Nikos Economopoulos, judge of the Independent Photographer’s 2021 Street Photography Award is an internationally acclaimed, multi-award-winning Magnum photographer, renowned for his powerful depictions of life across the globe.
Born in 1953 in the Peloponnese Region of southern Greece, Economopoulos studied law in Parma Italy. He became interested in photography during his mid-20s, but, initially elected not to pursue it vocationally, instead, practicing solely during his free time.
“….it was important for me to keep the amateur gaze and maintain my freedom. I didn’t want my subsistence to depend on it, because this would tamper my freedom to explore.” – Nikos Economopoulos
He began his professional career as a journalist, and it wasn’t until his mid-thirties that he began concentrating on photography more intently (predominantly focusing on his homeland, and neighboring Turkey). Shortly thereafter he abandoned journalism completely in order to focus exclusively on his photography practice.
He joined Magnum as a nominee barely two years later and began traveling and photographing throughout the Balkans. It was, what he refers to as the ‘Balkan Paradox’ that drew him to the region, a desire to understand how a group of societies that share such ‘immense, physical and symbolic proximity’: languages, culture, outlook and way of life, could ‘generate and foster so much violence’.
One of the most remarkable bodies of work of recent decades, the project took a total of four years to complete and culminated in the critically acclaimed photobook, In the Balkans, and Economopoulos becoming an associate member of Magnum.
Moments of quotidian life; religious ceremonies and cultural practices, Economopoulos captured the subtle complexities of these fragmented societies with great artistry, describing their individualities and heterogeneities, yet simultaneously, the undeniable cultural strands that bind them together.
His images are visceral yet sensitive; forthright yet poetic and, at times, surreal. Such traits characterized the works of the masters: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Sergio Larrain, and Josef Koudelka, whom he cites as important influences. He works largely on instinct, his images, visual manifestations of his reactions to his experiences. He avoids pre-conceived narratives, embarking on journeys with merely ‘the basic tools’ and a few ‘patched together’ bits of information.
The Balkans Project provided a launchpad for his career and set the tone for much of his ensuing work. He spent the remainder of the 1990s focusing on borders and crossings, photographing inhabitants of the Green Line in Cyprus (The United Nations controlled demilitarized zone in Cyprus); irregular migrants on the Greek-Albanian border; mass migration of ethnic Albanians fleeing Kosovo, and minority groups including Europe’s largest, the Roma. He completed a book project on the Aegean islands in 2000, and later returned to Turkey to continue his long-term personal project, for which he was awarded the 2001 Abdi İpekçi Award (for promoting friendship between Turkey and Greece).
More recently he has begun experimenting with color and spends much of his time traveling the world, photographing, and teaching workshops as part of his On the Road project. Now twelve years in, the project offers small groups of amateur and professional photographers the opportunity to spend time on the road with Economopoulos, and was started as a way of ‘sharing the joy and the freedom of the journey with like-minded people.’
The project has allowed him to travel and photograph freely, unperturbed by ‘the limitations and impositions of an assignment.’ Though most destinations change annually, there is a handful to which he has consistently returned, (Ethiopia or Cuba for example) where ‘lives are lived in the streets, beyond domestic boundaries or structured geographies’, places he says, ‘feel like home’.
“What captivates me is the crossing of thresholds, the suspension of disbelief, the exchange of emotions in shared spaces, the minute wonders of life in the street.”
A dexterous and deeply perceptive practitioner, Economopoulos is, without doubt, one of the finest photographers of our time: a master of the unposed image whose extraordinary oeuvre contains some of the most absorbing examples of ‘street photography’ in existence.
“What I depict in an image is what cannot be articulated in words. It is not necessarily what strikes a familiar chord, nor what appears as a novelty or even exotic otherness. Ultimately, this must have to do with inner connections, a commonality of emotions.”
** The 2021 Street Photography Award is open for entries until 23 September 2021. Find more information and submit your work here.**
All images © Nikos Economopoulos / Magnum Photos