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Interview with Julia Anna Gospodarou

Introduction

It’s now six years ago that I last did an interview for BWVISION.COM. I didn’t feel I could add much to the overwhelming amount of interviews with various artists all over the Internet without avoiding the response ‘why even read this interview? – It’s always the same’. So why bother? But every so often an interesting artist, who’s drawing attention in such positive and inspiring ways with such consistency over a long period of time, is making such an impact on photography, that I felt the need to discover some interesting insights on fine art photography through an interview with this artist. The artist I’m introducing here not only creates beautiful photographs but also has interesting and thought-provoking ideas on photography that will make you think differently about photography as an art form. Personally, I think, and with me various leading authorities on photography, that the ideas of this artist are seminal for the understanding and evolution of fine art photography and photography in general in the digital age. The artist who triggered me to do the first interview in 6 years, is not only one of the protagonists of a new approach to photography that is increasingly becoming ubiquitous these days, but also an influential artist, author, and educator. What do I mean by this new style of photography? I’m referring to a style of photography where interpretation in post-production has taken an important place. A style that’s the result of a shift that has taken place from the importance of capturing the image in the field and less in post-production, to a way of photography where the importance is on both and sometimes even tipping over to the post-production phase.

The artist I’m interviewing now has called this new approach (en)Visionography and is multiple award-winning photographer and architect Julia Anna Gospodarou.
She’s an artist who has already been interviewed many times for other websites and publications. This interview aims to be different though, with hopefully different questions that are more targeted at getting insight into artistic matters rather than technical matters.
By asking questions I would always ask myself as a fine art photographer, together with the fact that Julia Anna is also a good friend of mine with whom I’ve worked together in the past on various occasions, I hope this interview will become as interesting and as revelatory as I hoped it would be.

The Interview

Q: To start off with (en)Visionography, of course your followers know about this, you’ve written about this concept extensively in the book you wrote together with yours truly, From Basics to Fine Art, you teach workshops around (en)Visionography and curate a very popular photo community on Facebook centred around this concept. If you have to explain this concept to someone who has never heard about it, in an elevator pitch, what would you say then in a few lines? What would you want people to remember in just a few words?

A: I have to say, this is a funny image, thinking about me explaining (en)Visionography in an elevator pitch because I’m so not the “elevator pitch” type. I know nowadays short descriptions are in, but I’m old school (and a rebel), and in the case of (en)Visionography I would need more time to explain it because it is a complex concept. To fully understand (en)Visionography one needs to take the time to assimilate and practice it and this is why I’m teaching workshops about this concept, I’m mentoring students, showing them how they can transform their photography into (en)Visionography, this I why I published a video tutorial about it, and why I wrote the book we published together. They all together can explain this concept, but again, (en)Visionography is so much about a personal interpretation of the world, that it can be adapted to everyone. You were the first one who heard me talking about (en)Visionography a few years ago in our conversations, just like you were the first who heard me talking about many other ideas, so you are the one who knows best how this concept was born and how it evolved in time. You also know that there was an instance when someone tried to plagiarize this concept and how much that affected me. So (en)Visionography had so far a very intense life, truly worthy of its intense meaning.

But what is (en)Visionography? In short, it is the freedom to do photography in your own style, taking inspiration from your own life, experiences and sensitivity, making a photography that is expressing in the truest way who you are as an artist.

I think in the past photography was relying too much on the subject photographed, and not enough on the photographer, the artist who creates the image. What I’m trying to do with (en)Visionography is to offer a practical way to bring photography closer to art, and to give the photographer the freedom to be an artist expressing himself through photography.

Artists have always taken inspiration from their lives and the way they see the world, they have always used their art to express themselves and not necessarily to depict the subject. This is what (en)Visionography is about, expressing yourself through the subject and not necessarily presenting the subject. It is a shift in attention from subject to artist, from exterior to interior, because artists rely on what they have inside and not so much on what they see outside, and the world outside is always interpreted by an artist in a very particular and personal way.

