How do you like to experience travel? For travel month at FFU, I wanted to experience something firsthand: to work with a woman photographer to shoot some travel portraits of my holiday, to personally interview her and share my experience with you. It was something I hadn't thought of doing before being a photographer, but as I was traveling alone this summer, I jumped at the opportunity to try something new. After a lot of research on both Google and Instagram and sifting through a lot of very dramaticized images lacking originality of women in flying dresses, I came across something authentic - and finally - a woman photographer.
Nadia Kouloura (@nadia_kouloura_photography) is a Greek photographer based in Athens and Santorini. Versatility is her weapon of choice, working between fashion, portraiture, lifestyle, commercial, action and architecture. She has worked for Cosmopolitan, Madame Figaro, Votre Beauté, Pink Woman, Down Town, Traveler's Icons in Greece, as well as international magazines Superior and TheForestMagazine, with her artistic work being featured in Vogue Italia online.
NK: I studied Photography in Athens and soon after my graduation I started working as a fashion photographer assistant (that was my favourite photography sector). After several years, I started making my own photoshoots in magazines. The first magazine I worked for was Cosmopolitan (Greece).
FFU: What is the sector like for women and nonbinary photographers in Greece?
NK: In Greece it has always been quite hard for women photographers. It was supposed to be a man's profession, and as in every profession that was thought to be for men, we had to (and still do) overcome many social issues and difficulties. I believe the conditions are getting better as we are all evolving.
FFU: What was it like during COVID times? Has business picked up again since travel is allowed?
NK: There was a big mess like in many other business sectors. Gradually people started finding ways to work and continue being creative, but the overall difficulties have been stressful in most of the businesses. Since travel is allowed, photography business, as many other businesses, has picked up, yes. It is not stable yet, because of all the continuous political discussions and references to new restrictions in traveling and working.
NK: As a creative being, growing more mature and hopefully wiser, I continuously observe the outside and inner surroundings and conditions. I believe creativity is what dreamers and visionaires use, to make their visions real. Observing what brings me bliss, and what expresses me in an authentic way, what my deep real self is, are the tools that helped me (and continue to do so) to develop my style.
FFU: Tell us about your creative process, how do you go about it?
NK: Depends on what the initial idea/purpose is. When it has to do with making portraits of certain people, I study their appearance, their character, what their vibes are, so in this way I visualise the ideal scenery and way to photograph them in a complimentary way that fits their style/character, and the result brightens up their mood.
FFU: You're very good at reading people's faces when you shoot. How do you get people to feel comfortable?
NK: When photographing portraits, my intention is to help people feel comfortable, so that I can get a genuine expression, smile, look. I always observe how they look, how they move, how they speak and their body posture/movements. I explain what the basic idea of the photoshoot is and I give them time to be comfortable in that atmosphere, that energy, to be as they genuinely feel in that idea. I not only direct them, but also listen to what they say, how they feel and I encourage them to be and act as if they were in their natural environment and conditions. In this way I can capture a more authentic, relaxed image of them.
FFU: What are your most memorable shootings? For better or worse!
NK: Shooting fashion under high heat in outside locations in Athens and having to be very fast, shooting a swimming suits catalogue while I could not stand very well on my legs or walk, after a leg surgery, shooting men in a sensual way for the greek cosmopolitan magazine, shooting while driving my motorbike, shooting while flying in tandem paragliding, shooting underwater, and many others…
FFU: For aspiring photographers that want to do photography in huge destination places like Santorini, what advice do you have for them?
NK: In any photography sector, someone needs to find what she/he really loves and gets inspired to do, then work on it, invest time and money to evolve in it and create a personal style. Persistency and patience are surely needed, as well.
NK: Working on a new project for an exhibition, and focusing on capturing more of the quintessence of people's energy, on my everyday photoshoots.
I believe photographing photographers is not easy. We're often times not comfortable at all in front of the camera, and are maybe even more aware of the challenges the photographer is about to face because of our background in photography. I wear contact lenses and my eyes dry out very quickly so I blink at a high frequency as a result. I squint in bright light and I don't like the way my hair looks if it's blowing away from my face, to name a few of the challenges Nadia faced with me. The typical nervousness and surprise at how many people were shooting at sunrise left me overwhelmed.
Before we started (and as the masses of people began to show up) Nadia turned to me smiling and explained to me in a soothing voice, as I'm quite sure she saw my eyes darting around, trying to keep cool:
"This is a moment just for you. I want you to forget everything else happening around us so we can have a nice shooting. Whenever you need to stop - do it and take a breath."
She was full of techniques for people like me that are very awkward on the other side of the lens. I'm one of those people that's not always aware of my body language, but Nadia is hyper aware and could see my face tensing up before I could even feel it at times.
"April," she'd shout to get my attention and then tell me to make this silly face to relax my expression and laugh at the same time. It always worked.
"Remember that everyone wears underwear." This made me laugh so hard as I was trying to change outfits as discreetly as possible when queues of people were surrounding us. The respect you already had for models just doubled in an instant.
After the first sunrise session, she took me to a beautiful café at the edge of Οία called Mia's. We had this magnificent view of the caldera and the pristine white architecture, dotting the side of the cliff in mesmerizing and uneven geometrical shapes.
Nadia is always on. This attentiveness to the possibility of inspiration everywhere was evident as she continued shooting on her phone at the café when she saw a facial expression I made or a beautiful light illuminating the caldera in the morning hours. I asked her how her creative process works, how she finds inspiration.
I may get inspired by anything that offers me high vibes. When the basic idea gets clear, I find the means that will support, give body and illustrate this idea. I often find myself enjoying being isolated so that I can connect to my inner guidance, intuition, inspiration.
She replies to each question without hesitation, giving the impression that she's already thought about these things hundreds of times. Her ability to put herself in a bubble to concentrate and improvise in the moment is evident.
Later that evening, we did a beach shooting at sunset in the southern part of the island at Theros Beach. This was almost entirely her vision, because shooting me in a swimsuit and imagining that I could ever look natural given the circumstances explained above, seemed unlikely. I trusted Nadia though, and I followed her direction. The scene here was completely different. There was one beach bar and an otherwise deserted beach to the left, with these incredible golden rock formations jutting out of the black sand.
The result was magical. Sunset, a sparking top, a sheer skirt catching the breeze and allowing myself to feel the moment; her encouragement and enthusiasm all contributed to the image below.
After this experience and seeing myself in a way I don't believe I ever had, but had felt of course in my life - I can say that I highly recommend hiring Nadia. She takes the time to understand who you really are and creates photography to reflect that part of you, instead of cookie-cutter shootings where she asks each person to do exactly the same thing in exactly the same dress.
I asked if she had any last words for our readers:
Creativity gives our lives more meaning. We should all follow our hearts, ambitions and dreams in a conscious way. "Know Thyself" as ancient Greek philosophers used to say, is a great basis to start pursuing one's life purpose and dreams. And, as one of my favourite books says: "Dream is the greatest reality that exists" (Book: "School of Gods" by Stefano Elio D'Anna).