writings blog

A Form of Confession / Niko J. Kallianiotis

I admit it, I have not been very active with my Blog and although the other members at OramaPhotos have not directly or otherwise brought my blog inactivity to attention, I though it would be appropriate, to start the New Year with regular posts; or at least try to. There are many things relating to photography, personal and otherwise that I would like to bring to the table and engage in a conversation. I love to write but I am not a writer; I love to make pictures but I do not consider myself an artist nor I care for the title or the subterranean meanings that might in accord with the title. I did not pick up a camera when I was eight-year-old, in fact, I think I was twenty-two and my first experience with a camera was when I moved to the United States and attended college and up to that point I was not really exposed to art, photography and the like.

© Josef Kudelka/Magnum Photos

© Josef Kudelka/Magnum Photos

Photography is the most powerful mode of communication, and on a daily basis we are bombarded with visuals through social media platforms: news organizations, Instagram, blogs… the list goes on. Reviewing and translating a photograph is a highly subjective encounter but sometimes, and in my opinion not in the desired frequency, the response is automatic; one that peers through the heart, a moment that puts you inside the skin, heart and soul of the photographer. Without even knowing them personally you feel them, understand them, and through that process you might understand yourself. We all have our favorite list of photographers, but we also all have, or should have, the one photographer that speaks to us in a way that when looking at their work, time stops and everything that we have ever seen up until that moment dissolves into an fading memory. For me that photographer is Josef Kudelka and his book Exiles. With every turning page you experience a visual, but also inner, confession.

© Josef Kudelka/Magnum Photos

© Josef Kudelka/Magnum Photos

From one photograph to the next, the subjects and landscape become an autobiographical testament of feelings, emotions, concerns, and fears. You are there in the moment, and you can feel, hear and smell the culture, the breath of the photographer, while attempting to decipher the nuances of the moments. I appreciate the raw, straightforward and unembellished qualities of the work; not for the sake of being raw, but for their aptness to confess. Most importantly the work deviates from the mere representation of facts. The “exotic” element, in my personal opinion, is absent from the work. Unfortunately, this “exoticism” is so prevalent (both in terms of location and subject matter) that it would be impossible for any photographer with a creative twist to come back with anything but decent work. There are certainly a few greats with exceptional work from those locations but many fall into the trap of the exotic, the visually interesting. But as many trips you will take to Cuba or India it would be most likely impossible to surpass the quality of the greats. By no means am I trying to prevent anyone from making that kind of work — trust me I wish I had all the visual opportunities where I photograph. I am more prone to slam on my brakes and hop out of the car so I can capture the blending of the human element with the landscape; due to the locale, it could be two weeks until someone else walks by.

© Josef Kudelka/Magnum Photos

© Josef Kudelka/Magnum Photos

Being there and simply recording and describing a moment for me does not work, both in relation to the work of others and of course mine. I have failed a myriad of times, but I strive to use the medium as a form to express my feelings, raise questions, and attempt to make the viewer understand the photographs while simultaneously getting a glimpse into my inner self.

I strive to make work from the heart and I tend to photograph only in places and subject matters I care about. I see my work as a confession, a visual biography and a journal of my life’s experiences; the good, the bad, it’s all there. The constant struggle to contend with having two countries you love and confuse and hurt you. Through the photographic process you forget, but simultaneously suffer as well, because someone looked like your grandfather, your uncle, or your childhood friend. But for a moment you forget where you are, who you are, because the viewfinder is your shield; the pill that erases all thoughts prior to the moment of making of an everlasting personal testimony, to the point you don’t existing for a 500th/sec; but reality hits you hard when the 35mm prime lens is lowered, your grandfather’s figure fading in the distance; and you are somewhere in Pennsylvania hoping you made something worthy, and captured an instance that will make someone feel that moment, and understand you as you aim to touch their heart, just like Kudelka’s work touched mine.

by Niko J Kallianiotis