John Kosmopoulos is an internationally awarded photographer specializing in architecture, abstract, long exposure, and minimalist black and white fine art photography. His work has been featured in galleries and several national and international publications, and was voted one of the “grand and prestigious photographers of 2013” by 121Clicks.com. He is also a moderator and curator of the architecture group and exhibit at Stark Magazine and featured artist with the House of Ilford, Topaz Labs and Formatt Hitech. He resides in Toronto where he balances his passion for the photographic arts and writing with his love of the behaviour sciences as a consultant and educator.
Vision Drawing (Oramagraphy): An Iliad of Light & Shadows
Q&A with John Kosmopoulos
Q: Could you introduce yourself to our readers? Your background and how you came about to be involved with photography?
A: Thank you Pygmalion and the editors of Arcspace for the honour and opportunity to introduce myself to both architects and photographers alike from around the world.
I am a fine art photographer from Toronto and equally a father, consultant, author and professor in the behaviour sciences. All of those experiences shaped who I am and how I translate the world through my photography. I specialize in black and white photography with a particular love for architectural and archistract photography although I am quite comfortable with embracing a philosophy of photography that I call “eclectic aesthetic fine art” (EAFA) where I try to capture the complexity of beauty across multiple subjects. I am the curator of the Architecture group and gallery at Stark Magazine and I have been quite humbled and honoured by the international recognition I have received through awards, publications, galleries, and promotions such as the House of Ilford, Formatt Hitech and Topaz Labs.
As a child, I have always had a cinematic imagination about the world. I started with writing and drawing anything and everything from superheroes to classical architecture and I eventually evolved from the pencil to the camera to draw with light and shadows to hone my vision and voice as a photographer. It was a seamless and natural progression for me. It has been a wonderful journey the last few years.
Q: Many of your photographic contents focus on the built environment (buildings, archistracts, cityscapes). Could you tell us why you gravitate towards these subjects and how did your awareness towards it changed over the years of photographing it?
A: I grew up in the city for most of my life. I always noticed and admired the intricate patterns of architecture but I never considered them as contemplative forms of livable art until I picked up a camera. Modern architecture, in particular, changed that for me. Over time, buildings became ethereal and organic edifices for my imagination as a photographer. The geometric gods in the sky became subjects for my abstract portraits. Architectural photography became this endless game of “When Gehry met Rubik” moments for me where I would transform the physical matrix of the architecture into my own photographic vision.
When I study architecture now, I see impressionistic sketches that are complimentary but also somewhat antithetical to the architect’s own vision. I tend to de-literalize and deconstruct the form, shapes and functions of the architecture into my own fluid harmony of elements of what I like to call “Euclidean Jazz”, my ode to Goethe’s notion of architecture as frozen music. I don’t want to take a photograph of a building, I want to make a photograph that parallels but alters the essence of the building and its context. I see the evolution of architecture and the advent of architectural photography as a new abstract fine art.
Q: You have ventured into your own definitions of fine art photography, archistract art, and a psychology of photography that you refer to as vision drawing or “oramagraphy” as a compliment to photography. Could you tell us about them?
A: When I have offered definitions related to my ideas and concepts in photography, I do so not to provide a finite interpretation but to delve deeply into common principles and perceptions we all share as photographers. It is mainly a means to ground myself while offering the reader a glimpse into a psychology of photographic vision, a personal authenticity, as an integral sensitivity to emotion and beauty. It is my way of providing insight into both the visible and generally unnoticeable qualities of multiple subjects in photography to produce fine art. As fine art is a subjective term, and an unsatisfactorily explained concept in my opinion, I have offered this conceptual but functional definition of what is fine art to me:
|Fine art photography is a style or genre of photography that offers a harmonious composition of elements within a frame of reference whose content provides aesthetic, sensory, and sometimes surreal qualities that fulfill the authentic, creative, and personal vision of the photographer as artist while heightening the emotional and psychological response of the observer. It is an established but evolving discipline in photography whose essential condition is the ‘felt aesthetic’ (the feeling of being immersed in and inspired by something intellectually and imaginatively beautiful). This type of photography is often exemplified by but not limited to black and white compositions, various exposure lengths, and eclectic subjects (e.g., abstract, architecture, landscapes, nude portraits, etc.). It may also be interpreted by refined theories and concepts across disciplines (e.g., philosophy, psychology, literature, music, film, culture, semiotics, mathematics, science) and past and current trends in art, photography and technology in part or in whole. It is often defined in contrast to journalistic, documentary, and commercial photography. It also adheres to quality standards in post-processing and printing as part of the creation of art.|
|/ © John Kosmopoulos|
You will notice in the definition that I pay homage to the past and leave room for the future of fine art photography while focusing on the relationship between the artist and the observer and the “felt aesthetic” as ultimate perception of what constitutes and separates traditional photography from fine art photography. I have also delved into right brain-left brain creativity in fine art photography that I call the “FEEL Principle” which focuses on elements of the felt aesthetic.
