24 October 2013 - NEKTARIOS 'NERRIS' MARKOGIANNIS - U.N. PHOTOGRAPHER


NEKTARIOS 'NERRIS' MARKOGIANNIS


U.N. PHOTOGRAPHER

G'day folks,

Today I feature a very talented man who gave up a good job as an investment banker to travel the world and follow his passion for photography - NEKTARIOS 'NERRIS' MARKOGIANNIS. I hope you enjoy some fine examples of this man's work.

Welcome, Nerris ...


TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR PHOTOGRAPHIC JOURNEY.

 Born in Greece in 1972, I studied Economics at University of Essex, Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at the London College of Communication, and History of Photography at the University of St. Andrews. After a career in investment banking in the City of London, and a short stint in academia my passion for photography prevailed, and I left the UK where I lived for 16 years. I have been complementing my training in photojournalism by regularly attending different workshops around the world. My work took a totally different direction after my participation in workshops organized by MAGNUM photographer Nikos Economopoulos.  Since then he has been my mentor and friend and I will always feel indebted to him for helping me change the way I see the world.

WERE YOU INTERESTED IN PHOTOGRAPHY AS A KID?

 I was indeed.  I cannot remember how this came about, but when my dad gave me my first camera I remember strolling around and trying to shoot absolutely everything.  I still have the negatives from those times, but I am too embarrassed to share them with others.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CAMERA?

  My first camera was a Minolta V2 rangefinder, which my dad game me some time in the early 80s.  It is a lovely all-mechanical 1958 rangefinder with a very bright fixed 40mm f/2 lens.  Since then I remained a passionate user of rangefinders.

WHAT EQUIPMENT DO YOU PREFER TO USE NOW?

 For the past five years I have been working with digital Leica’s. I currently own an M9 and a Monochrome.  Being a Black and White photographer I am in love with my Monochrome.  I only have three lenses. A Summicron 50mm and two Summicron 35mm.  That’s about it.  Oh and I still shoot a lot of film with my beloved Leica M6.  However when I have to work for the United Nations (UN), depending on the assignment and its risk, I use the equipment provided by the UN (Canons 1D Mk IV and 5D Mk II with a large selection of lenses).

WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A CAMERA OPERATOR?

 Camera Operator?  When I was probably 13 years old.  Photographer: I became 8 years ago (I am now 41)

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?

 Almost everything.  I love working for a big international organization, and creating work that could potentially make a difference.  I love working with similar minded people in challenging environments.  I get to travel a lot to remote places, little about which is known.  Unfortunately the places I usually visit are not what someone will call holiday destinations, but what I see and what I feel – although upsetting - I believe change me as a person.  They surely have a strong impact on me.

WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A PHOTOGRAPHER?

 Disappointment.  Working hard and not getting what I want.  I am very very strict with myself and with the work I choose to show, and this can be frustrating.  One should not forget that in photography you are not creating an image out of nothing.  What we photograph does exist.  It exists may be for a fraction of a second, and we are called to capture it.  If we don’t, it could be frustrating  at least for me.  Sometimes when I look back into my archive I feel uneasy or uncomfortable about certain things that I have photographed.  Memories, smells and sounds come back and haunt me.


DO YOU WORK FOR YOURSELF, OTHERS OR BOTH?

Kind of both.  I work as photographer for the United Nations.  On the one hand I get paid to do my hobby and on the other, this “job” pays me enough to be able to develop my own projects.  A very important thing is that apart from some rather boring requests, working for the United Nations allows me to develop my own projects in the host country, thus making images I could use both for the UN and for my own very personal portfolio.

WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME INVOLVED IN PHOTOGRAPHY?

  I was an investment banker working in the City of London.  I had briefly worked in academia but allow me to say that my heart was burning from desire to make images.  I felt a calling if you like.  I needed to make images.  I now cannot think of anything more important to me than recording the world around me.

WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?

 That I manage to give up a successful career as investment banker and follow my heart by becoming a photographer.

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?

  I am one of the two photographers working for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), and as such I am responsible for covering the mission’s activities.  At the same time I get the opportunity to shoot for myself.  Apart from that, I am working on two rather long term projects, one around the Black Sea, which I started 3 years ago and I guess it will take me another two years to complete, and another in Myanmar, which I started two years ago and I will need at least two more (long) trips there in order to complete.  I am also about to start my PhD, which is going to take some serious time and energy, so wish me luck. 


WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE SUBJECT?

 People, people and people, and of course where those people live.  Their lives and surroundings.

WHAT INSPIRES YOU? THINGS? PEOPLE?

 People inspire me a lot.  Their personality, story and environment. I think it was Elliot Erwitt who said “I dislike landscapes, I only like people and plastic flowers”… well I do subscribe to his point of view.

DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR EMERGING PHOTOGRAPHERS?

 Some people might tell young photographers do they not need to study photography, or anything else.  I disagree; we all need to learn our trade.  But having a good educational background helps a lot.  I cannot remember any of my favourite photographers who did not have a good academic background.  Education is not necessarily the solution, but you need to understand the world around you, to be able to interpret that world.  I would encourage young and emerging photographers to look at as many photographic works as they can. 
  
