For our third interview, we sit down with globetrotting Greek photojournalist and visual artist Olga Stefatou. Having shot on assignment for a wide variety of international media, Stefatou also pursues personal projects alongside commissions in cinematography and multimedia storytelling. Across her work, Stefatou has a keen visual eye and a flair for performance. Below, she reveals what attracted her to photography in the first place and much more...
Winter Candies, China
BtF: How did you begin your work in photography? Was there a "decisive moment" when you knew it was a special medium for you, when you felt truly committed to it?
OS: I remember creating images in my mind since a very early age and I knew that I would pursue the arts. As a teenager, I used to be angry and timid—photography was an escape at the beginning. Without consciously understanding what I was doing or why, I felt that studying audio-visual arts would help me seek out my dreams and freedom.
2003 was a very decisive year in my life. I was studying, working and travelling often with Magnum photographer Nikos Economopoulos. This enabled me to see the genius in photography firsthand. I felt a kind of trust in this magic medium. I felt confident that it was the right tool to overcome my fears while understanding human nature, fighting for our rights and enjoying the world.
BtF: When you were beginning photography, were there any people, artists, books, films that served as essential inspirations? How about now—any sources of creativity you discovered recently that give you that jolt of "beginner's" passion?
OS: My first inspiration was the American cinematographer John Toll, who talked about photography with such love and passion. He was the first to tell me about having "awakened" eyes. I met him during the filming of the movie "Captain Corelli’s Mandolin" in 2001.
Later, Nikos Economopoulos was definitely a great inspiration and a milestone for me and my work. Two of the books that touched me deeply during the same period were the Exiles by Joseph Koudelka and Falkland Road by Mary Ellen Mark.
Apsara Dance, Cambodia
Apart from photography, I have been always very inspired by different art forms such as dance, music, performance, plastic arts and cinema.
My most recent inspirational spark came from a very young Palestinian boy no more than 9 years old whom I met in downtown Athens. He was playing with his friends and holding a compact camera. He kept stopping the game to take a picture. I saw the pure passion in his eyes. I was seized by the urge to look at his images as he explored his new city. He told me that he liked photography because his father used to be a photographer in Gaza and he had borrowed the camera from a Syrian friend. He was a direct inspiration to my heart.
Premonition, Syria (2004)
BtF: Cartier-Bresson famously said, "Your first 10,000 shots are your worst." Can you share a humbling moment that happened to you recently with regards to your photography? A moment when you realized, like all of us, that there's always much more to learn?
OS: Greece and Burma are the two places where I have been returning to photograph. I am more aware, especially when there, that I am returning with new eyes and new approaches.
Lately I have been producing a new body of work about Athens, the city where I was born and raised. Again, I feel a kind of hovering feeling in this very familiar place—a feeling that drives me to break my own rules and define a new connection between my visual aesthetics and storytelling.
—Olga Stefatou, interviewed by Behind the Frame
Editor's note: Stefatou's work is available now in our inaugural themed sale, "Always a Beginner."