INTERVIEW WITH VICTORIA PANAGIOTIDOU
Hello Vicky and thanks for taking the time to discuss your work with us. Please take a moment to introduce yourself and tell us how and why you got into photography.
First of all I would like to thank you for this interview. I was born in Athens in the early 70s, but my family moved to Thessaloniki in northern Greece, after a few years, where I grew up and live until now. I had actually never had any involvement in photography as a child, although my father had an 8mm camera in his hand most of the time, and also has thousand of slides of our family. However I had a “skill” in drawing, so when I finished school I decided to study graphic design. It was a time where computers weren’t in our lives as they are nowadays. Most of our designs were handmade, using stencil letters, our own drawings, the repromaster technique, and of course the dark room processing of a lot of photos.
During my 3 years of studying there was -of course- the photography class. That was the first time I actually held my own camera in my hands.
You used to work as a graphic designer for a newspaper. How did you think that environment influenced your work from the image-making process to aesthetics?
During my studies I used to work as an apprentice graphic designer. Later on, I was among five other graphic designers who worked for “Thessaloniki Cultural Capital of Europe ‘97” for one year. After that I got my first permanent job at a big newspaper firm in Thessaloniki.
The newspaper had more than one magazine pubication every month and I used to be involved in them, from time to time until some years later, I became the art director of those magazines. Well, as we all know, there is no newspaper without photojournalism, as there is no magazine without photos. I had a daily encounter with many projects and of course more than one kind of photos. “Indirect-Direct” photography (good or not so good) was in my daily schedule.
How and why did you come to the decision to use a drone to make images besides of course from the obvious bird’s eye view?
I came across a couple of drone photographs one day, some years ago, while at work. I was really impressed. Before then, I thought that aerial photography was made by a photographer or cameraman on a helicopter or an aircraft.
I remember the first thing I did, when I got back home from work, was to search about those little aircraft that could actually take great images while flying, (By the way, my brother and I grew up with many remote-controlled airplanes, cars, boats, sailboats etc. in our possession, thanks to our uncle. So I thought I had a good background and some experience in controlling something with a remote controller.) At that time, I owned a little action camera and I found out that I could attach it on a drone using a gimbal. And so I did.
My first drone was the aircraft with my action camera attached to it. But I had no view of what I was capturing so I used to set my camera on timelapse or on video mode and I just flew, not very far away from the point I could see it because of the chance of losing it. I think this was one of my biggest challenges at that time, since I had to imagine what I could see from above. I believe some of my favourite photos are from that time, while I was flying as a “blind bird”. Some years later, and after recovering from some serious health issues, I decided it was time to move on to something more professional. So I bought my second drone, the one I use nowadays. I was not a “blind bird” anymore, I could finally fly and see everything from above. And that was it. I fell in love with the beauty, most of us never even think about while driving, walking or seeing from our human eye level. It’s not just the “Bird's Eye view”, it’s the geometry, the patterns, the colours, the shapes, etc. you can see from above. Who doesn’t take pictures while travelling with an aeroplane? In my mind, I was travelling with my little aircraft, as if I was on it, and it was just spectacular.
What I find particularly interesting about your work, especially the images that are made around Thessaloniki is the social, cultural and personal implications the work reflects. Do you seek those things out or do you just come across them naturally?
Thessaloniki has a history of more than 2.300 years. It’s a city with so much architectural, historical and cultural background, and you can see it everywhere, just walking through the city.
So, I thought to myself, "Why not take some pictures of those monuments from above?" Architecture from above. You will never see the true majesty of Aristotle's Street and Square, which are wonderful even by walking through, until you see the whole design from above! Sometimes, I find myself as if I am in that architect designer’s floor plans while flying over these places. Unfortunately, there are some restrictions for droners. For instance, you are not allowed to take pictures of archeological sights. Some of these places are marked as “no fly zones”. This is really a pity for me.
What are some of the challenges and obstacles you have encountered and surpassed when making your work?
Well, there will always be curious people around, asking the same questions: How much does the drone cost, how far away or how high can it fly, what if it falls down etc. It's almost inevitable. I’ve also been chased by seagulls and ravens several times. One time, I got into a private territory without realizing. It was a fish farm I wanted to take pictures of. There was a 3-4 km rocky steep road I had to drive down towards the bay. I never saw a sign saying that I was in a private area, so after flying for about 15 minutes above the fish farm some employes found me and said I should get permission to enter the territory just because of the risk of an accident on the rocky road. Everything was solved in a couple of minutes. I signed the special form, took some last pictures and drove the way up the hill. After about a kilometer, there was a truck blocking the road. An old man came and said to me: “We were looking all over the place to find the person flying this thing! You were lucky I didn’t have my shotgun with me!” Another lucky day for me...
Drone photography is intriguing to look at and in my opinion could lead to a superficial representation of the area as its perspective is distant and subject driven. Your work transcends the subject; what are you looking for when you are surveying the landscape from above, what peeks your interest?
I love patterns and shapes, I know that a row of umbrellas on a beach will be a very interesting photo taken from above. On the other hand, a sunflower field can be beautiful from below, but sometimes nothing very special from above. I usually use my imagination, but other times, I just take off and explore the surrounding areas as I’m pretty sure I will find something interesting to film. The advantage of taking pictures with a drone is that you can find your “subject”, even if you are some hundred meters or even kilometers away. The disadvantage is that sometimes, you miss that “subject” because of the whole take-off process.
Some of your images incorporate the human element amidst the urban landscape. I personally like this addition because it almost becomes, or maybe is, another form of street photography. Are there any plans to blend the urban landscape together with the incorporation on the human element into a theme?
I admire street photography. I believe the existence of people in a picture gives more energy and life to it. Most of the time, I try to have at least one person in my photos. I really like taking pictures of people just wandering around, lying on a beach, cycling for fun, walking in the snow, etc. That’s what I love in drone photography. Showing the human scale towards its environment.
Your work has a strong emphasis on design but at the same time evocative. Where do you get your inspiration and influences from?
As a graphic designer, I have influences from design, paintings, geometry, colours, patterns, so on and so forth. I usually don’t take panoramic photos. I love pictures showing land from above with the camera tilted down at 90 degrees. I believe this can show those actual shapes I really like.
Is there a hidden theme or is it purely aesthetic? Is there a message within your work and what do you want the viewer to get out of the images; is it something strictly formal?
There are sunsets all over the world, everybody likes sunsets or sunrises. Everybody loves flowers. But as all drone photographers know, we have the ability to show something different. I want people to see the beauty of the Earth through my captures.
To see more work from Victoria visit www.monodrone.gr