 However, as we live in the digital era and the era of Internet, one must be very very careful about what he/she is looking at.  Photography might seem the easiest of the arts, but is not.  I actually do think that it is probably one of the most difficult.  To be able to shoot a mundane everyday moment and transform it into art requires a lot of skills and the ability to see.  We all look around us but we do not necessarily “see”.  Lastly I would like to say that success does not come in an instant.  It takes time and disappointment, so work hard and one day you will hopefully be rewarded.


WHAT IS THE MOST EXOTIC DESTINATION IN WHICH YOU HAVE WORKED?

 It is very difficult to say.  I usually work in what others consider “exotic” so I am not sure I can choose the most exotic.  May be India? Or Myanmar?  Certainly Myanmar is my favourite place, but I am not sure I see it as “exotic”.  I try to avoid an orientalist way of looking at places.

DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED SCHEDULE?

 Not really, I tend to plan each individual assignment based on its particularities and the reality in the filed.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE PLACE OR TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH?

 Myanmar and India are my two most favourite places, but time? Not really.  When I get to a place, in the beginning I go out all day trying to get the feeling and hopefully understand the local dynamics.  Then I will go out whenever I think it is appropriate, when I believe that I can get the images I want.  Here I must add that Haiti is also an extremely interesting place.  People are more difficult here and they do not want to be photographed.  I think that this makes the work more interesting.  But I have only been in this new place for a month, I will need more time before I can say for sure that I love it or that I find it extremely interesting.

WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN YOUR WORK?

 To discover new things as well as my own limits.  Working with people can be very challenging.  


HAVE YOU DONE COMMERCIALS?

 No not really.  I guess I was lucky enough to make my living shooting what I like and not to have do commercials.  Please let me explain myself in order not to be misunderstood.  I do not consider commercials of lesser value.  It is just not what really inspires me.  I dislike the idea of loosing my editorial freedom, and I also dislike the idea of having to do something on demand.  I photograph only something that has to do with me, and I never did anything that I did not want to do. I do not do editorial and I never do advertising. No, my freedom is something I do not give away easily.

WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?

 I cannot remember.  I do not pay attention to compliments (not that I have received many).

DESCRIBE THE FUNNIEST MOMENT YOU EXPERIENCED IN YOUR WORK?

  Although photography is not exactly a team “sport”, I enjoy going out with at least one more person.  It is only after we finish shooting that we can relax and have a chat over what happened during the day.  This is a point we can have a laugh.  I cannot remember the funniest moment ever, as I cannot recall one that left a strong impression on me.

WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED?

 My mentor once told me (and actually said it in an interview too) that my early work was old-fashioned photojournalism.  I was not sure at the time what he meant, but I guess I have seen what he meant, and I am in the process of changing it.


WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU AS A PHOTOGRAPHER?

 No I do not think so.  I lived a very middle class life in the west of Greece.  No excitement and no peaks or lows.  In the beginning I felt like photographing everything, but as I started to read more and more and see more and more, I tried to develop my own work and aesthetics, certainly influenced by the works of my favorite photographers without hopefully copying them.  But nothing happened in my life that has influenced me.  Or at least I am not able to determine it.

HAVE YOU WON ANY PRIZES OR AWARDS?

  No I have not, I am not sending my work to competitions, or to be honest I send it only to a very very few competitions that make sense to me.  I cannot bother with prizes and awards; I am on a steep curve working on improving my own photography.  I photograph primarily for myself and then for everybody else, so when I am shooting I am not shooting with a competition or award in mind.  I shoot what makes sense to me.  Another reason is that I usually work on long term projects so good images come slowly.  Lastly I do not shoot “stories” in the traditional sense of it.  I always prefer a more “fragmented” view of my reality, of my version of the “story”.  A very personal and possibly biased version.

OTHER THAN PHOTOGRAPHY, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?

 I love reading.  Almost anything, but I prefer to read something related to photography, art, philosophy and history.  Because of my work with the UN, I end up reading loads of books on politics and international relations, sociology and occasionally anthropology.  I also enjoy cooking (friends say that I am a good cook, and they seem to enjoy my food), and having friends around, as well as good music, of any genre, though I am trying to discover the music of the places I travel to.

DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.

 Any day out in the field shooting.  If what I am shooting is challenging, even better.

WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?

  For the next one possibly two years, I will be working for the United Missions in Haiti (MINUSTAH).  At the same time, and in my own spare time I will continue my personal work in Myanmar and around the Black Sea.  After that who knows.  I guess that I will be at some other post-conflict place again with the UN.  I am also trying to set up my own photography gallery in the west of Greece.  A gallery dedicated to photography, where we will also organize tutorials, and residencies for artists.  It is a little difficult to coordinate everything from Haiti but I am working hard on it.  And of course I would like to finish my PhD at some point.


IF YOU PUT TOGETHER A COLLECTION OF PHOTOGRAPHS FOR THE LEADERS OF THEWORLD, WHAT WOULD IT BE ABOUT?