The tools we had at our disposition in the past for doing photography were too limited. This is probably why photographers needed to rely so much on the subject and the exterior conditions, because they couldn’t change any of them too much. They could only change the way they looked at the subject. But that was still limiting from an artistic standpoint. But with the advent of digital photography and the editing software we have nowadays at our disposition, we have acquired an exceptional power to free ourselves from limitations and be able to create a new photography, based on who we are as artists and not necessarily on what is in front of us. This is (en)Visionography. It is a new way of making photography. It is the absolute artistic freedom in photography.

Q: Author and educator George De Wolfe said in the foreword of the book From Basics to Fine Art about (en)Visionography and Photography Drawing that they were the most important innovations in B&W photography since Ansel Adams’ zone system. Can you explain what Photography Drawing is in just a few lines and why people like George De Wolfe and other artists and educators think it is so important?

A: First I want to warmly thank George DeWolfe for his considerations. He is a photographer and educator I highly admire and he has the admiration of the entire fine art photography community, so his words and judgment truly mean a lot, not only for me personally or for our book, but as a general statement in the fine art world. I think some people have the ability and knowledge to understand more deeply photography and put it in the larger frame of the history of photography, and George is one of those people. It is not an accident that he can do that. He has a wide and long experience in fine art photography, he has studied with Ansel Adams and Minor White and surely that says a lot about who he is as an artist and about his authority in the field.

Coming back to Photography Drawing, if I was again to do an elevator pitch, I would say that Photography Drawing means to understand how light interacts with volumes and how to practically apply that in photography, based on the principles of working with light in other arts, like classical drawing or painting, where these principles were originally used. This is where the name of this technique comes from, from combining the word Photography with the word Drawing, in an attempt to get the best of both worlds: the creativity one can express in photography, with the principles of light used in drawing. I am familiar with these principles since I have worked for more than 25 years with them in my profession as an architect, so they come very natural to me. Being so familiar with them helps me reduce them to their essence, and I put this essence in the method of Photography Drawing. What I do with Photography Drawing is to offer a simple method to apply these principles to photography. I want to simplify them so everyone can understand how they can use light to communicate their vision in photography, and be able to truly exercise the freedom of creation (en)Visionography gives them. This way of seeing photography has empowered to create so many of my students who are using this technique and principles in their photography, applying it to all kinds of subjects and styles. Just like these principles can be used in other arts to work in any style, this can happen in photography too, and I want to give these tools to everyone, regardless of their preferences or style. Photography as a whole is about light and light will always be present in an image, so this technique can be used in any image. It is more obvious to understand it when you work in black and white, but it can be used just as well for color photography.

This is another concept that we talked about a lot and you witnessed its creation, and I know you understand it because you are familiar too with these principles of light and you know how powerful they are. What I want and what my dream is, is for all photographers, especially fine art photographers who feel the need to express their artistic self in the photography they make, to learn about these principles and be able to use them freely in their work. That would be so liberating for photography, just as liberating as it was for other arts.

Q: You’re a professional photographer and artist. There are many examples of photographers/artists saying that they don’t want to turn professional as that may take the passion and fun out of their hobby, or take the creativity out of the creative process and it just becomes another daytime job. Personally, as a professional photographer myself, I don’t share that view and I’m living and working with so much more enjoyment and intent than ever before when I had a daytime job. What’s your view on this and did turning pro make you less passionate about your previous hobby and perhaps less creative?

A: I don’t share this view either. I think those who feel less creative if they work professionally in photography have made photography their profession for the wrong reasons. Photography can be the perfect hobby if you only want to create images. But if you want to make photography a business you need to love the business part of it also. Professional photography means running a business where the product you sell is photography. It may take different shapes and it doesn’t only mean creating images, but it can mean many other things photography related. In order for this business to work the photographer needs to put in the time and passion to truly make it work and this means taking care of administrative stuff, advertising, public relations, business planning, traveling around the world sometimes alone, without family or friends, risking even your safety many times when doing that, making difficult business choices, dealing with success and failure, dealing with the uncertainty of tomorrow as a freelancer. All these have nothing to do with photography but are common to any business and they may take a very important amount of time, sometimes even 70% or more of the time you invest in photography, so the photographers who are not enjoying this part of being a professional photographer, or who have decided to do professional photography without knowing what it implies, will be disappointed and will feel less creative.

