I’m very excited to share with you all the unique and inspired work of LefteriAlexander. I have known Alex since I was a child (his father took our family portraits) and he is truly one of a kind. Alex’s hard work, vision and determination to his craft is extremely motivational to witness. His response to the “worst thing about photography” really made me stop and re-think a lot of things, one of my favorite answers to date…read below and see for yourselves!
What first interested you in photography?
I come from a lineage of visual artists. My grandfather and father were both photographers and my great grandfather was a one-eyed painter. My grandfather Lefteri was aerial photographer in the Greek army, and began his studio with the old over-the-head film cameras which my father still has and has continued the tradition by photographing the next generation of clients from rolled film to digital technology. So you see his work aside my father’s work on the wall is a mysterious and graceful thing to behold. My work has evolved and involved, so becoming a radical transformation, continuing the legacy…the third picture on the wall. Although I grew up with a camera in my hands, when I was studying at university in UBC I began artistically expressing my photography by simply taking pictures of trees. That’s where my work truly began.
For me, once I started to understand that not everyone sees things the same way (we all have our own perceptions, our own inherent conditions and subjective view of the world), you quickly realize it doesn’t matter what the camera you have or what the subject is…what matters is who’s taking the picture.
The person who is taking the picture is ultimately imprinting their view of the world, expressing their unique signature in each piece…and as you start to learn about photography then you can start to actually manually account for what you are seeing. There are a myriad of choices on what you invite into the picture, what light is captured you can play with all the elements of sight and shadow and it’s exposed there on one layer. That is what definitely sparked my interest in photography, when I began to understand no two people see things the same way.
If someone walks by a tree, it’s a tree. Unshifting and static. But I was not walking past the tree I was standing in front of it, witnessing it with a sense of wonder and awe. Now the question is how to share my vision, my soul and the eye of my soul’s vision with those I love, and those I have not yet met. This presents a well of creativity where I would begin spending hours on end as a teenager, trying desperately to wrestle beauty up from the depths, to share with my closest friends. At first this was how it really was…more of a need for expression than a normative interest.
What do you love most about it?
I love the constant surprise of it…I love that. Even today (our photo shoot below), we started with a concept, not knowing what it was, or the wheel of where it was going, but it started to spiral there naturally. That’s when the magic happens. Like all creative energy you can’t force it…you just let it breathe, in and out (like the shutter opening and closing), and it will come alive on its own. That’s definitely my favourite thing, still being surprised by how endless it is, how endless all the possibilities are, and then not only that but how endlessly possible it is to seek all those endless possibilities.
What kind of photographs do you most enjoy taking?
My favourite photograph to take feels more like painting with light. For example, taking pictures of the sun. I could take pictures of the sun forever, for no other reason than the splendour of its radiant spheres. But there’s an unpredictable nature of shooting light, the multiplicity of colours that appear. As well as the alchemy of the person viewing our image, because everyone can perceive something a little different within that light.
What’s in your bag?
Nikon D300 and Sony VG-20
Nikon AFS 24-70mm 2.8 and Carl Zeiss 1.8
Your Pick! Who would you most want to photograph and why?
Right now it would be the Zen Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, because I feel he would emanate a particular light, and has a perfected the half smile. I would love to witness that. Like the exaltation of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. There is so much going into that half smile…it’s so subtle… the inner landscape of this man is dynamic stillness.
List some of your favourite photographers
I would say Malach Karsh, I actually got to train with his daughter Marianne, spiritually…she would run programs for children nurturing spirituality through nature. I was fortunate enough to be a camp councillor with her and I didn’t know that she was Karsh’s daughter. Marianne would run these slide shows for the kids with all her father’s nature slides that she inherited. She would tell me stories about how he would go into the woods with nothing but a ladder and a week’s worth of food. Witnessing all these photographs each week through the eyes of new students made a great impression that has ever remained.
Your inspiration on a daily basis? What is your muse?
The divine light in others. Everything we see is because of the existence of light…the camera is just one intermediary. The exploration, experience and study of life itself is a great inspiration. Every time I learn something new, I am able to project consciousness itself in a canvas of stillness. My muse is the journey of life and the people that I love, grounded in togetherness.
Favourite photographer dead/alive?
My grandfather. His aerial photography is a huge inspiration to me. It is still a dream of mine to witness what he saw and have the technical prowess to work in the air, (as above, so below). I’ve always loved taking pictures from the plane window on my travels – so to get to specifically fly to take pictures, is something that inspires me. That’s how my grandfather started, and I aspire to achieve that.
Tell us a little bit about your work flow/editing process?
I try to do all my work immediately without lingering, in synchronicity, vivid and awake. I pride myself and honour the work through quick turnaround while it is still fresh from that stream of consciousness of images that have been magically invited. As soon as I put them into the computer I flag the ones I want to keep. Then I rest, and in the Peter Pan hour between sleep and waking – that level of consciousness that creatively guides me in the right direction artistically. The dream state lets me work without thinking about it, whatever image was on my mind right before bed revisits to me but without any judgement. The way music comes to a composer before they pick up the instrument, the imagination comes to my image before the technology does. Then all I have to do is fit my ideas of colour and concept into the computer.
