‘My Eyes Were Reborn’

In our new photography column, Helen Sotiriadis, a photographer living in Greece, tells Brandon Hoops the story behind one of her favorite pictures.

By / January 2012

I took a taxi to the center of Athens for some errands, and the route took me through Exarchia. At Zoodochou Pigis Street, near the intersection of Valtetsiou Street, I glanced through my right window to see layers upon layers of posters — a few for art and events, but most politically themed, vying for someone’s, anyone’s, attention.

Exarchia is a politically charged area. It’s near a university and bursts with protests and culture, and though I’m very familiar with it from my days of attending the Polytechnic, lately it looks more crowded, darker and graffiti-ed than I’m used to.

Still, I’d rather wander around here — and never mind people who say it’s not safe (I say, bull) — than visit the finest neighborhoods of our esteemed leaders.

That stretch of posters, though not particularly unusual for the area, somehow hit me with a force of thousands of people who feel driven to do something, but are still putting up with the frivolous, greedy nonsense of politicians who produce nothing, discover nothing, yet continue to play bickering games.

I finished up with my business and doubled back on foot through the area, until I found that particular spot. As I examined the wall, it almost had the aesthetic of a garden — the intense colors bringing life into an area of the city where street after street seemed bland, angry, dull.

There must have been 20 layers of posters. One on top of another, on top of another. Many of the papers had been torn by the weather, others by passersby.

Eventually, I found a spot that I felt gave the best perspective. I kneeled down. It was not very clean and a little patch of dust marked the left knee of my black slacks. People walking by kept asking me if I was OK.

The lighting wasn’t going right. Or someone walked right in front of me. Or I didn’t like the position of people. In time, though, I had about 12 shots I liked.

By day, photographer Helen Sotiriadis teaches computer-aided design in Athens.

It just happened. I didn’t plan it that way. It just hit me. Things clicked. That morning I wasn’t very happy. The whole financial crisis in Greece has reached us all. My work as a computer-aided design teacher was diminishing below full-time hours.

I was nervous. I was scared. When I was editing, I tried processing it in various ways but decided to give it what I felt: the selective color of thoughts and fears — mine and those of countless other’s — brushing against the monochrome apathy.

A lot of my pictures focus on something inconsequential. Everyone shoots the Eiffel Tower. But when I was in Paris, standing in the shadow of that magnificent monument, I noticed the leaves. I saw a nice one. I crouched down and took a picture of the leaf in focus, but the Eiffel Tower in background, unfocused.

I first started dabbling with photography in 2007. I was 45, living and working in Beijing for a year-and-half. I had recently purchased a Canon Rebel XT and I would spend my Saturday’s walking around the city taking pictures of the architecture. It was a new thing for me. I was approaching it like a child. It was so much fun. I’ve been hooked since.

I can’t say that I’m a very talented designer, but I can appreciate structures. I think I appreciate them more as a photographer than an architect. It’s the beauty. The geometry. The light.

I could go to a corner of a room that was empty and try to make it interesting using only dark and light. But it wasn’t just architecture that pulled me in. Soon I began shooting pictures of flowers with a macro lens. I never understood how beautiful flowers were until I looked at them up close. I also noticed the color of the sky and how light changes.

My eyes were reborn. Simply, I rediscovered the world.

I’m trying to be more aware all the time. I can find shots in anything. I might be going to supermarket and notice they have a new carousel in the mall. I’m glad I got a very forgiving partner. Georgios, who I affectionately call Mr. G, is very patient and forgiving if I decide to stop and take a picture. I linger for a few minutes. I stay there until I get it. I receive very few complaints. I’m very lucky.

I derive pleasure from moments like that day in Exarchia, when I am able to stop and express some of my optimism or pessimism or fears through photography.

The more I shoot, it’s becoming less about style or technique and more about vision. So it doesn’t matter what I’m shooting, some of me will show up in every image.


— as told to Brandon Hoops