I personally enjoy the entire process and even if I’m working long hours, often even 16 hours a day, it is always a pleasure to do it. You may ask why? Maybe I don’t enjoy all the boring stuff one needs to do to keep the business running, and I’m sometimes afraid while traveling alone in unknown countries and places, shooting assignments or preparing workshops and other events, but I know what I’m doing is useful, since it is helping me create the photography I envision and promote this type of photography, to make it available to other artists. So what I get from my efforts is very fulfilling and it is fueling my creativity and joy to do photography, despite the amount of work I have to invest in it, which scares many others.

I’m telling to everyone who wants to listen, that without serious effort nothing worth and durable can be created and that the success I have is not an accident and I am not “lucky”, like I hear many saying, but there is a huge amount of work I invested in photography, and also the years before doing photography professionally, when I accumulated all the knowledge and experience that allows me to be a professional photographer now, and I did it with a great enthusiasm and joy. I never do something I’m not passionate about. Life is too short to waste it being safe and comfortable while living without passion. So I will always choose to risk and do it with passion, rather than let something I love go just to be safe. I think this treat of character is helping me in running a business and still keep being creative and innovative.

Q: Let’s talk about the emotional impact of photography as an art form. Looking back in the history of art, in general, there have been a few forms of art that are considered the dominating art forms: painting, music, literature, and architecture. Photography has just been recently accepted as an art form. Personally, I always find that especially music and literature have a deeper and longer-lasting emotional impact than static visual art forms like painting and photography. A visual art like cinematography on the other hand, which is visually more dynamic with sequences of images, feels to me to reach deeper and last longer as well, emotionally. A few beautifully written lines, a couple of chords can instantly move me deeply. I find this to be less the case with painting and photography and therefore also harder to create that with a photo as an artist.

  • How do you see this? Do you have something similar where you have a preference or personal hierarchy in art forms that have a more emotional impact?
  • And how does this affect the way you try to create art with photography? Is it challenging or does it limit you?

A: I am passionate about all kinds of art. Music, painting, architecture, literature, photography. I don’t know how to explain it because it is so deeply rooted inside of me and it comes so natural, but I feel an immense joy when I see true art and I cannot compare that feeling with anything else. Maybe the feeling of true love can be compared with that, but I couldn’t find any other feeling closer to it. From when I was a young child I was passionate about painting and I even did some timid attempts at doing it myself. I was always told that I have a very good sense of color, from a young age already, but I didn’t pursue painting because I loved architecture more so I became an architect. So I was always moving in creative circles and I was coming in contact with different kinds of art, which always fueled my creativity and fulfilled my need and desire for consuming and making art. If I was lucky for one thing, that was understanding from early on that I love art and I want to have to do with it in any way I can. I have to give credit to my mother for me loving art and literature so much, just like I give credit to my father for loving photography and other cultures and civilizations of the word. I was lucky to have two parents that infused in me creative directions and the love for art and authenticity.

I have to say that being in contact with art and loving it has been of tremendous help in my photography because it liberated me. The concept of (en)Visionography wouldn’t have been possible if I wasn’t thinking about creativity in the free way I am thinking, and if I wasn’t familiar with other kinds of art and how artists think and feel. This is why I want to bring photography closer to art, because this is how I see it, this is how I create it, and because I know that the most important in art is the freedom of creation. One cannot create if they have limitations and unfortunately the most limitations are the ones we set to ourselves. In my opinion this is the only thing that separates artists from non-artists, the creative limitations and censorship they set to themselves. This is why thinking out of the box is so important and why challenging the status quo is so rewarding. I’m not talking about challenging the status quo just to go against it, for the sake of negating what has been done before, but to make questions of the type “what if” and answer those questions in a different way than it is answered normally. I’m doing that all the time and I hope that at least part of what I feel and think can be seen in my photography work. Because what I do with photography is to try to put everything I have in my mind and soul into it so I can create something that represents my artistic self.

Q: What is more important in your work: aesthetics, meaning or emotional impact? Is there an element that should always be there in your work? And what can you leave out and why?

