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“Seize the magic” – Interview with Jelena Čop

portrait JelenaJelena Čop

Occupation: Architect, photographer, owner of the shop “The Hungry Eyes”

Location: Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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Jelena Čop, the owner of an Etsy shop “The Hungry Eyes”, spends her days wandering around Amsterdam streets, capturing photos with her cell phone camera. Unlike many photographers out there, she believes that photography is mostly about the artistic vision, not about the equipment. We invited Jelena to our office in Amsterdam to talk about her current projects and photography in general. Apart from being a great professional, Jelena turned out to be an amazing person full of life, energy and joy. Her eyes are always hungry for visions and images, her mind is always open for the magic to happen. We had a great pleasure to talk to Jelena and to find out what is similar between architecture and photography, why is it important to always stay self-critical and how a photo book can serve as a ring bearer.

 

– Jelena, thanks for taking time to talk. Please tell us, what is your story? What do you do in daily life?

I am an architect, was born in Yugoslavia, raised in Serbia, studied in Genoa, Italy and now I have recently moved to Amsterdam. As you see, I’ve been around and now I’m trying to settle down here, looking for a job to continue my architecture career, learning Dutch, at the same time pursuing my passion – photography.

– So photography is not your professional occupation, it’s more like a hobby?

Yes, but I would love to transform it into a profession at some point.

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– How did your story with photography start?

When I was a kid, my mother was always carrying an instant camera in her purse, so I grew up with the idea of capturing the moment and never losing it. Since early childhood, photography was something very natural for me. But my first experiments started when I was 14, with my dad’s camera.

– Did you go to any school to study photography? Courses or workshops?

No, I’m self-taught. It’s all about reading a lot of books, studying and trying. My father was also interested in photography, he taught me a lot of things.

– What was your first camera?

I started with my dad’s Russian FED reflex camera, then Olympus, then I squeezed every imaginable pixel out of a cheap Fujifilm compact camera and actually I think I did a great job – when looking at the photos, nobody believed that it was the cheapest model of all. Then I bought a Canon AE1 reflex and then Nikon DSLR came to my life. But cameras are changing and so am I! Now, for instance, I mostly make pictures with my cell phone camera.

– How did that happen? 

Nowadays I see a lot of people wearing professional or semi-professional cameras around their necks: the technology has become so accessible, everyone who owes a nice camera can call him or herself a photographer. So I decided to experiment and go in the reverse order. Can I make something interesting with a very humble tool? Is it possible to shoot nice photos with just a cell phone camera? I decided to challenge myself, push my boundaries and see where I can arrive with this idea. Also, my phone is always with me and I am used to making a lot of shots with it. I believe that photography is not really about camera, lenses and Photoshop. It is about your artistic vision, about the story you want to tell.

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– Which phone do you use?

Google Nexus 4. It doesn’t have a good camera, and this makes it even more challenging.

– Can you walk me through the whole creative process?

Well, it’s an everyday routine. I go outside, walk around the city, capturing the magic around me. Sometimes something interesting happens, I just need to keep my eyes open. Sometimes I purposely look for interesting settings, objects, landscapes. Then I use Photoshop, Instagram and different applications to arrive to the image that I had in my head when I captured the photo. All the visions need to be elaborated in one way or another, with the use of one tool or another. I enjoy playing with the filters, editing the photos – I love contemporary technology and find this process very interesting and creative. And then I make the posters out of those photos and sell them in my Etsy shop “The Hungry Eyes”.

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– How did you come up with the name for your shop?

It is what actually happens to me. My eyes are always hungry for the visions, for images. I couldn’t be more sincere.

– What type of photography would you do all day long every day if you could?

I would still do the same, wandering around the streets.

– What inspires you in photography?

I am an architect, so I am inspired by the cities, buildings, urban scenery and landscapes. In architecture you become familiar with the rules of composing and learn how to create the images out of something that doesn’t exist. The same happens when you build the composition for a photo: I recognise the space around me and I modify it to the point when the image in my head and the reality meet. For me this way of seeing the world is the most natural, but I also understand that this perception is very individual, intimate even. As for the inspiration, you never know when and where it strikes you and the final result can depend on something very unexpected: the story I’ve heard, the book I’ve read, the movie I’ve seen.

