I more or less always took photographs. At the beginning, 12 or something, I remember doing lots of posed portraits of a friend and of my sisters. Then at about 16 or 17 I went to the city centre with a friend and shot a whole film of things I saw. I came back home very excited because it felt great and different and I thought the result would be too. I wanted to take the film out immediately, only I destroyed it by mistake. I never saw those photographs. I cried for hours, my father told me off too and didn’t console me. He’s very tough sometimes. Then he gave me one of his Nikon Fs (he was a photographer at the beginning of his career) and I continued taking photographs. I never thought about it.
Thinking wasn’t my thing. Just before separating from my first husband and daughter, I took some self portraits for the first time. I felt I was going mad at the time.
[I’m interested to know what else you did then – how did you earn a living, how did photography fit into that? At what point did you say – ‘I am a photographer’ – if you did?]
I was a waitress while studying in London and when I finished my 2 years of business and journalism at the LCP (by which time I was already living with my first husband) I found a job as an admin in a Brazilian company (Globo) who had just set up an international office in London to sell their telenovelas. Lush offices, family atmosphere. I left after 2 years to work for a computer company, again as a sales admin with languages. At that point, in my twenties, I was not taking that many photographs. On holiday, yes, and when Agatha was born (I was 28 then). I remember that when I separated from my husband at 30 I picked up my camera to do different things for the first time. But it’s very vague in my mind, and it stopped as soon as I had left him and was with someone else. Photography seems to be something I need to face and express myself, and solitude.
It’s only been about a couple of years since I dared say “I am a photographer” when people ask me what I do. I never felt I was good enough to say this before and even now I feel sometimes that to say this I should be making some money too. It’s difficult to explain. I am a photographer inside, that I feel sure of now. Other people’s view of the matter is the other side of that feeling.
Then, while with my second husband, I continued taking photographs, again in a fairly pedestrian way. But I was good with my children I think, photographing them, I mean, even my daughter with whom I had a difficult relationship. After separating from my second husband, I cried for about a year. Then one day I decided to do a photography competition I had seen in a free magazine, and so I called this acquaintance who was a photographer. And that’s where it really started.
[ How did you do in the photography competition?]
I didn’t win anything and wasn’t mentioned at all. The same happened when I did another competition a few months later with Photo magazine. The theme was music and I’d done various self portraits. I was disappointed both times. My ego too.
After a few months I bought a digital camera, and then I started taking photographs more and more regularly. I did a lot of self portraits at the beginning. It’s rare now. I also started photographing weddings and christenings. I was going to the studio every day and learned a lot.
[What did you learn? –how? –what did you need to know? How did you know what you needed to know?]
I learned technique, I learned Photoshop, I learned also about myself. I didn’t know what I needed, I had started all this from instinct, and I trusted the photographer who had encouraged me in the first place.
Then that stopped suddenly and I had to start working alone from home. I found the loneliness very hard. That’s when a friend introduced me to Flickr. Slowly I started uploading photographs, and looking at other photographers. I didn’t realise it at the time but that really broadened my horizon and motivated me. It gave me that push I needed to work on my stuff which I had done very rarely before except in a professional way.
[Could you say a bit more about how Flickr developed you as a photographer – what do you get from it -is it technique, idea, or just not feeling alone?]
I can’t say I get anything technically out of Flickr. Technique is not my thing per se anyway. No, I’d say that what I get is a wide variety of good and sometimes exceptional work. I’m sure it also gave me ideas, not directly because I have a thing about doing the same thing as other people (I want to feel special I suppose) but definitely indirectly. It made me see more and it made me improve I think. And then the other very important aspect of it is recognition. Even though we alone can really push ourselves, the fact that other people see something in what you do is great, and in a very few cases a source of strength and inspiration.
I’m amazed at how I changed in those two years and I am really grateful for it. I feel I am finally free to do what I want, that it’s ok, that I don’t necessarily need everyone’s approval.
[ I know you’re a reader & I know you have a knowledge of art – how does your work, your absorption in photography relate to other cultural things? Does the fact that you are fluent in three languages affect the way you think about things? Does your status as someone coming from another culture affect the way you look at Greece for example?]
I think all forms of art (including writing) are related. How can I call it. I feel I am alert to, and sometimes find the occasional truth, something that seems to express exactly what life is. I think knowledge of languages just makes you receptive to more, as if I could tune in to more things, and see how it’s all just one thing maybe – nature and human beings.
I always feel a little bit on the outside, even when I’m in Belgium.
So the way I see it, photography saved me. It is about being alive and working alone and it is intimately connected with what is inside me. I never know what is going to happen when I take my camera, whether there is going to be a connection . And I can’t even say I understand what I’m doing most of the time. I don’t try to. But it enables me to exorcise what I can’t put into words I think. The beauty and sadness to be found everywhere. The flashes of truth, what it is like to be alive. Because when I look at my life, it feels as if I’ve grown older along with my photography. And when I say anger fuels it, it’s because I always think that when anger takes hold of me, something I don’t understand and can’t control is happening to me, something old, and that is interesting and challenging. And the only way to change is to be aware of it. I think I have a lot of anger in me. I realise I don’t separate photography from myself. I think it’s an extension of myself, my words.
[How do you define yourself –artist? Photographer? Or does this not matter? How do you define/think about the people whose work interests you? What makes you push yourself photographically –concretely, what lies for example behind the fact there’s a distinct change of style in the current postcard – https://www.flickr.com/photos/96480390@N07/albums/72157655929042888 – series. Is it the equipment? The location?]
A photographer I’d say. It matters. I’m not sure I’m an artist. I love art, but that is different. I think of every person whose work interests me as a person first of all, bizarrely enough maybe.
The postcards series was an idea that came to me from the fact that I couldn’t really download photographs from my camera at my parents. It was difficult because of the size first of all (I like to see my work big on the screen before I decide what to do with it), and also quality, technique which are less controllable on my phone. That’s how I decided to use the editing stuff on the phone as well. It was interesting and fun. I was not aware of pushing myself, just of doing something different. And I think it all came from the need I have to work all the time on the photographs I take, and not to stop completely communicating with Flickr.