A: The thing I’m striving for most in my work is authenticity, and this is actually what I’m striving for in my entire life. All the other aspects you mentioned are very important also but they only help me express myself in an authentic way. Aesthetics are very important in art, of course, since they can help you create a language to address to the viewer. Somehow I see aesthetics as the mathematics of art, a set of rules and principles that are the basis of visual representation and that can create a communication between the artist and the viewer that takes place at a logical level. On the other hand, emotion creates a communication between the artist and the viewer that takes place on a subconscious level, which is much more subtle and refined than the communication one can achieve at a logical level. It is what we call the gut feeling. The human nature is made of two components, one being logic and the other being emotion. I think aesthetics in a work of art address to the logic component of human nature, while the emotional impact to the emotional component of the human nature.

We may not even be aware that both these components work together when we interact with a work of art, but they exist and they give birth to our reaction in front of a work of art. This is why I think in photography emotion and aesthetics are both essential and necessary in order to create a meaningful photograph.

The meaning of a work of art is the third component of a work of art and is, in my opinion, something in between emotion and aesthetics. The meaning someone will take away when looking at a photograph or coming in contact with any work of art depends very much on particularities that have to do with the viewer and with what they can relate to when they experience a work of art. This is an aspect that is very difficult to control by the artist and one of the reasons some artists feel the need to accompany their work with an explanation of the meaning of that specific work. While meaning is very important also, I think it can only come after the viewer experiencing the emotional and aesthetic part of his interaction with a work of art, and it can be quite different from viewer to viewer.

So what I think is that, not that I would take out the meaning from a work of art, but that this is the aspect that we have the least control over when we create and that we should be able to be open about it and leave the viewer the freedom to give to a work of art the meaning they feel fit, even if sometimes that would be different from our intentions. This is why we put our work out in the world, to be seen and experienced, to create reactions and make people think and feel, and not to control this process. Just like the artist needs the freedom to create, the viewer needs the freedom to experience a work of art.

Q: I think that aesthetics is an aspect of art that cannot be omitted. If there’s no aesthetic aspect, I find it less appealing and would almost say it is not art. Looking at all your photos that all exude an almost perfectionistic aesthetics, I’m assuming that you find aesthetics one of the most important elements of art as well. Is there something like a universal sense of aesthetics and how do you create aesthetics and incorporate aesthetics into your work? Is there some (internal) guideline you follow?

A: I think I touched some aspects of this question in my previous answer but it is interesting to think about if there is a universal sense of aesthetics that guides my work. What I think is more like that there are some general principles that one learns from educating oneself artistically and from experiencing art in different ways a long enough period of time, so the experience can turn into knowledge and then turn into instinct, and from there into an internal guideline. I think most of the time this becomes a subconscious guideline that is there and helps you make decisions without having the impression that you’re making them. This also gives you the freedom to interpret aesthetics in a personal way and go beyond what is universally believed if this serves your work better and makes the emotion stronger. If I was to give a quick answer I would say that I just “feel” aesthetics, like a gut feeling, but I know that would be a superficial answer because of the fact that I feel aesthetics comes from a long experience I have with consuming and creating art. This can be a long process when you do it without being guided and this is why when I work with my students I’m trying to give them the essence of my experiences and knowledge in the creative field, that will shortcut this process and give them aesthetic confidence much quicker.

Q: Beautiful images are often instantly recognizable. What, in your view, is the main element that separates ‘wow’ from ‘meh’ when it purely comes to aesthetics in photography – what is its secret?

A: I think there are 2 elements in a good work of art, not only photography but any art. One is emotion and the other is surprise. If the artist expresses a true emotion and he expresses in a different way from what the viewer was used to experience, then I think it is much easier for the viewer to interact with the photograph and the interaction creates a stronger impression.

What we ask from a good work of art is first to make us feel an emotion and I think that, in order to be able to create emotion, the artist needs to first feel emotion himself. This is what gives birth to the desire to create and, in my opinion, when this desire to create exists, it is much more probable that the work, photograph or anything else, will be authentic. When a work of art is authentic, meaning it represents the personal point of view and emotion of the artist, then the element of surprise is more likely to exist, because each artist is unique and has a personal style and vision. This is how I explain the process of creation and what in my opinion can make a “wow” photograph. The true emotion of the artist and his courage to express him or herself in an authentic way. I know many would like a simple recipe here, on how to create a “wow” photograph, but I don’t think there is any. There are principles that help but they mean nothing without the photographer truly feeling his work.