  I think that I would have to use some of the photos from James Nachtwey’s book “Inferno”, and some from Sebastiao Salgado’s work in Serra Pelada.  I will force them to look carefully at those photos and think what they can do to change what is depicted in those images.

WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST DREAM?

  Oh my greatest dream…I guess to leave my mark in photography.  To have my work recognised…oooohhh and world peace…no I am kidding, I am not that naive to believe that this world can have its problems solved.  This is not what those in power really want.  And I do not believe that my photos can really solve the world’s problems.  Yes sometimes they can sensitize people, but what does this actually mean?  That people will leave the comfort of their own sofa,  use their own money and save others in other parts of the world.  No this is not going to happen.  I will be happy if some people see my photos and feel the problems are their own, I mean sympathize in the real sense of the term .  If things change even for one person that I have photographed, I will be ecstatic.  But I would like to create a body of work that will be considered important.  We are talking about a dream right?  Dreaming is free…so that is what I dream about.

DO YOU PREFER COLOUR, BLACK AND WHITE OR SEPIA?

  I consider myself as a Black and White photographer.  I thought it was a little cliché to say that “I see in Black and White” without being colour blind, but I had a colleague recently telling me the same thing, that I am indeed a Black and White photographer.  I started shooting in Black and White out of necessity; when I was young I was developing my films myself; it was easy and cost efficient.  Later, when money was not necessarily the issue I continued shooting Black and White.  I guess my aesthetic had already been such that colour did not matter.  Colour is an extra headache without necessarily adding something really important to the image itself.  Well I know that this sounds a little extreme, but this is how I feel anyway.  I do not have to apologise for not liking colours. The abstraction you get from B&W is what I love.  Like the impressionists, details are not important to me.  The general feeling is.  I think that Daido Moriyama has said most eloquently: “The reason why I think black and white photography is erotic is completely due to my body’s instinctive response. Monochrome has stronger elements of abstraction or symbolism. This is perhaps an element of taking you to another place. Black and white has that physical effect on me. That’s just the way I respond to things.”

ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?  

 Photographers had been a slave of the camera for a long time. Good camera, good lens, Leica, etc. What we should try is to make the camera our own slave. Photography is not about the camera. I like to wander the streets for hours, with no real destination in mind. I go into the back alleys, and photograph whatever I find interesting.  The photograph is a magical thing. At the very beginning a photo is produced from a photographer’s specific perspective. However, when it is presented in front of different viewers various perspectives will be developed by viewers, which will enrich the content of the photo.

I would also like to add a comment about modern art, especially what is considered  to be modern photography. It is easy today to “create” whatever you want and call it   “art”.  Deep down it is not.  Art has rules and when you break some you do it for a   reason, and this must be tested and go though the test unharmed.  I think that things are quite simple.  If an educated person (and by educated I do not necessarily mean University or formal education) looks at something and he/she cannot understand it, then there is a problem; and the problem is not with the viewer, the recipient of art.  Experimentation is good, is also necessary, but I am against the idea that whatever the artist offers is good, and if you do not get it then you are an idiot.   
 

HOW MANY COUNTRIES HAVE YOU VISITED TO TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS?

Twenty-five.

DO YOU PAY PEOPLE FOR PHOTOGRAPHS?

  No, never.  I refuse to pay even if this means that they may become a little hostile.  It is not only against my principles, but it will potentially pass the wrong message and will make it more difficult for other photographers to work with certain communities. 

DO YOU FEEL GUILTY TAKING PHOTOGRAPHS OF POVERTY-STRICKEN PEOPLE?

 I sympathise with them, but I do not feel guilty.  There is nothing to feel guilty about.  I do not approach people whether poverty stricken, or those in conflict or post conflict environments, feeling that I am doing something wrong.  I am there to get a story and get that story out.   There are cases where all social norms as we understand do not hold anymore.  In these cases people actually want your presence as photographer to documents what is happening.  In other occasions, you need to find a way to get the photos you want while respecting your “subject’s” privacy.  I understand that this feel like an oxymoron, but it can happen and in a strange almost metaphysical way they give you their silent permission to work.

WHAT WAS YOUR MOST DIFFICULT PHOTOGRAPHIC ASSIGNMENT?

  I do not do the so called war or conflict photography, I actually prefer to get to a place after the conflict or before.  Therefore, I cannot say that any of my photographic assignments was particularly difficult.  It is more about the conditions I find, and the process of adapting to those conditions.  In that respect, I guess that Darfur was a difficult one.  When I go to a place I do not go as a visitor.  I spend time, usually months, sometimes years.  The adaptation process can be difficult.


More fine photographs:











Mob. Phone (International): +372 592 92 887

Mob. Phone (Haiti): +509 44 57 98 93

Mob. Phone (Greece): +30 6908 65 14 56


skype: nektariosmarkogiannis

www.fotografevi.com


Clancy's comment: Thanks, Nerris. Appreciate you making the time for our interview. Agree with you about some locations, and subjects, haunting you. Love black and white photography as well. It's so clear, and less distracting.

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