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– You don’t shoot people at all?

No, not really.

– Since you don’t shoot people, you don’t have a favourite model, right? But maybe you have a favourite city?

It should be Genoa, definitely. It was so inspiring, because of its topography, scenery, architecture, contrasts, density and of course the strong Mediterranean light. I know, it sounds trivial and has been said billion times, but the play of light and shadows is very important if you want to achieve an interesting image. In Mediterranean cities like Genoa, light is a tool that you work with. Here in Amsterdam I don’t see shadows that often, it’s hard to play with the light but the scenery is very interesting. So let’s say, Genoa and Amsterdam.

– How would you describe your style?

Urban poetry

– How many photos a day do you make?

I guess around 10. Sometimes, 50. Sometimes I don’t make any at all, but my eyes are always observing the world through lenses.

I believe that photography is not really about camera, lenses and Photoshop. It is about your artistic vision, about the story you want to tell.

– Which of your photos are you currently most proud of and why?

This one, it’s Amsterdam, Java-eiland.

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This photo is something between a drawing and a photography, the light was so special in that moment, that the result, without any strange post processing is a powerful contrast between black and white, between geometrical, regular and repetitive and natural, organic and disordered. The dynamic left part is like a free hand linear sketch, while the dominant static facade is a perfect architectural perspective. The building looses its materiality, it is just a geometrical pattern. And then the bird in the sky, is like a cherry on the cake – puts all the composition in equilibrium.

– Do you print your photos out?

Not that often. Generally, photography is changing right now, taking a different shape. There are contemporary ways of delivering images: it’s a virtual world now, it’s about sharing. I don’t really feel an urge to print out photos, only the most special ones which I use for home decoration. And that’s exactly what I see around as well: people don’t print the photos so that they can put them into a photo album anymore: this tradition is dying.

– What about photo books?

Oh, that’s a different thing. With a photo book you create a story, add value to the photos, make something creative, it is a personalised product, something very intimate and emotional. I have created a photo book for my wedding, and it was our ring bearer, we literally put our rings on it, so it served as a ring pillow – this couldn’t be more emotional. And the book depicts our whole story – from the day we met till the moment my husband proposed to me. Actually, I made my very first photo book after the first month of our relationship: I wanted to make a gift for him and came up with the idea of a photo book. It mostly consisted of the messages and letters that we used to write to each other, plus some images. After that we felt the need to keep all the images that we take, especially the ones from our trips: we traveled a lot during our first year together. There are also other things in this book, not just photos: tickets to the concerts we went to, maps with the all the routes we covered.

With a photo book you create a story, add value to the photos, make something creative, it is a personalised product, something very intimate and emotional.

When we were creating this book, we were honestly thinking about our future family and our future kids who will one day ask us about our love story. This book is very important to us, it is very intimate, very personal.

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– It is a very beautiful story. So what do you think about the future of the printed photos?

I guess, there will be two main purposes of the printed photos: decoration and photo books.

– What kind of advice would you give to the amateur photographers, those who want to get to the new level?

I think that one of the most difficult things in the creative process is to be self-critical. Sometimes I am too self-critical, actually, but I don’t think it hurts. It’s always a process of learning, you need to honestly think about your work, what you did in the past, what others are doing. Try, learn and stick to that thing that really inspires you, because that’s where you can say something that others haven’t yet

– Do you have a favorite photographer?

No, I don’t have just one guru. But I appreciate works of the Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn and German Andreas Gursky.

– What is your life philosophy, maybe your moto?

I wouldn’t say that I have a moto but there is a philosophy that I’m trying to stick to. People always rush, their thoughts are occupied with different problems, their schedules are tight. If only everyone could realise that we can enjoy life a bit more by just becoming aware of the beauty inside and outside, around us.

Being a photographer, I always try to stop, look around and remind myself: seize this moment, it’s really beautiful. Thank God, I’m alive and I’m here.
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