For me, fine art photography is intimately intertwined with a psychology of self, an education on manifest beauty, and a perception of the world that gently leaps into parallel world. Given my background and my passion for photography, it was inevitable that I would venture into a psychology of photography that was meaningful for me but also based on a realization of collective, dynamic and transferable processes that are part of a photographer’s vision and voice. I refer to this new psychology and new way to consider the art of photography as “Vision Drawing (Oramagraphy)“. What you do when you take a photograph with your camera is photography (light drawing); what you do and why before, during, and after you make the photograph is oramagraphy (vision drawing). Both terms are literal translations from the Greek. In essence, it refers to a personal set of creative-expressive skills from previsualization (a culmination of personal experiences that translate the present moment into alignment with the photographer’s vision to fulfill new creative impulses) to a realized vision in photography and the psychological and motivational characteristics inherent in the entire process.
Upon reading from some of the masters of photography like Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson and delving into my concepts and background in psychology, it became clearer and clearer to me that vision drawing / oramagraphy is part of every photographer’s process but individualized based on their own psychology. In essence, what and how we take a photograph becomes secondary to why we choose to make a photograph the way we do. If we answer the why, we understand the psychology behind the photo much better. I provide and explore six core principles of vision drawing that I refer to as prescience (frame of vision), paradox (frame of change), parallels (frame of relations), perception (frame of reference), personality (frame of mind) and progression (frame of time). I invite the reader to delve into this psychological framework of vision drawing through my website. These principles are inherently applicable to other creative pursuits in the fine arts including film, music and architecture.
Architectural photography as fine art photography rather than documentation is relatively new in the history of photography. Architecture itself can be viewed as a work of art. When I photograph architecture, I do not want to take a photo of the Mona Lisa as most people see it, to use an analogy, I want to create something completely different that makes me smile, that provides an enigmatic and ethereal quality to the subject in the photograph. I don’t want to simply take a photo of architecture but I want to reimagine it by defying and capturing the physics of the moment in an artistic way by, turning the world upside-down in my compositions, waiting for a unique interplay of light and shadows that fall on the building, abstracting the abstract forms inherent in the architecture, and use both conventional, long exposure and even infrared photographic techniques to create a chronology from chaos to clarity and back again as part of my photographic vision. Architectural photography has much surreal iterations in its material representation. As I wasn’t completely satisfied with the state of architectural abstract photography on a personal level, I ventured into my own theories and types of what I call “archistract art” and how it very much compliments abstract art traditions:
|Archistract or Archistract Art: A concept, philosophy, and classification of fine art photography that focuses on the abstract qualities of various architectural styles and subjects using monochrome or colour compositions while highlighting patterns, forms, geometry, and gradations of light and shadows across various exposures. ‘Archistract’ is a portmanteau of the words ‘architecture’ and ‘abstract’. It is a style of abstract and architectural photography that has recently evolved into a cohesive and functional vision combining elements and traditions found in abstract art, architecture, and photography as a whole.|
|/ © John Kosmopoulos|
In my opinion, archistract art photography is one of the most challenging to do well and call art as not every photographer is comfortable in this realm. In essence, my approach to architectural and archistract photography is very much like the quote by K. Gilbert Chesterton: “There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds.”
Q: Together with Marc Koegel, you give fine art long exposure photography workshops in Toronto and Vancouver focusing on architecture and seascapes. Could you tell us about that experience?
A: It is an absolute pleasure to instruct workshops with Marc. We compliment each other so well and the experience has been nothing but exemplary for us. The participants offer so many rich experiences for us and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We want our participants to get as much out of our workshops as possible by shaping their own photographic vision through theory, practice and exercises by providing our own insights and stories about photographing the built environment. Photography is a skill like any other skill that can be taught but it is up to the participant, with our guidance, to take it to new heights and personal satisfaction. That is, we offer a path and new perspective but we want participants to find their own paths with our assistance.
