Creative, cool, and committed to her craft, Greek Australian Eirini Aligiannis fell in love with photography as a young girl playing with her mum’s camera. Her passion for art and cinematography is evident in all that she does, from her nature and black and white stills to her recent documentary, the poignant Louis (KR.ONE) Gasparro, a project that touched her heart, made us think about the concept of art as intended forever, and has been winning awards including honourable mentions in the Hollywood Independent Film-makers Awards and Queen Palm Independent Film Festival. Her captivating photography has featured in exhibitions and publications all around the world, and she is a sought after speaker on the topics of film-making and street art.
GCT recently caught up with Eirini Alligianis to find out what inspires her, what drives her, and the beauty of finding and capturing art everywhere she goes.
Where were you born and raised and where are you based now?
I was born in Sydney, Australia and am based in Sydney.
What part of Greece is your family from?
They are from Plomari, which has the best Ouzo ever if I must say so myself.
How did you get into photography? Was it something that interested you as a child?
I used to play with my mum’s camera a film back camera called YASHICA when I was little, My mum used to hide it in her wardrobe but somehow I would find it and I used to pretend to take photos and when mum saw me she used to say be careful don’t break it. I still have it and its on display on my bookshelf.
Tell us about your journey with photography- what have been the highlights?
My journey started at Art school after high school, my study majors were in Black and White photography and Print-Making. Photography stuck with me. My mum bought me my first Canon Eos film back camera which I still have.
The lecturers were so hard on me because they saw my potential, they knew I had the potential. I think because I couldn’t find my niche, So they gave me a camera. They said to go and take photos you have 24 shots only one will turn out good, when you get back you will develop them and we’ll see what photos you should concentrate on taking. So I was determined to take more than one good shot.
So my thing was to take street urban style photography and ever since then I never looked back. My highlights range from the early days of selling my first photograph and sharing that moment with family.
Showing six of my works in New York Times Square as part of the New York City photographic competition titled ‘See Me’, having my images displayed in one of the busiest public spaces in the world was surreal.
Tell us about some of the challenges?
Challenges would be its a very competitive industry.
How would you describe your photographic work?
Street Photography, urban style
What inspires you?
Travel is very inspirational to me, My routine in the morning would be grabbing my camera, sunglasses and finding a cute little cafe to have my coffee, talk to the locals and I’m off to the unknown streets and finding inspiration through my walks. There are unlimited possibilities which photographers absorb and get inspired by. As natural storytellers and explorers, It is my passion to take photos. I feel like it’s my responsibility to document and preserve these moments in time. As street photographers, we observe, and just by being at a place at the right time, what we see becomes art.
Tell us about branching into short films? Was that always the goal?
It started by me volunteering at the Salvation Army in Surry Hills. They had a photography course which I was assisting in teaching the disadvantaged kids how to use a camera and they had a radio station teaching them how to use the deck and make their own playlist.
Foxtel and the Salvation Army merged and have this amazing programme called StreetTV, They pick 6 students to write a script or tell us why they want to be a part of this programme which entitles them to learn how to make short films or documentaries or music videos from storyboarding to being behind the camera and editing.
I was chosen to be part of this amazing programme and the year after to be a Mentor, that is how it all started for me. After the programme finished Randwick Tafe were giving out scholarships to whichever student wanted to study film. I guess I was the lucky one that not all 6 wanted to make films, so I put my hand up and studied Film and Screen, Majoring in Cinematography.
It wasn’t really my goal. I think the beautiful classic black & white Greek films I used to watch with my parents and still do sometimes the ones with Rena Vlahopoulou and Aliki Vougiouklaki probably steered me in the right direction.
Tell us about your film projects?
Most of my film projects have been word of mouth. My cinematographer lecturer referred me to one of them cause the Director wanted a female D.P so my first film out of college was a drama based on true short stories.
I have also done music videos and interviews for the Channel 10 show ‘The Loop’, including artist Twenty One Pilot, an American musical duo and Grace Sewell. Documentaries are my favourite.
I haven’t been always behind the camera, which I don’t mind sometimes I have been a camera assistant, focus puller and Assisting Directing. In the film industry, you need to be able to do more than one job.
Tell us how Louie (KR.One) Gasparro came about? Why was this a story that appealed to you?
In 2013 during my 3-month stay in New York City, at which time I attended my group photography exhibitions, I made this short documentary on Louie (KR.ONE) Gasparro.
While there my roommate ZE told me that I must go visit 5Pointz as it could be torn down. ZE suggested we go on a photo shoot, so we did. From then on I knew I had a story to tell.
On one of my day trips, I went to the new MOMA in Queens. During this trip, there was not much to see so I decided to head off to 5Pointz to see if anything was happening there.
That’s when I saw loads of people taking photos. All I had with me at the time was a little point and shoot. So I went straight home, which was only 2 stops with the 7 train and got my 5D Mark 2 and my monopod and headed straight back to 5Pointz.
On my return, I was hoping and praying they were still there. As soon as I turned the corner, success, yes!! They were still there. At the same time as setting up my camera, the Graffiti Artist came up to me in his American/Italian voice saying, “What are you doing?” I replied in the biggest Aussie accent, “I’m filming ya!” His response was, “I thought you were making pizza”.
That’s how it all began. I was so inspired by Louie I began filming him creating his last piece on the wall a tribute for his brother, the impact 5Pointz has had on him and Louie’s own personal devastation at the idea of it being demolished.
As the day ended I realized I did not get a chance to interview him so we organized to do the interview the next day.
It appealed to me cause art is important to me, its an important part in my life I’m very passionate about it so when something so historic can be demolished it breaks my heart.
It was a legal place where the artist can go and write and express them self and show there talent people from all over the world would come and visit 5POINTZ.
What is your favourite aspect of filmmaking?
Cinematography is my favourite, The word cinematography comes from the Greek roots ‘kinema’ (movement) and ‘graph’ (writing). A good cinematographer does more than lighting a scene or move the camera. You have to study the script and create a detailed lighting setup and camerawork that create emotions and strengthen. Communicate a character’s dream, hope, despair, or joy based on where the camera and lights are placed.
Tell us about your love of travel. What are some of the most incredible experiences that have stayed with you?
Finding the unknown and walking the streets taking photos, meeting new people feeling free tasting their traditional foods.
The most incredible experience that will always stay with me would be my trip to New York City when I lived there for 3 months, Where do I start. from the people I met, the food I ate, the amazingly talented people I was surrounded with, it all just made me thrive.
The unexpected group photography exhibition in Tribeca, assisting on a film set all over NYC. Walking down the streets of Tribeca seeing a TV show Blue Bloods being filmed. You just never know who you will meet and the opportunities that are just around the corner. The New Yorkers are such nice and such helpful people they’re not as bad as everyone thinks they are.
What is one piece of advice you have received along the way that has stayed with you?
Australian Cinematographers Society had an event where I got to meet a cinematographer called Don McAlpine, ACS, ASC. He has done movies like Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet and X-Men Wolverine. I asked him “What advice or tips can you give me before I leave for New York City?” He said to me: “Keep on shooting, never stop.” That’s all you need to do. One other one is “It’s not what you know, its who you know.”
Who has influenced you the most in your career and why?
There isn’t really one person that influences me, I have the support of my loving family and friends and I’ve got to say I’m lucky to be surrounded by talented cinematographers in the Australian Cinematographers Society, my little family. Surround yourself with people who want you to achieve and push you to do better.
What’s coming up next?
I would like to continue making documentaries and finish my project on Street art around the world, my next long overdue trip will be Athens, Greece.
Winning an Oscar.