Alexander Savvas grew up in the city of Johannesburg, but very early on he stepped out of his comfort zone in the pursuit of something to push himself creatively. Alexander has always been passionate about meeting people in remote locations, which are ideally untouched by tourists. Read on to hear the stories behind these wonderful images.
Production Paradise: You were born in Johannesburg and moved to Cape Town, then Berlin. Did these changes in your location have anything to do with your photography?
Alexander Savvas: More than my photography they had to do with my external influences. I moved to Cape Town while I was completing my studies in 3D animation and visual effects. However, it was only once I realised I couldn’t spend the rest of my days in an air-conditioned office staring at a computer screen that I pursued photography full-time. I had left my life in Johannesburg because I felt like I was in a stagnating space and needed to change my surroundings, step out of my comfort zone.
However, after spending four years in Cape Town, all those familiar feelings took hold of me again. I was comfortable, and in many ways comfort breeds apathy. I needed to change gears and step things up again, find a new city that would push me not only creatively, but also in other aspects of my life. Having new influences around me on a daily basis is what keeps me inspired and motivated. I love the uncertainty, the feeling of the unknown, and the sense of adventure that comes along with it.
Production Paradise: In your last Spotlight Travel & Documentary Photo & Motion appearance, there are incredibly beautiful images of local people from your travels through Vietnam. When did your passion for shooting local people begin?
Alexander Savvas: It comes down to me being passionate about meeting real people and experiencing real places. I attempt to capture the world as I see it, and my work is a representation of the people I meet on my travels and the places I visit. Working briefly in the fashion industry as a photographer I learnt many things, one of which was that I could not commit myself solely to such a contrived industry. I would love to see change in the world and this is my small way of making an impact. I am always in search of truly authentic people and experiences in my life, and I feel that my work reflects that.
Production Paradise: You aim to raise cross-cultural understanding and appreciation with your work, is that your main drive as a photographer?
Alexander Savvas: As I grew up in a post-apartheid South Africa it is something that I value highly. Growing up in such a complex environment shaped my understanding of people, the world and how I interact with it. The interaction of people in cross-cultural, as well as in intro-cultural, situations fuels me and my work. However my main drive as a photographer is the exploration of the human condition. I am endlessly fascinated by people, how we affect each other, our surroundings and ourselves.
Alexander Savvas: I was travelling through Thailand, looking for places and communities that have not been run over and tainted by the hordes of tourists that pass through each year. On this search, I came across a small island in the Andaman Sea where a group of nomadic “Sea Gypsies” were living. After visiting the village and meeting the Moken people, I felt compelled to document them and their way of life, not on or in the ocean as they have been previously documented, but in a fresh light that tells the story of the real challenges they face today as a vanishing people.
Production Paradise: Reading and seeing those pictures, I felt like I was watching a news report unfold. Is it one of your new goals as a photographer to report such types of situations?
Alexander Savvas: Yes. I’m doing what I can with the tools at my disposal to help the people I come into contact with.
Production Paradise: When you go to villages such as the Moken Village how are you normally received? And do they collaborate with you while you shoot?
Alexander Savvas: It definitely varies from place to place, there is no standard reception when I first come into contact with the communities I photograph. Quite often I am met with as much interest and fascination, as I have for the people and the place. Sometimes I’m ignored, or even raise suspicion and negative attention and my presence isn’t welcomed. I try to enter with a positive, engaging and friendly energy, introducing myself to the people and respected members of the community. Once introductions and the initial interest fades away, I like to observe and wait for the truly natural and authentic moments to occur, and then capture them. As a large part of my work is portraiture, I am constantly collaborating with the person in front of the lens, which adds an intimacy to the images. However, how open and collaborative they wish to be, always varies according to the individual.
Production Paradise: How do you plan your expeditions?
Alexander Savvas: No expedition is the same, therefore the preparation is always different. Generally I like to identify a focus for a project; whether it’s a place, the people, a situation or a combination of everything. I do as much research as I can to determine the types of challenges I will be facing once I begin shooting. I focus on gathering information about the culture and traditions so that I can integrate into the community more fluidly. One of my favourite aspects of photography is the freedom it allows me to improvise and make decisions in the moment, so I try not to have too many fixed ideas and plans before arriving. I like to let the location and the people choose the direction of the shoot, even if they are unaware that they are doing so.
Production Paradise: What’s been the most rewarding travel shoot, on a personal level?
Alexander Savvas: Definitely Vietnam. I spent over 5 months getting to know the people and their way of life. I didn’t have much experience in travel photography at the time, and it has been my biggest learning curve to date. It reinforced aspirations of taking my work in the direction of travel and documentary. Prior to arriving in Vietnam I had no idea of the challenges I would be facing, the largest of which was earning the local people’s trust.
The Vietnamese are proud and direct people, so it was often difficult to overcome the barrier that they raise between themselves and foreigners, especially when I was in more rural areas. I met so many genuine and caring individuals on my journey who contributed to a truly unique experience and a greater understanding of the country and culture, which has been through some very turbulent times in the past. It was gaining this new knowledge and appreciation for a people whom I knew nothing about prior to the trip, which inspired me to continue down the photograph path that I am now on. My journey included living with local people; exploring the landscapes; eating traditional food and speaking with a variety of people about their past, present and future. This deepened my understanding and appreciation of cultural differences, historical relevance and has allowed me to share this through my work. The challenges that I had to overcome in Vietnam, and the new course that it set in my life and work, made it the most personally rewarding project so far.
We would like to thank Alexander Savvas for taking the time to speak with us. You can see more of his travel and documentary photography portfolio on Production Paradise and on Alexander Savvas’ website.
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