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Konstantin Manos: It has been a long time since I have stopped working for money

04 August 2009 / 23:08:24  GRReporter
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Maria Spassova

Special Grreporter correspondent in Rockport, Maine


"It is true that to have luck is really important, but what really matters is to expect it and be prepared for it." These are the words of the world known photographer of Greek descent Konstantin Manos, currently preparing a major retrospective exhibition in Benaki museum to be held in November 2011. The second edition of his famous photo-album American Color is expected to be issued around Christmas in Italy. Meanwhile, the Magnum club member is teaching a master photography class in Maine Media Workshops in Rockport, where we meet. Every summer in the last 20 years he finds the time to be with his students in the renowned media school. In Greece, I say I am 51 per cent Greek and 49 per cent American. In the USA I say I am 51 per cent American and 49 per cent Greek. The question what I am does not exist for me, I am a photographer," says Konstantin Manos.

He is one of those photographers whose pictures convince you that photography has long ago stopped being an occupation and have turned into an art. His early-period black and white pictures can be seen in MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York, Art Institute in Chicago, Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, Museum of Fine Arts in Huston and, of course, in Benaki museum in Athens, defined by Manos himself as the "Athenian MOMA." He was born in South Carolina, son of Greek emigrants. His father left his country and went in the USA during the Balkan war, and his mother moved to Paris 10 years later, after the conflict with the Middle East. His father saw a picture of her, fell in love and left for Paris in order to meet her and marry her. "I have been working as a professional photographer since I was 16. At 17, my brother and I found ourselves at a Ku-Klux-Klan meeting and I documented the event. I had no idea what this meant back then," recalls the photographer.

A lot of his time is dedicated to the African-Americans' war for civil rights. He was in Montgomery, Alabama, in the day they sat on the front bus-seats and insisted on their rights. He also visited Martin Luther King's wooden house and met him and his family in person. Later on, in 1968, he achieved his first professional success- still on trial at Magnum studio, he was sent to report Martin Luther King's funeral in Atlanta. "I felt really tense at that time," remembers Konstantin Manos. Another success was on the way- while walking around in his hometown, he saw a military car parked in front of the church. When he asked what was going on, they told him that this was the funeral of an African- American soldier, killed in Vietnam. He asked the victim's grandfather and the priest for permission, and he photographed the funeral. The ceremony was no longer than 15 minutes but his photographs brought him the New York City Art Directors Award. Today, Manos freely claims that he supports the American president Barrack Obama, disappointed that a whole 40% of Americans voted against him.

"It has been a long time since I have stopped working for money. I take pictures of things that are of a professional interest to me," says the famous photographer. During the 60's he returned to Greece where he spent a long time photographing the "unknown Greece." Which one is the known and which one is the unknown Greece? "I had it as my goal to only photograph villages that have no electricity," recalls Manos. He traveled 75 thousand kilometers in his Volkswagen and documented the true country-side life of Greece, issued in the album "Greek Portfolio." Those pictures helped him enter world-renowned museums and galleries. Later, he works in Boston and with Boston Symphonic Orchestra. "I was in a creativity crisis. I felt like I have done everything I could in black-and-white photography. I didn't know which way to take," tells the photographer.

This is when color photography came to the scene. Konstantin Manos spent long hours in his studio until he mastered its techniques and started shooting again, this time- in the streets of America. His next album, "American Color", was then created. It did not only establish him as one of the leading photographers in the world, but also as an artist with a unique, inimitable style. His pictures are a symphony of colors, with playful light and shade effects, capturing the subtle magic of the moment. "I have never directed my photographs," says Manos, but I can wait for the unique moment I want to capture. The essence in his pictures is in the context, the central figure is often of secondary importance; one can be amazed by the unexpected symbols that can be found in what seems to be just an ordinary scene.

"Sometimes I wish I had spent more time in Greece. You know, Greek girls are really pretty. I like young people there, who spend whole nights in the center of Athens having coffee. I like Greek music and I like the fact that young people are enjoying it. Greeks are good people, spiritual, life in Greece is beautiful," admits Konstantin Manos on a cup of Coffee at the foggy North-Atlantic coast.

Tags: Kostas Manos photography
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