Text: Nikos Kontopoulos
She began working in photography almost by accident, as she admits to me with a sincere smile. Being a student of interior design, she had to photographically imprint some architectural details, as part of one of her courses. It was the first time she got her hands on a professional camera and she says “It was love at first sight”. My professors urged me get in professional photography and that is how it all started in a way”.
Since then, even though only a few years have passed, Helena’s resume already contains individual and collective exhibitions in Cyprus and abroad, significant distinctions in international competitions and certainly a distinctive photographic view. What stands out the most about her, is the way she “sees” people. I have noticed that in her work sometimes faces hold the main role and other times they are simply just an extra. In her very strong portraits, life seems to be engraved on people’s faces, whereas in her architectural photographs people are nothing more but dots lost in magnificent urban sceneries: “Yes, I am a person of extremes” she says and continues: “In portraits I try to expose the way people have really gone through their lives, while in my architectural photographs I place people as small figures, thus seizing a sense of flight”.
Helena was born and raised in Nicosia, this is her city. I firmly believe that the place in which we have grown up, shapes us up to a certain a point, the images we have taken in as children affect our personal aesthetics. So I want to know what role she believes that her city has played in shaping her own view: “I vividly remember, since I was a child, how impressed I was by the architectural uniformity that existed and still exists in the Old City, in all these traditional Cypriot houses”. I think that this image is certainly traceable in her work, in the aesthetic purity of her architectural sceneries, as shortly after Helena moves from past to present: “Today however, there are huge contradictions in Nicosia, and if you are observant, you can easily depict them. In the new city the images are changing. Right next to traditional Cypriot architecture, new buildings stand tall, such as the ‘Jean Nouvel’ University Campus Library’, posing a very interesting contrast in my view. Indeed, I believe that as time passes, this contrast will become the main architectural feature of Nicosia. The coexistence of these two different aspects, both traditional and modern, through new architectural projects, will eventually shape the identity of the city”.
I listen to her talking with great warmth about her city and Cyprus, and I wonder which one is the Cyprus that she actually wants to capture with her lens: “Photographers –and artists in general– we believe that in order to create we must travel far, visit big cities, face new images. My point, however, is that even in a small country like Cyprus you can find very strong stimuli to create. Many people when they see my photos often ask me: ‘But where is this? Is it in Cyprus?’. And when I respond: ‘Yes, it is in Cyprus’, they are stunned and tell me: ‘That is so strange... I often pass by this place but I have never noticed it...’. That is exactly my works goal. To highlight points and images of Cyprus that, while they are of great interest, are often overlooked without a second glance”.
Right at the end of our conversation I ask her to reveal one of her secrets to me, to give me a tip for the visitor who comes to her city for the first time: “The link with the past and the traditions of Cyprus is very important to me. That is why I would definitely recommend a stroll around Οld Nicosia, the Venetian Walls, the Famagusta Gate and the Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios mansion, a prime example of Cypriot urban architecture of the 18th century. An excursion to a picturesque village is also a must – a village such as Kalopanayiotis, which I consider as one of the most beautiful villages in Cyprus due to its traditional architecture that can be found around every corner”.