Q: I’m interested to know whom you consider your main artistic influence(s) in life, and now I’m not necessarily referring to a photography influence since I know you’re an architect and that predates your photography achievements. Is there someone or maybe a work of art to whom/which you always fall back to in terms of inspiration, the way of thinking, etc.? And what is your favorite art form besides photography and architecture?

A: I’m very eclectic as for my influences, not only artistic but generally. I tend to pick many things from many places and I’m always curious and this makes me have a very wide angle of interests. I can talk about what I loved to explore and experience in my life, about people I admired, and maybe this influenced me as a whole, but it would be very difficult to stand to just one person, or even a few. I think we are the sum of all the experiences we have in our life, of all the knowledge we acquire and all the things that move us. Those who inspired me were not only photographers, obviously, and not even only visual artists. I’ve been impressed by writers, musicians, painters, sculptors, architects, and each and every one of those I admired inspired me and enriched my soul. I’ve been impressed by writers like Dostoyevsky, Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Albert Camus, poets like E. E. Cummings, musicians like Beethoven, Bach or Gershwin, architects like Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas or Frank Lloyd Wright, painters like Klimt, van Gogh or the Expressionists, choreographers like Maurice Béjart, and the list goes on. In photography, I have a big admiration for Henri Cartier-Bresson for his amazing artistic intuition and for Richard Avedon, for the combination of classic balance and surprising tension you can find in his work.

As for what comes besides photography and architecture as a favorite, it is music but literature comes very close to it.

I think the true answer to this question is that I embrace all kinds of art and I love to be stimulated by looking at, or listening to, or reading what others have imagined about the world. It fuels my imagination and gives me passion for life.

Q: Imagine a world without cameras, pre-Internet, pre-digital, pre-industrialization. You have a hobby, what would that hobby be and why?

A: The same hobby I always had. Traveling. Exploring new worlds and civilizations. I am fascinated by that for as long as I know myself. If there were no planes, trains or cars, I’d be just traveling by ship or even riding a horse or walking. And if I couldn’t take photos because there would be no cameras, I would write about my experiences and about the world. It would be a written form of (en)Visionography.

Sometimes I wish the world was like this. I would love to travel in the past and experience the life of another era. But since I can’t do that for real, I’m trying to live it in my photos.

Q: Talking about the digital era, I always wonder if I would’ve made it in the world of photography if we wouldn’t have digital tools, and Internet communities to share our work with. What’s your view on this day and age of the Internet, digital technology and the role photography plays in our daily life, especially through the Internet, did it open new ways for you? Is it a blessing or a curse? Or are we maybe on the verge of a new artistic medium?

A: It is definitely a blessing and I think, if not for the Internet, photography wouldn’t have evolved so quickly and so extensively. I think the Internet is a blessing but it can be a curse sometimes. It is a very powerful mean and like all powerful means it can turn against you if you don’t handle it well. But if you use it in a positive way it can make much easier working as an artist, since it can give you the 2 things artists need most, it can give you exposure and interaction. Of course Internet is also good from a business point of view, being a much less expensive advertising tool than the traditional advertising tools, but for me and I know that for many other artists also, the most important thing Internet gave us was exposure and a platform to interact with other artists and with art lovers.

I was doing photography for a long time before using the Internet, but I can say that Internet gave the decisive boost to me working as a professional artist in the field of photography.

I don’t think I would have done photography professionally in the traditional way. One can never know but I know Internet removed many difficulties that would have been for me insurmountable if I tried to do photography on an international level like I do now but with traditional means. I think I would have just been a starving artist in that case or people would have found out about my work after I was dead, or probably never. I am naturally too introvert and too low profile to advertise myself efficiently in the real world, but Internet helps with this tremendously and that’s why so many artists feel so comfortable promoting their work online, at least until they become strong enough to do it in other ways. I am now i