Dimitri Mellos was born in Athens, Greece and is currently based in New York City. Having not received any formal photographic education, he began to take the medium seriously around 5 years ago, after moving to New York to pursue a doctorate in psychology. Photography has now become his passion, more so he claims, than his official occupation.
He has received several awards, including 2nd place in CENTER’s 2011 Editor’s Choice awards and 1st runner-up in Blurb’s Photography Book Now 2011 contest. He was also a Finalist for the Fotovisura Grant, as well as the Magnum Expression Award. This month he is showcasing his work The City is Like Poetry in PMH Exhibition: A Year of Museum.
With the advent of new imaging technologies, street photography has become very popular. How have you managed to keep your work fresh?
Well, perhaps by not trying to prove that what I do is new – by embracing an old-fashioned approach. It is true that technology, particularly the advent of digital, has resulted in a boom in street photography (or, perhaps, not so much a boom but a bubble). Many more people are working with street photography, but also, each photographer produces many more photos, since digital technology facilitates that. But digital technology also cultivates an impatient attitude, an inability for waiting: immediately after taking a picture, most people push the “view” button on their camera to see the results right away. Even more disturbingly, I see many people who use their fast DSLRs almost like movie cameras: they shoot away at 8 or 10 or 15 fps, taking dozens of photos within a few seconds. This approach is completely puzzling and alien to me. I use a digital camera, of course (technology makes life easy, and I have no interest in deriving narcissistic pleasure from shooting film just in order to feel superior or more “serious” than other photographers), but I use my digital camera as if it were a film camera: I shoot sparingly, and I am always trying to do my editing when I shoot, not in post-production. I am still looking for the decisive moment before I push the button. At the end of the day, technology is just a tool. A photograph can be good or bad regardless of whether it was taken with a glass plate camera, or the latest digital model. What matters is the photographer’s vision, his way of looking at the world.
You capture unique and public moments that may never be repeated, implying a constant state of alert. What is your working method while walking the streets?
It is exactly that – a constant state of alertness, or of an evenly suspended attention to my surroundings. It is a fine equilibrium between being intensely immersed in the external world, but also maintaining enough detachment to be able to react quickly and not just be lost in the flow of life. I am not sure how it is done.
On a more practical level, I could also answer this question by saying that I usually prefer being on the move, not so much finding a spot and planting myself there and taking pictures. For me, street photography is all about the magic of serendipity and chance: it is about the random, unexpected and unrepeatable encounters that the photographer has, the utter coincidence of what other people and scenes and situations happened to occupy the same time-space frame as the photographer at any given moment. By being on the move, I feel that I am abandoning myself to chance even more than if I were stationary.
You use photography as a tool to capture the life that surrounds you and to reach people’s inner selves. What can you tell us about this way of relating to photography?
I photograph what speaks to me, what is meaningful and resonant for me. People have minds and emotions, what you call inner selves. I cannot help noticing how often these so-called inner selves seem to be evident on the surface, through gesture and posture and facial expression. Human beings are expressive creatures, like it or not. So, there is nothing metaphysical or deep in the kind of photography I try to do. I am just photographing surfaces, the way things and people look. But surfaces can be very revealing and expressive.
In what ways do you think your studies in psychology have modified the way you photograph?
My studies have certainly not affected my photography in any intentional or conscious way. I am not doing conceptual photography, I am not trying to demonstrate or illustrate some kind of intellectualized theory or point of view. So, in that sense my studies have not modified or influenced my photography at all. However, the fact that I am interested in human beings and their dynamics and interactions and inner lives is perhaps something that underlies and motivates both my photography and my work as a psychologist. Also, in both psychology and photography certain skills are important: to name a few, alertness, attention to detail, thinking on one’s feet, the ability to empathize and to predict others’ reactions. But I would not say that my studies in psychology taught me those skills, and then I just transferred them to photography; it would be more accurate to say that it is constant practice and hard work both as a psychologist and as a photographer that hone and enhance those skills. In other words, I feel that my work as a photographer improves my skills as a psychologist, and vice-versa.
The first part of A Year of Museum PMH EXhibition will be online until January 19, 2014 when the second part will be showcased. To see Dimitri Mellos’ gallery and the complete Museum Exhibition, please visit: www.photographicmuseum.com/museum
You can also visit Dimitri Mellos’ profile at www.photographicmuseum.com/dimitrimellos
Luján Agusti – Buenos Aires, Argentina