Film or digital camera?
The Big Picture (where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?)
I’d like to do more conceptual work. The main one being “form is emptiness, emptiness is form” and also “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”. I’m encountering these things creatively and on a deep level, but I’d like to use photography to express them. I think that in order to understand a picture you need to see the other side of the circle, light bright in a world of shadows.
Magazine of choice?
‘Geeze’, it’s out of Winnipeg, the tagline is “Holy Mischief in an age of fast faith”. No ads, heavy emphasis on photography, great articles about consciousness and experience. It has a wonderful spiritus to it.
Alex Bien (www.alexbien.com) & Jeff Bien (www.jeffbien.com) because if my work could write lyrics, play an instrument and sing, this is what it aspires sound like. They’ve also both produced albums with one of my photos as the cover art and this was a huge honour.
Best coffee table/photography book?
Lomography Chakra splash. It’s this camera and you have 6 colour filters. They did this wicked expose where they had amateur and professional photographers going out and taking photos. If you are shooting on the yellow filter you are only shooting yellow…and green and red etc. All the different energies, so looking at this book is a good exercise because I can do that in lightroom with colour filters but see they are actually going out and saying “I’m shooting in purple today…purple moments” It’s a very interesting book and I think a really interesting exercise to do as a photographer.
Describe your dream photoshoot (location and all):
If I had an unlimited budget and possibilities? I might start with NASA where I would be gifted a space ship, constructed like a camera, with perfect transparency and launch into orbit (from the night river to the moon), the journey explosively arises in all directions at once. Just leave the atmosphere, circling the sun and return home, or do the complete opposite and get a microscope and go into things…on a very small molecular level.
Favourite lighting to shoot in?
Sunset or sunrise.
Best part of being a photographer?
The best part about being a photographer is that you can do what you do professionally and do what you do creatively and yet you are still doing the same thing. You can bear witness to something; you are now a part of that something, you are a witness as a photographer and what you choose to do with that is up to you. I think that alone incurs a lot of responsibility. Even without the camera you are seeing the world in aperture and shutter speed constantly. Like a musician hears drops of rain as a rhythm, the photographer sees moments sped up and slowed down like a shutter and open and close like aperture. The vocation of being a photographer, allows the rare possibility of always looking through the lens.
I always put it this way. The end of the world is coming. It’s the end of the world. And I swear to God if it was the end of the world…there would be people taking pictures. That’s how crazy it has become – and is the worst part for me. It’s your last seconds on earth and you are taking pictures? For who? For what? And they would probably say “But look how awesome it looks” but you don’t just stare at it? You go straight to your camera… You don’t just stare at a sunset anymore you need to take a picture of it…and you don’t just be with someone, you have to remember that moment with a picture.
We rely too much on pictures. What we did today that’s not a picture that was a piece of art it was a photograph…it had intention. My least favourite part would be taking pictures. That’s where the big delusion comes in where, ‘everyone is a photographer’…you’re not and not every picture is a piece of art. And it’s not about what camera you have, one of my best pictures was taken on a point and shoot! But. Point and shoot with perception. Point and shoot with intention. Point and shoot with imagination and concept, spontaneous arising. That’s a photograph. And that says something.
Most memorable moment as a photographer so far?
They are all memorable.
Your personal favourite photo you’ve taken to date? (yes, I’m making you pick):
This is a hard one. I think the answer is depends on what I need it for. Perhaps that have been chosen for exhibit. If I feel I need strength I would look to the blue tree or yoga girl. Then I have ones that really relax and stimulate, it all depends on the space and the projection of energy, within that space.
Tips/words of wisdom for aspiring photographers just starting out?
Freefall shooting. Go out by yourself. To any new place at all. For me it would maybe be a new part of the woods. Don’t bring distractions, (leave your phone at home)…just music, or simply silence, and a journal and let yourself explore and experiment. Just spend the day capturing all day sunrise to sunset.
I was in Sparta Greece and I was inspired by this farmer’s market we would visit often. I was looking at this people and they had such interesting faces that you knew they just had such an incredible life behind it. So I decided I was going to take a day and show up when they got there – it was 4am and I took my bike early in the morning and just went and literally stayed there all day. It can be hard and at one point it predictably got boring and then of course overwhelmed thinking of the post production. But, it was about being there and being present and feeling the weight of how long their day is and what they have to do to make a living and capturing that authentically. It was great! And that’s what I would recommend for all aspiring photographers. Whatever you do, get out there, see new things and meet new people and try and have as little distraction and compliment it with as much music as you can. Music and image go hand in hand.
Best advice you’ve ever gotten?
“The only art in the world is living art.” If that’s true then it doesn’t matter how many greats there have been – you are allowed to honour the tradition, and the source and journey of their mastery…but we have to be free to thrive towards our own greatest potential. Find the living source in our daily life.
Above is the photograph Alex took of myself. It was a very memorable experience walking out into the dark woods, lugging the camera equipment, fan, candles, music. It all came together and I had a really wonderful time bringing Alex’s vision to life.