Interview: Peter Grifoni

Jan 23, 2013 3:16:48 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

Photo: Photographer Peter Grifoni

Peter Grifoni is the one of three Sydney street photographers who will feature on CAPA World. The three became friends through their art and a project in which they attempt to photograph 100 strangers, some of whom are featured throughout this interview. Below, Peter talks about his ideal way to spend a Saturday in Sydney to take his camera and where to go to get a different photography viewpoint on the city's famous harbour.

CAPA World: Tell us a bit about your background as a street photographer and your experience developing your art on the streets of Sydney.
Peter Grifoni: About three years ago I took the plunge and invested in my first DSLR which gave me the tools to really discover photography as a serious interest and art form as opposed to the basic snap shot style that most people do with a point and shoot camera.

As a self-taught photographer, I dabbled in Macro and Landscape for the first year before I became drawn to portraiture of which I had done very little of. It was at this time that I stumbled upon the 100 Strangers group on Flickr and so began my journey with street portraiture.

Photo by Peter Grifoni: Stavroula is Stavroula is of Greek descent, as you may have already guessed, and is currently working for an animation company. She was photographed on Newton Street in Sydney.

CW: Tell us about the first time you approached someone in the street with the intention of taking their photograph. How did you ask? What was their reaction?
PG: I decided to start the project after many months of checking out the 100 Strangers group and seeing some of the wonderful portraits that were in the pool. So, on a bright sunny winter’s day, I headed up to a local tourist destination in the Blue Mountains which is located about 80kms west of Sydney. I asked my wife to come along for moral support and hoped for a good crowd.

As I got out of the car my stomach was full of tension from a mixture of fear and excitement. I carefully set up my gear and painstakingly checked the settings to ensure that nothing could go wrong when I made my move. After 20 minutes of surveying the crowd and summoning up the courage, I spotted a young couple struggling to take a self-portrait with the iconic Three Sisters rock formation in the background. I took this as an opportunity to introduce myself & offered to take their photo with their camera. Of course, they were grateful of the offer and that’s when I took the opportunity to ask Olivia to be my first stranger. I stumbled through my pre-rehearsed stranger blurb and the rest is history. She was a very positive and happy young woman with a strong Christian faith and was so grateful to have been asked to partake in the project. She said that she felt honoured to have met my wife and me and that’s something you don’t hear often especially from people you have just met. Taking the shots of Olivia was the easy part of the entire encounter mainly due to the fact I didn't give a thought to the technical side of the portrait. I just wanted to capture her infectious, million-watt smile.

Stranger #190 - Jules
Photo by Peter Grifoni: This is Jules, photographed on Crown Street in Surrey Hills. He lives locally, works in retail, will soon be working on a business degree and hopes to open his own bar soon.

CW: Have you ever had a negative reaction when you approached a stranger in the street for a photograph?
PG: Negative responses are rare in my experience and in particular to the 100 Strangers Project as the rules state that you must ask their permission before taking the shot. Inevitably you will get people that say no and there are many reasons why people reject your request. These range from, “I’m in a hurry” or they don’t want their photo on the internet or “I look terrible today”. By far the most common response is “I’m not very photogenic” with “I look bad in photos” a close second. The most memorable rejection wasn't actually spoken by the stranger, in fact she never got a chance to say yes or no as her mother who was with her at the time grabbed her daughter by the elbow and dragged her down the street away from me before I could even finish my blurb. Learning to not take it personally is easier than you think but is an important part of building your self-confidence and resilience.

Photo by Peter Grifoni: Akoual is an aspiring fashion model, photographed in Newton. She is originally from Sudan and lived in Egypt for five years before migrating to Australia 10 years ago.

CW: Do you have any advice on where to go in Sydney to capture icons from an unusual angle or viewpoint?
Sydney is world renowned for its beautiful harbour and city and there are many places that one can go to capture it. I think getting up high to overlook the entire harbour is ideal in my mind. The best and least expensive way to do this is to head to the top of the southern Plyon Lookout of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. For $15.00 you get the most amazing views of Circular Quay and the Opera House as well as a unique view of the famous bridge.

Worth every cent in my books!

Alternatively, there is Sydney’s Taronga Park Zoo located at Mosman on the northern side of the harbour. Stunning, million dollar views of the harbour can be had at the small amphitheatre used for the Free Flight Bird Show.

These are just two suggestions that might provide a different perspective of Sydney but I suspect there are many more.

Photo by Peter Grifoni: Miles lives not far from Newtown where he was photographed. He works as a manager at a call centre and is studying Philosophy at Sydney University.
He also plays guitar and sings in a band called Thatch Eaves Run regularly playing gigs in the local clubs and pubs.

CW: What’s your ideal way to spend a Saturday in Sydney?
PG: There are so many ways to spend an ideal day in Sydney that you would need at least half a lifetime just to experience them all. A cruise around the harbour is always on top of the list or a slow drink at the Opera Bar located at the foreshore of the Opera House can be bliss on a sunny day. Walking through The Rocks area to discover part of Sydney’s history, a quick dip at Manly Beach or few hours at Luna Park could all qualify as fun. Personally, I love to walk the streets of the inner city suburbs, like Newtown, Darlinghurst and Surry Hills looking for unique people to meet and if I play my cards right I walk away with a portrait as well.

Photo by Peter Grifoni: Heather was shopping in Newton when she had her photograph taken. She works in marketing research and makes clothes and jewelry. She's also a huge Sydney Swans fan - a local Australian football team.

Thanks Peter!

See more from Peter on Flickr:

Study abroad with CAPA Sydney:

Topics: Interviews, Sydney, Australia