Sophie Zografidou: “Every single picture of Greece that you see in my gallery has a piece of my heart in it”

I had the pleasure of following you since my early days on Instagram and I was and still am amazed by all the little stories that your photos carry. For example, this is a stereotypical grandmother that poses as shy as a girl, how did you manage this shot?

Firstly, thank you for inviting me to participate in this interview for Photologio, Dimitri – it’s a real pleasure.
This photo is a personal favourite and was shot in Paxos during a stroll through the narrow alleyways. The open door first grabbed my attention (as doors always do!), then a cat appeared in the frame while I was taking the photo. I soon realised there was someone behind it, then the lady appeared and leaned against the door frame in this relaxed pose, almost inviting me to take her photo. My first thought was please, please don’t move… a most serendipitous moment for a photographer. A friendly smile and greeting go a long way and before I knew it I was answering questions about Australia. It was at this point I told her she looked lovely standing there and asked if I could take her photo .. I could tell that she felt very special, and she was.

Your gallery is a picture perfect Greece.It is a journal of a traveller but not a tourist, someone looking for the essence of a nation, not merely scratching the surface. Could you tell me the itinerary and the photographic highlights of this year long quest?

Wow, where do I begin! Every single picture of Greece that you see in my gallery has a piece of my heart in it. Although I’ve been to Greece several times, this was a very personal photo journal of Greece and of a woman realising a dream – putting her life on hold in Melbourne to travel to the other side of the world for a year to connect with her roots, her culture and to mark a milestone birthday, her 60th. A truly visceral experience. When I travel photography always determines the itinerary. I try to avoid locations with high tourism, they’re too commercialised for me. Give me a small, untouched village or island any time where I can mix with the locals. The highlights for me were the conversations (and the many coffees!) I had with elderly folk I met along the way.

Going through your portfolio is like a movie set in the 60’s. There are very few signs of modern life going on, your vision is a nostalgic one. How did you achieve this?

I fell in love with Greece through my late father’s stories as a young teenager and they were, without a doubt, the catalyst for my first trip to Greece in the early 70’s at the impressionable age of 16. I’ve always remembered those vivid experiences of Greece and to an extent they influenced my mind’s eye, so you’re right in saying my vision is nostalgic. Modern life holds little interest for me, I live and breathe it every day living in Melbourne. I long for simplicity in all areas of my life and my photography reflects that. My style is a subtractive one – I distill parts of reality to create my own vision.

A gust of wind gently raises the skirt the national guard wears while he preforms his precision march. And then you click! You are an avid hunter of decisive moments. What is your mindset while shooting?

This was all about having some fun. I’ve always loved capturing the changing of the guards and being spellbound by their precision and solemnity, but they’re human after all … and young. I visualised them breaking out into a dance and forgetting about those tsarouhia weighing 3kg each – I wanted them to ‘show some leg’ and enjoy their moment in the limelight! Oh yes, that gentle gust of wind worked its magic on those 400 pleats!

One of the reasons I love street photography is that in the split second the shutter closes there is an understanding from the part of the photographer of the inner feelings of the subject. Your street portraits show this trait. What is your approach?

I don’t really have an approach as such – the mere fact that I love the human element of street photography is what drives and guides me. I’m a keen observer and can sense where a story is likely to unfold and I stay with it for as long as it takes to see if that decisive moment presents itself. I’m very discreet but have no qualms either about being at close range on the rare occasion. I also use a good telephoto lens which helps.

It is obvious you didn’t grab a camera and hopped on the airplane. You had the skills and knowledge before. What are your studies and most important what did you shoot before?

I took photography seriously in 2007 after I bought my first DSLR. I immersed myself in it and I was absolutely hooked. I wanted to learn the basics, particularly manual settings and how to use it as a creative tool, so I took some evening classes over a couple of years. It was one of the most exhilarating periods in my life. During this learning period I shot pretty much everything, but my love of detail was always present.

And now I must complain a bit. We see in your gallery every little corner of Greece, some excellent New York streets yet a scant few shots from your homeland and Australia is one big photogenic continent! Why is that?

You’re right and there are a couple of reasons for this – lack of time to shoot and lack of inspiration (I can see a few jaws dropping here, but it’s true).. seriously though, I should make time to be a tourist in my own city this summer.

Do you feel you have discovered the soul of our country click by click? Do you feel complete? Are there places or aspects that you would like to uncover?

This journey of discovery will only end when I’m too old to board a plane! I feel satisfied, but not complete – my glass is always half full. I can’t wait to return to Greece next August and my research has already begun!

Sophie Zografidou Instagram profile
The interview was given on 09.11.2016