18 May Featured: Chris Stamatiou | A Portrait of Marginalisation
Through his lens, Pretoria based photographer Chris Stamatiou explores the concepts of marginalisation, time, change and urban habitation. “In a way I feel that I can relate to the marginalised,” he says. “I don’t share their backgrounds, but I’ve never really fit in with the mainstream.”
Working predominantly in portraiture, the genre that comes most naturally to him, a ‘good’ photograph for Chris is equal parts composition, lighting and expression. In one of his ongoing series he photographs a young street performer and contortionist named Ephraim who, each day, paints his face and puts on a wig to become his alter ego ‘Boytjie’ – his only means of survival. For another long-term project he spent a year taking portrait photographs of a community of heroin addicts in Pretoria, documenting the spiral of addiction and its devastating consequences. We spoke to Chris to find out more.
What is your earliest photography-related memory?
My family had a Polaroid camera in the 80s. I suppose my earliest photography related memory would be shaking the Polaroid to make it dry faster!
When did you realise that a career in photography was something you wanted to pursue? And how did you go about doing so?
About 17 years ago I saw a magazine article about Roger Ballen, with images from his series ‘Platteland’ and ‘Boarding House’. I was blown away by his work. That’s when I realized that I wanted to spend my life immersed in images! I enrolled at the National College of Photography and later went on to do the Advanced Program at Market Photo Workshop.
Whose work, past or present, has had a large impact on you?
Alec Soth and Diane Arbus.
What are you influenced, inspired and informed by?
Everything you see or hear influences you, especially on a subconscious level. I look at photography every day. I try to be original in an ‘image choked world’, but it’s easy to become influenced by a photographer that you admire. The result is the loss of your originality. As far as inspiration goes, many things in life inspire me.
When photographing people you haven’t met before, what sort of interaction takes place? Do you offer some direction or do you prefer to let things unfold with as little interference as possible?
It starts off with the search for good lighting and the right background. It could be plain or something that describes the person. I try to make the subject relax by talking to them. I don’t offer too much direction, except to tell them where to look or how to stand.
In June last year you visited New York City and took part in a Mary Ellen Mark workshop. Could you tell us more about this experience, and what you learned from it?
New York was madness! Having to produce work for Mary Ellen Mark to critique was nerve wracking. I originally started with street photography, but it didn’t really work out, because I have a problem with taking photos of people without their permission. I got permission to photograph at a Jewish old age home near Central Park, and a clown couple in Harlem. It was a great experience and I learnt a lot! It was a privilege to meet and be critiqued by the renowned Mary Ellen Mark.
Is there an image you’ve taken that stands out as a personal favourite, or has a particularly memorable story attached to it?
The one that stands out is the first picture I ever felt proud of. It was a photograph of a woman with breast cancer which was accepted and sold at the Sasol New Signatures Competition when I was a student.
What are you currently working on and working towards?
Two of my series are ongoing; ‘Boytjie’ (portraits of a street performer/contortionist) and ‘Vacant’ (abandoned buildings in Pretoria). I am resuming the series on Christianity that I started a couple of years ago, and dabbling with a series on animals in ‘different states’. 14 Months ago I started a series that will span over 20 years, photographs of my son Peter.
NY – a visual diary of New York City in June 2014.
H – portraits of a community of heroin addicts in Pretoria.