Greek photographer Dimitri Mellos recently won the 2021 Street Photography Award, sponsored by the Street Photographers Foundation, with his pictures capturing life in the streets of New York City.
Dimitri Mellos is a Greek expatriate who moved to New York City in 2005 to pursue his love of photography in an ideal setting, probably the setting.
For many, New York is the capital of the world, a melting pot of different ethnicities, ideas, cultures, religions, and art.
The streets of New York are like a motion picture where the plot and the cast change every minute. To shoot photographs in the Big Apple can become a pleasant obsession.
Dimitri Mellos and street photography
The Greek photographer moved to the United States, and New York in particular, in 2005 to attend graduate school for his PhD in clinical psychology. But as he tells Greek Reporter, he had other things in mind.
“I was born and grew up in Athens. I came here as an adult, in 2005, ostensibly to go to graduate school for my PhD in clinical psychology. However, my unspoken, hidden agenda was to also become a street photographer on the side.”
As he says, he was intuitively drawn to the particular genre because “it gives one the opportunity to create something possibly extraordinary out of the ordinary, to create art out of the humble cloth of everyday life.”
But there is more to Dimitri Mellos than creating art out of everyday life.
“At the deepest layer, my love of photography has to do with my discomfort with the passage of time. Everything passes and nothing lasts, and photography is our only chance to preserve some of these moments from oblivion.”
The choice of New York City
For someone who wants to pursue street photography and has a choice of place, New York is one of the first places that come to mind.
“New York is — or at least used to be — a kind of Mecca of street photography, both for historical reasons, as many of the greats of the genre worked here in the 1940s to 1980s, but also because of the great energy of the city.”
It also has to do with the New Yorkers’ ease in front of a camera, Mellos says.
“Most New Yorkers are not super-conscious around a camera, they are not as suspicious about someone with a camera, as people tend to be in some other parts of the world, including Greece, in my experience.”
Yet, the Greek photographer says, it is not only the magic of New York that inspired him. For him, it was the change of surroundings that played an important role.
“With hindsight I am shocked that I could not find inspiration in a city like Athens before, because now whenever I am there, I find it incredibly fascinating for a street photographer.
“I am mad at myself that I was so blind when I was living there, and did not manage to do more street photography in my own hometown.”
New York in the pandemic
Some of the pictures that won Mellos his award were shot during the Covid-19 pandemic, which ravaged the city in the first months of the outbreak.
“During the first few months of the pandemic, New York became unrecognizable, a real ghost town. The streets were completely empty, and it was an extremely sad spectacle, especially for a street photographer.”
Mellos says that during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic he was forced to stay home. He was infected in March 2020 and one month later his baby girl was born, so he had to stay home.
“During the first few months of the pandemic, New York became unrecognizable, a real ghost town. The streets were completely empty, and it was an extremely sad spectacle,” he says.
However, he could not put his camera aside. “One substitute I found for street photography during those months of isolation was to start taking photos of lonely pedestrians from my window, using a zoom lens.”
“It was incredible to see how the theater of the street somehow lived on, even when the streets were largely deserted,” the Greek photographer shares.
The 2021 award on street life in New York
The Greek photographer does not shoot pictures as a professional. So the 2021 Street Photography Award is more of an important personal reward for him.
“I have the blessing and the curse of not making my living from photography. This prevents me from spending as much time doing photography as I would have liked, but on the other hand, also allows me to choose what to photograph and how to photograph it,” Mellos said.
“It is a fairly important award within the particular photography genre. This annual contest is organized by the Street Photographers Foundation, a group that has a very large following on social media and produces various books and publications.
Now “mostly everyone is hunched over their phone”
After years of doing street photography, Mellos has seen a lot of changes in society, especially now that most people in the street are lost in their own personal phone universe.
“In recent years, the street has changed – it is much more difficult to capture people’s gazes, for example, as mostly everyone is hunched over their phone, even in the street and other public spaces.”
Indeed, this is something you see in public places in almost every part of the world nowadays. People are lost inside the little screen of their phones, oblivious to the people around them and the surroundings.
“The other side of this has to do with how little alert to their surroundings people have become. Everyone seems to be ensconced in their little personal bubble with their phone, oblivious to what’s around them.”
Through his shots, the Greek photographer hopes he would make people see what happens around them, be alert to fleeting moments of beauty that come and disappear at a blink of an eye, or a camera click.
“Beautiful and poetic moments are all around us, all the time. I would hope that at least a few people can be inspired from my photos to look up from their phones and pay attention to the world around them.”