John spyrou - Scott Temple
Can you tell us about the selection of images you’ve chosen?
I’m always shooting, exploring different interesting sides of photography. During mid-March/April 2020, I became uninspired by photography. I had nothing to shoot and so stepped away from my practice. I didn’t want to shoot the empty streets. 90% of my work is in black and white but during this period I began to think about my work in terms of colour. As soon as I could leave the city, after lockdown, I took three medium format cameras and drove upstate with some friends. I feel that these images, shot in colour and on the road, felt like a fresh approach and a quite personal experience to share with
Tell us about the mood surrounding these images?
These images were taken in upstate New York and Long Island. I was caught by the little clusters of life I saw around me as we moved through the towns. Bright patches of human activity amongst the worn environment surrounding them. I immediately noticed that very few people wore masks, and everyone wanted to shake hands after I took their portrait, it was odd having been going through the same pandemic only two hours away. As I began to photograph the architecture and
take portraits, I felt like time was passing through the town, yet it seemed not to change it. A town that thrived with its own character unaffected by the world outside.
How do you go about capturing your moments with strangers?
I’m self-taught, still learning and always will be, but one natural skill I possess as a photographer is to make people feel comfortable. Once I have decided to approach someone, I make a real effort within the first few seconds to show that I am not a threat; that I’m not taking anything away from them. I share my vision for the image as best I can with the subject, often this is not done by talking directly about the shot but, I suppose, sharing some of myself with my subject. It becomes a collaboration, something they are wilfully a part of, I find this way people understand what I am doing and why I have approached them. Through understanding it becomes a creative collaboration between us.
How would you like to be seen?
For a very long time I struggled with being comfortable with showing my work. I went through a number of different avenues of expressing myself through photography without directly assigning myself to the work. Now I am more comfortable, and I’m able to see myself in my photography. At the moment, I’m aware of creative ambiguities with the direction of my work. I have my black and white, static studio work I adore portraiture, and I will always be perfecting this by blending and experimenting with techniques and imagery that inspire me. I then have my portraiture and landscape photography that I shoot mostly in colour when I travel. I’m currently examining a more cohesive direction, a way of bringing these two dynamics closer together. Of course the image research and technical experimentation along the way to finding this balance of the two sides of my photography is very important. However, with all art practices, there can never be an end point; ones work should be, in my opinion, in a relatively constant state of flux and progression
Which artist’s current work has been an inspiration to you?
Michal Chelbin is an Israeli photographer. She has some insane portraits; they are some of the most beautiful portraits I’ve ever seen. When I first came across her work, I felt like I’d been searching to find her work my whole career. The way that she is able to engage with her subjects and create such power directed to the viewer is truly amazing.
What are you shooting at the moment?
I’ve only recently opened my studio and work up outside of private creative projects. I recently had some models come over to my studio in Brownsville, Brooklyn. We worked on some portraits that I styled. I always tend to fire off some digital shots at first to make everyone feel comfortable and all get the feel for what we’re working towards. Once everyone is feeling comfortable in themselves, and with the direction we’re heading in, I switch to shooting film.
Can you tell us about running themes, moods and emotions that are present in your work?
I consciously look to use an extra layer in my images, predominantly in my studio work. I like to think that it encourages the viewer to stop and take another look. Smoke and mirrors, masks and diversion all layered with a certain quality of mysticism. I aim to entrance the viewer and draw them further into the scene and play with the emotional response.
When was the last time you posed for the camera or sat for your portrait?
In February 2020, I took several self-portraits. You can find a couple on my Instagram profile. I think the practice of sitting for oneself and taking a portrait is very important – you have to know how to pose and understand your body before you ask anyone to do it for you. The self-portraits explore the artist’s search for beauty and the effort to define beauty in an authentic and seminal way. These were actually some of the final portraits I took before lockdown.