Interview with Street photographer Niko J Kallianiotis

Interview with Street photographer Niko J Kallianiotis
International Photography Grant 2019

Niko J. Kallianiotis was born in Greece and is an educator and photographer based in Pennsylvania. His formative years were spent in Greece, but for all of his adulthood he lived in the United States. Because of his hybrid background he views the world and his surrounding environs from two different perspectives, both culturally and socially. Expatriation was not his personal decision, but his current photographic language is. With photography he is attempting to comment on his cultural dichotomy; the decision of use of color, light, form, and humor is of ultimate importance and plays a significant role in representing himself. Like our daily life experiences and moods, those entities are a fluctuating variable that is represented on a two-dimensional surface.

He started his career as a newspaper photographer, first as afreelancer at The Times Leader, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and then as a staff photographer at The Coshocton Tribune in Coshocton, Ohio, and The Watertown Daily Times in Watertown, New York. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Photography at Marywood University in Scranton, PA and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He is also a member of OramaPhotos.gr and a contributing photographer for The New York Times.

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Niko J Kallianiotis

– How did you get into photography?

From the desire to discover the United States, connect with the people and the places, and attempt to understand the diverse cultures and traditions. My formative years were spent in Greece, but for all of my adulthood I’ve lived in the United States. Because of my hybrid background I view the world and my surrounding environs from two different perspectives, both culturally and socially. With my visual language I am attempting to comment on my cultural dichotomy; the decision of use of color, light, and form in my work is of ultimate importance and plays a significant role in representing myself and my emotions.

– Where do you get your creative inspiration from?

Life, and my own fluctuating emotions and experiences of daily living. There are many photographers both historical and contemporary that I admire and am influenced by both for their photography but also by their writings and their process. I am very interested in a photographers background story and I firmly believe that its imperative to shape and understand one’s vision. I am also and avid reader of theory and always interested in local history so my photography is also influenced from that fact. The latter is the result that all of my projects are local in tone. Places I have lived, live, and places I loved, hated or simply don’t understand.

If I were to choose a photographer and a book (which answers your book question) that has influenced me and still fascinates me, it would have to be the book Exiles by Josef Koudelka. If you are familiar with Koudelka’s background and photographic discourse you can see and feel Koudelka in every single photograph in the Exiles. It’s truly a haunting and intimate experience which I believe is a difficult task to achieve. I strive as a photographer to always reflect my personality in my photographs. I am very interested in the intuitive connection on a single image between photographer and subject.

– What are your future plans with photography?

For my most recent ongoing project titled “Motherland” I incorporate the ingredients of form, color, light, personal experiences, and questions of identity that facilitates all of my work in the United States. For the last four years, and as the Greek socioeconomic crisis intensified, the dissemination of images of turmoil, despair, desolation and a hopeless future, bombarded popular media platforms. Some of those images cut like a blade to someone like me, who has spent half his life in Athens; and half living in the picturesque hillsides of Pennsylvania, two hours north from Philadelphia. But those images intrigued my curiosity both as a person that shares the same cultural background but mostly as a photographer. Is this what Greece has really become? Once the center of democracy, civilization and the arts, now forces the elderly to stand in lines for a short meal? I believed it and implicitly related but I was also certain that photographically there was more. Nobody could doubt and undermine the power of those images. They represented facts that were direct in choice of subject matter and content, appropriate for a particular platform such as news organizations. But those were a fraction from the plethora of possible images that make up the contemporary Greek society in these undetermined times. There was and still is the need for something more. My decision to avoid the obvious and visually repetitive that concentrates on disastrous facts was strengthened by this circumstance.

Website: www.nikokallianiotis.com

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30th Avenue is a popular destination point for the younger generation of Greeks with many cafe's bars and restaurants. Pictured here is Ovelia Hellenic Grill House. Photo: Niko J. Kallianiotis

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International Photography Grant 2019