Q: Most fine art photographers emphasize the photographic vision as the core element of their work. For many it’s an on-going personal process but also a highly intangible one to pinpoint. You have written about the 5 C’s of the photographic vision and the ‘VISION’ exercises to cultivate it. Could you tell us about it?
A: I believe that photographic vision, which I consider to be a synergistic process born of a photographer’s physical vision and psychological vision (concepts I referred to earlier in this interview as part of “vision drawing / oramagraphy”), can be actualized by practicing five key concepts with exercises: content (i.e., photographing eclectic subjects for what they are and what else they can be), composition (i.e., intuitive trajectories of how to best frame subjects), context (i.e., your own unique identity, insight, and imagination), confidence (i.e., personal originality based on your own evolution as a photographer) and commitment (i.e., practicing photography as an art form). It is my way of cultivating awareness and inspiration in one’s photography. These concepts are also generalizable to the works of a painter, musician, cinematographer, and architect alike similar to my psychological theory around creative photographic vision.
Q: What photographic gear do you use and what are your thoughts about their role in the creative process?
A: It’s always about the person and not the camera. The camera is but a tool to realize your photographic vision. I have never believed that “gear acquisition syndrome” guaranteed great photography. Most of my earlier work in architectural and archistract photography involved the use of a Canon Rebel T3i, which is a starter camera. Some of my greatest photos came from using that camera. Currently, I use a Canon 6D full frame camera along with a few lenses, tripod and neutral density filters from Formatt Hitech and B+W as my compliment for traditional and long exposure photography.
Q: Could you tell us about your editing and post-processing workflow?
A: I work on the philosophy of “less is more” when it comes to post-processing. I use Camera RAW, Photoshop and Topaz Labs for most of my work. I tend to use general adjustments such as RAW and black and white conversions, levels, curves, selections and gradients for most of my post-processing. I am a firm believer in realizing the conditions and composition in camera to make the post-processing that much easier.
Q: Could you tell us more about the technical and practical aspects of your pre & post visualization? What are your thoughts on the general “debate” between those who retouch and those who don’t?
A: I am not adverse to the idea of retouching photos as long as it does not take away from the essence of the scene or the integrity of the moment. If you are a journalistic or documentary photographer, there are ethics involved in reflecting and capturing the realities of subjects or situations. If you are a photographer who focuses on fine art, I see no particular issue with it as the creation of art does not require such boundaries as long as its your art and not something that is blatantly stolen or unacknowledged and called your own when it is not your own. That has happened to me a few times and I know it concerns many photographers.
Q: In my opinion there shouldn’t be an ‘either or’ argument concerning colour and black & white photography, as each one has it’s merits and we are blessed with wonderful images from both “worlds”. Your thoughts on the subject?
A: I completely agree. For me, there is no argument. Both offer many wonders for the eyes, the heart and the mind. As you can tell by my own thinking around fine art photography, colour is just as rich as black and white photography in conveying the ‘felt aesthethic’. However, I have thought about why I gravitate towards black and white photography over colour photography (although it is a choice based on my own sense of what offers greater impact for me and the viewer) and one of the reasons that made sense to me beyond simply liking it and finding it less diverting at times, is what I refer to as the ‘LEICA Theory’ of black and white photography (as the reader can probably tell by now my passion for photography is equaled by my passion for writing about the photographic arts).
We often think of the eye as a camera. However, when we consider our own physical vision, our brain translates raw reality into lines, edges, intersections, contrasts, and angles (notice the acronym) readily before we can perceive and make sense of what we are seeing. This is something that neuroscientists have demonstrated empirically (and won a Nobel Prize for it) and it may be the reason why black and white photography often offers such primal emotions, aesthetic qualities, and an eternal essence for artists. It may also be the way we shape the compositional ingredients of RAW reality of our photographs to convey a felt aesthetic in our own psychological or photographic vision before or after post-processing. I think that is why abstract and architectural photography, to name a few, can be so powerful at times.
Q: What are some lessons from your experience that could be useful to other photographers in relation to approaching the work itself and also about the fact that “taking the shot” is becoming a small part of the overall process?
A: I touched on this when I referred to a new psychology of photography I call vision drawing (oramagraphy) but I will add that even some of iconic black and white film images were retouched in the darkroom. Photography, for me, is a realignment of reality with your own psychology and photographic vision. Reality is negotiable. That is my advice for fellow photographers and architects alike.