Spyros Papaspyropoulos has been at street photography for several years now. His work, although constantly evolving, is solidly good work. I see a lot of Bruce Gilden, a hint of Roger Ballen, and even a dash of Robert Frank, from time to time. But I also see Spyros too. His own vision and signature have emerged unmistakably. He is at home in both color and monochrome, and can make engaging images up close (like Cohen), or from a distance with more equanimity, like Cartier-Bresson. The work is, as I say, good solid street photography. I wanted to explore Spyros and his craft a little more, so we began an interview over the internet waves between New York City and the Greek Islands. Here’s that discussion:
Michael: Spyros, why street photography?
Spyros: I like the unexpected. The unpredictable. I enjoy meeting new people, going to new places, living mini adventures, roaming the streets, and just going with the flow. I respect photographers that work in studios because photographing a subject in a controlled environment requires patience and precision. I do not have those qualities, so shooting in the streets is something that comes naturally to me. I get a kick out of it. I also feel that it works as a kind of psychotherapy for me. I am always much calmer and much more focused after a good street hunt.
Michael: What is street photography, for you?
Spyros: For me street photography is photography. I haven’t chosen how I see things and how I use my camera to grab these things I see, it has just happened because I like going with the flow. Street photography is a way to express myself, a way to share with the world my vision of life. Sometimes street photography is a portrait, other times it is an abstract composition, other times it is a candid moment, but whatever it is, for me, street photography is photography.
Michael: How do you feel about the future of street photography given the ubiquity of the camera and the explosive popularity of the genre?
Spyros: I think that street photography is on the rise. It is becoming more and more acceptable and understandable by the masses. Having new cameras pop up every so often also helps increase the interest in photography in general. Consumerism is obviously making people try new cameras and new gear, and what better way to test a camera than to take a walk in the street with it? Also, the rise of the Smartphone and Social Media, the need for people to share in combination with the previously mentioned Consumerism, have created a new breed of humans that want to, or need to, document what they see and share it with the world. I am guilty of this. Sometimes I over share things, but hey, that’s how it goes, right? Now, is this street photography? Hmmm, there is a thin line between street photography and documentary photography. Also there is a thin line between street photography and crappy meaningless photos of random people walking in the streets. But that is another conversation altogether.
Michael: Tell us a little about StreetHunters.net.
Spyros: Three years ago Andrew Sweigart, Rob Heron and myself co-founded StreetHunters.net an online resource for Street Photography. The reason we did this was because we felt the need to share our street photography tips and tricks with our friends. So, when StreetHunters began, we just shared stuff with other fellow street photographers, exchanging ideas and discovering through these discussions what the street photography genre meant for each one of us. 6 months after we first launched we decided to take our website seriously. We had something like 200 followers on Facebook by the time, about 50 Twitter followers and I don’t remember how many website subscribers. So, we made a new website that we organized properly, we decided to stick to a posting schedule and we got to work! At this time Rob left us for personal reasons and Casper Macindoe joined the team. He was with us for a year and his unique perspective on things really helped shape Street Hunters into what it is today. It was fantastic working with that brilliant mind. Once Casper moved on Digby Fullam joined. Digby is a very good street photographer and great with words. He really knows his stuff and has proven to be a very valuable member to the team since he joined. At the moment we post on a regular basis, we produce Street Hunt videos from all over Europe that help viewers understand the Street Photography experience, we review photography books, we offer free in depth critique on photos and we feature street photographers from all over the world. I will close this question with the Street Hunters mission statement:
Street Hunters like us, start seeing things in another perspective. We become vigilant, prone to details and curious about everything. We see beauty amongst ugliness and evil amongst beauty. It is like someone removed the blinds from our eyes.
Michael: Sounds like a fascinating and rewarding project. Tell me, who are some of the street photographers that have influenced your work, both masters and contemporaries?
Spyros: The list of street photographers that have influenced my work, both masters and contemporaries keeps changing and growing. I will not expand by writing the names AND the reasons why or how each photographer has affected me, but just the names of the photographers that have influenced me. If your readers have been into photography for at least a month, they should know most of these names: André Kertész, HCB, Robert Doisneau, Steve McCurry, Weegee, Bruce Gilden, Martin Parr, Alex Webb, Joel Meyerowitz, Boogie, Dirty Harrry, Lukas Vasilikos, Tavepong Pratoomwong, Gabi Ben Avraham, Ilan Ben Yehuda, Yves Vermin and of course I am influenced and affected daily by my team mates Andrew Sweigart and Digby Fullam to whom I owe a huge thank you for putting up with my persistent nature.
Michael: You seem to be at home in both color and black and white. Is there one which you prefer and why, or if not, why not?
Spyros: The b&w vs colour question! I used to ask myself this a lot, especially when I first started shooting in the street. I remember being so confused about what I should do, how I should see things. What a confusing time that was for me… In September 2014 I decided to stop shooting in b&w. It was difficult. I think I shot my last b&w photos in Hamburg. From 2015 I was 100% colour. Why? Well, I think that even though b&w photographs have a nostalgia, a character, an atmosphere that makes them feel a certain way, they are not what we see, not what we experience. I can hear some of you saying, so what?! Well, I agree with you. So what? But this is a personal conscious choice and I am happy I made it because it changed my photography completely. I am happier with what I produce now, even if it not as easy on the eyes as my older b&w work was. So, I choose colour because I think it suits me more, it suits my style and it makes me feel better. This doesn’t mean I will not go back to b&w in the future. The way I feel changes often. I am human after all.
Michael: Are you an analog guy or a digital guy or a hybrid?
Spyros: I have been an analog guy, I have been a hybrid too. Now, I am a digital guy. Ever since I started shooting with my X-Pro1 I have found no need to shoot film again. The results are exactly what I want them to be. Even though I enjoy the experience of analogue photography, my free time is not as much as it used to be and my street photography needs keep growing and expanding. I say this because part of the magic of analogue is to develop your own stuff. If you shoot film and get someone else to do the developing work, then it is not the same, at least for me. So since I can’t get back into that process, I shoot digital and I am very happy about it!
Michael: Tell us about your equipment and method of capturing street photographs.
Spyros: I use a Fujifilm X-Pro1 with an Interfit Flash cord and the Fujifilm EF-X20 flash. My backup camera is a Ricoh GR 16mp. As far as my methods are concerned, well I just act on instinct, I try to see things before they happen and I am constantly looking for interestingly looking people. I believe that when we are facing a choice of taking a photo or not, we should take it. I try to do this as often as possible. I am spontaneous and I try to get the vibe of the place I am shooting in. My biggest weapon is being polite and smiling, that has got me out of a lot of trouble.
Michael: Spyros, if you could change one thing about the “world of street photography” what would it be?
Spyros: Now that is an interesting question! To be honest I have never thought about this, but I think I would say that if I could change something it would be this. I would change how outsiders perceive street photography. People that don’t understand the genre, people that think we are weirdos or perverts with cameras. I would change their point of view and help them understand what we do and why we do it. It is all about art.
Michael: Bruce Gilden?
Spyros: Bruce Gilden is a man with a unique perspective on street photography that has affected the world of street hugely. I find myself VERY influenced by his work. The closeness, the details, the intriguing captures he makes are so inspiring to me. He gave birth to a new sub genre of street that has influenced so many contemporaries. He uses the flash to add drama to his photos to capture moments that otherwise elude us. Yeah, when I grow up I want to be Gilden.