INTERVIEW

April 8, 2021

SOULS OF A CITY

IN CONVERSATION WITH BETTY MANOUSOS

Photography by Betty Manousos
Interview by Melanie Meggs

Betty Manousos is an award winning street and social documentary photographer currently based in Athens, Greece. She is the owner and founder of CUT and DRY Blogzine, and a member of the Photographic Circle Collective. Always having a love for street photography, it was at the turn of 2019 that Betty actually started to dedicating more of her photography to that genre. She is drawn to the power of imagery and how it is a way to express her own completely subjective interpretation of what she feels rather than what she sees.

TPL: Betty please tell us about yourself. How did you become interested in photography?

BM: I was born in Athens, Greece where I currently live. I have also lived in the UK for many years. I have always been artistically inclined growing up with art in the family. My dad was a teacher and artist and my brother is a recognised painter. But I became really interested in photography when a good friend of mine from Britain - who is a black and white photographer - introduced me to the medium. Here's a little story to illustrate. That autumn we went on a photo shoot to Dartmoor in southern Devon, England. That was it. I didn't realise it at the time, but this was the beginning of what would become an obsession. I've hardly put down my camera since then.

TPL: Where do you find your inspiration?

BM: Inspiration comes from everywhere in any shape and form, from life itself. My significant inspiration comes from my favourite movies and books.

TPL: What is it that you enjoy about street photography? Explain your technique? What do you want to express through your photography? And what are some of the elements you always try to include in your photographs?

Part of the reason I enjoy street photography is the fact that there's always a different way to approach things in the terms of capturing candid street moments and I'm so excited when all the stars align; when all the elements of the scene line up perfectly, from the lighting to the unique human emotion, to the overall ambiance.

For me, street photography is also ultimately liberating because it is an expression of my need to look at things differently. I've always been drawn to the power of imagery as a way to express my own completely subjective interpretation of what I feel rather than I see. Over time, I have come up with some techniques that work for me most of the time:

- tilting the camera and changing the level of view
- often shooting through other objects, as this allows me to create a dramatic sense of mystery in a photograph

I'm less interested in creating images the traditional way - as street photography is an art form without constraint - but I'm much interested in the realm of artistic approach of things. Besides, I'm much concerned with the unusual or unexpected. As a photographer, I want my pictures to contain a surplus of meaning, to stimulate a feeling, to move the viewer emotionally. Some of the elements I try to include in my frame are: storytelling; emotion; an interesting character; the soul of a city. Sometimes I want to include only an object or trace left by humans that reveal something about life.

TPL: Do you have any favourite spots to go photographing?

BM: Street photography is a surprisingly difficult photographic genre to practice in Athens. That said, taking photos of strangers in public, there is always a possibility that you may get punched in the face, I haven't but I got yelled at a couple of times. Perhaps people feel threatened or have become suspicious. In my experience, many Greek people don't like having their photo taken. Perhaps they feel as though taking a photo of them is an invasion of their privacy. Underground station, deprived areas have been some of my favourite spots to photograph.

TPL: How has the pandemic affected you personally and your photography?

BM: When lockdown was announced, I realised that my life would have to change. Since I couldn't go out to photograph, I decided I wanted to document my life; the sad moments, the quiet moments, the process of accepting the "New Normal". The plan was to staying nimble with my camera. One of the feelings (too many feelings) that I have been experiencing during the pandemic is uncertainty. How can one live in an uncertain world?

TPL: Do you have any favourite artists or photographers you would like to share with us, and the reason for their significance?

BM: Ever since I started street photography, I was drawn to the high contrast work of Daido Moriyama, Saul Leiter, Harry Gruyaert, Josef Koudelka, and the art of Picasso has also influenced my photographic style.

TPL: Do you have a favourite quote, lyric, or saying that especially resonates with you?

BM: "Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken." - Oscar Wilde. Our identity is what makes us different; it's what makes us individuals. Just be you.

TPL: Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? What camera do you use? Do you have a preferred lens/focal length?

BM: I'm definitely not a "gear person" (even with an iPhone you can take great photos). I use the Fujifilm X-T20 for my street photography, with a lot of nice lenses. With mirrorless cameras there is less to go wrong in terms of autofocus. The focal lens that just works for me is the 35mm prime; my preferred lens is a Fujinon XF35mm f/1.4 lens.

TPL: When you go out photographing, do you have a concept in mind of what you want to shoot, or do you let the images just "come to you", or is it both?

BM: While out shooting, I'm almost always on the move and on the lookout for photographic opportunities. In fact, I look for unusual scenes that evoke a story. That said, I always try to blend in with my surroundings to capture the perfect candid moment.

TPL: Have you ever been involved in the creative world before photography?

BM: I used to write a lot of short stories when I was younger.

TPL: Are there any special projects you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about? What are some of your goals as an artist? Where do you see yourself or hope to see yourself in five years?

BM: I'm currently working on a project titled "When People Toil". It is a very challenging project. It's especially risky as that area I go is quite unsafe to walk around.

Five years goals...to be working on a photo book, to be documenting an adventure of mine in photos, to be writing a book for beginners about my photographic experience and the lessons I learned along the way. I'd love to plan a trip too (if it is safe to go).

TPL: "When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…

BM: I read, watch movies and exercise."