I approached this world in the 70s through photography books, simply because I liked them.
Just like some people enjoy reading literature books or listening to music, I enjoyed leafing through photo books .
I started taking pictures at the end of the 70s early 80s, and more seriously around 1985.
Only in 1988 I decided to quit my job as a journalist to become a photographer because I felt the need to devote more time to photography, as spending only the weekends or holidays’ time was not enough anymore. Even so, I do not think there’s ever the necessary time for photography.

Which are the photographers who have most impressed you?

I like many photographers but the one that struck me the most and definitely influenced me is Herni Cartier-Bresson, especially with his first photographs of the ’20s and ’30s.

What was your approach with Magnum Photos?

The Magnum has been a very positive experience for me and it still is, because there are many people whom I respect within this environment, both in the present and in the past of the association, as photographers and as people, because with them I share not only the professional ethics but also the human ones.
I come from an outskirt of town and entering the Magnum has allowed me to reach the center of this world, which is photography, and to have a broader view and learn many things.

What are your present and future projects?

At the moment I do not have a specific project and I do not mean to have one, I like traveling without a set goal, look around with visual curiosity and be amazed by what I see; I do not want to create a project, I find that this may limit the experience in some way.
What interests me now is to be amazed and positively surprised by the things that I decided to photograph when I’m “On the Road”. The purpose is just to have visual experiences and sometimes to be able to turn them into photography.
I like to establish a relationship, or rather a game with reality, looking even for small but rather interesting visual events.
Perhaps this is a more artistic attitude, but I do not really care how it is defined, I do not care if I am an artist or a journalist, I am only interested to bump into some visual events as often as possible because this gives me great pleasure.

You spoke of “On the Road”, which is also the name of your website (http://www.ontheroad.gr) and your workshops, how did you get this idea?

I’ve been organizing workshops for fifteen years, but it is only in the last 5 years that I’m it in a much more organized way. The idea came from a friend of mine, who asked me why not organizing the workshops more often to combine things that I like most, for example: taking pictures and traveling to convey the passion and knowledge with other photographers (professional and amateur).
So I tried first with a trip to Turkey by car and then a workshop in Istanbul and one on the Greek island of Karpathos.
I was not sure I would have liked it at first, but I immediately felt at ease with it and I realized that it gave me great pleasure, so I continued.
Every year I add new goals and keep the most interesting, for example next year I will go to Burma and Ireland, but I will definitely be back in Istanbul and Varanasi.
The reason why I continue organizing a workshop on average per month, it is not only to finance my travels, for this reason alone it would be meaningless and it would not work over the long term, but mostly because it gives me great pleasure to share these experiences with others and to see the participants  improving considerably from day to day and between a workshop and the other, considering that many repeatedly return to the session; the combination of these two reasons it’s fundamental to make it all work.

What is the best advice that would you give to young photographers?

In photography, just as in all other things, to get good results you have to be completely dedicated and passionate about it; going out sometimes on weekends it’s not enough! You must dedicate all the time possible to it. It is not necessary to be outside all the time in order to photograph, but it is important to continue to think of photography and visually question your mind; to me, photography is in fact an instrument for visual meditation: questioning yourself and then seeking for the answers through photography. These questions are part of a process that begins before the shooting and continues through and beyond the shooting.
First you decide about the subject for the shooting, without necessarily looking for practical information of the place, maybe just trying to imagine how you would like to see this place. Most of the times, there’s not much time to think during the shooting but right after the thinking process starts again. In fact, this process does not stop and should not stop at the “click”. It should instead continue even later during the editing when you try to insert the shots in your own visual world’s prospective.
The world that you create in your mind and in your soul it’s the ideal world that you want to photograph seeking for it in the reality; perhaps this concept  is the closest one to “personal style”: taking elements from reality that correspond to the universe inside your mind. This process may be unconscious, but inside of us there’s a world in which we fit well and we seek for those images in the reality to get closer to a state of well-being.
These are the things that really matter in photography, not the technique nor the equipment.

Even if the equipment is not important, some readers are surely curious to know what you currently use and have used in the past.

My first camera was a Nikon F, then I used several brands including Olympus, Canon, Contax, but my favorite one is Leica, which is the one I currently use.
Since switching to digital I decided to switch from black / white to color. I now use a Leica M9 with a 35mm lens.
I do believe that it is necessary to simplify things in order to think less on the technique and more on what interests us seriously, which is what we find inside the viewfinder.
Owning many cameras and many lenses does not allow us to create an optimized relationship with what for us is just a tool. For example, using a single lens and with some experience on our side, we could easily frame the scene before the camera picks it up, we can think and see the world through the frame of the camera even without it.

Thank you Nikos for this interview and for the journey just completed, see you in Lugano!

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