A 360 view of Sydney

Photographer Con Hionis talks to Neos Kosmos about his new photography book, the unique style of cylindrical panoramas

His every photograph contains a number of images merged into one. Most contain eight, some 24, and several over 100. Two to three hundred shots are taken just to create the one image. This is part of the process of the extraordinary technique of combining images into cylindrical panoramas.

Greek Australian photographer Con Hionis, has recently published his second book, Sydney360, with around 80 panoramas that give an intimate portrait of Sydney cityscapes. When you slip through the pages of Con Hionis’ book – it feels alive.

You feel the movement, the interaction between the people. Due to the panoramic technique he is using, one can see in front, to the side, and behind. With a cylindrical panoramic style and a 360 degree view – that Con is passionate about – you see the content of the photographs with all horizontal lines appearing curved, thus giving photographs elements of warmth and action at the same time.

This is what one can find in the recently published, unusual book by Con Hionis, a snapshot of the city from unique perspectives, catching moments in time and keeping the Sydney cityscapes alive and moving. From North Carlton to the darkroom of Con’s computer Photography was always a part of Con’s world. His father Dionisios was a renowned wedding and portrait photographer, whose studio in North Carlton was famous amongst the first Greek migrants in Victoria.

The business prospered during the large Greek migration wave, from the late ’50s to the mid ’70s. Con followed his father’s steps. In those times, while he was growing up, kids of his age were always helping in the family business. His family’s business was photography, so Con started learning the craft at a very young age. He was taking passport photos of travellers, shooting christenings at the age of 15, and weddings at the age of 17. The most memorable for him were the group shots in front of the church, straight after the service.

He filled the cassettes with plate film and often developed the film and photographs. “During the week I often shot a roll of film, so I would develop and print it during the weekend. It was slow and tedious, but when exposing the paper under the enlarger it was an art form. Many years ago when I first showed my father Photoshop, version 2, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing – he grabbed the mouse wanting to have a try,” Con recalls. “Couples would marry and send photographs of their wedding to parents, siblings and friends back home.

It was very important to them. Once the migration wave slowed, the business wasn’t what it used to be and my father closed the studio in the late 70’s.” Con didn’t pursue the profession of a photographer, but the passion for it was always present. He reconnected with photography again, after his father passed away in 2000. Passion born on the island of Ithaca The idea of panoramas – the technique that Con is today passionate about – was born on the island of Ithaca, in his mother’s birth village.

“Working in a digital printing company in town, I always admired montages that architects, artists and students use to bring in for us, to reproduce,” he tells Neos Kosmos.

“When visiting my Mother’s birthplace Ithaca, in 2000, I photographed a montage of her village, Exoghi. When I returned, I merged around 30 images by scanning and using Photoshop. It took weeks to get the image looking right, but the final result was very rewarding. During the same trip, I also photographed the ancient theatre of Epidaurus in the Peloponnese,” describes Con.

From then on, the passion for shooting panoramas has never left him. The end result of this rewarding technique is, as Con says, unique because it captures the space and contents as it is. “It just doesn’t capture a small segment as it would with a single frame. These images are appreciated when enlarged to over a meter in length, with all the details they consist of.”

Once you have the concept for panoramic montage in mind, the process is not time consuming. As Con Hionis explains, the breakup of this original style of photography is 20 per cent shooting and 80 per cent processing. The photographs that one wants to use from the shoot are selected, and merged together. Then the retouching begins. “Some images may contain up to a full day’s work. It’s the small detail that takes up most of the time. I always go back after a few days to check the image for any misaligned detail,” he says.

From Hionis’ opus, his passion about panoramas, cities and capturing them in twilight, are obvious. For this Greek Australian, twilight is both the golden hour to photograph, and rewarding when you get it right. “It’s when all the sky is rich in colour and varies between time of the year and where you are on the globe. You go out on locations and wait. Reminiscent to my other big passion, fishing,” Con explains.

Sydney360 The book Sydney360 comes after Con Hionis’ first publication, titled Melbourne Symmetry. Released in 2008, this highly successful book still captures Melbourne, after four years, in a fresh and unique way. “With convenient size, that makes it a great coffee table book, many copies were posted overseas, as gifts to Melburnians living abroad,” Con says. Sydney360 is an unusual publication that serves as a modern guide, capturing the most famous and the unknown landscapes of the city, to imagine a whole.

For the photographer, the most amusing part is when people flick through the book, trying to get their head around how the images have been shot. “Many enjoy the work for that reason. Most know the sights and landmarks, but they have never noticed what surrounds them. And that is what completes a building or landmark,” concludes Con. While Melbourne Symmetry was made from images that were already in Con’s library, the Sydney360 was shot for the main purpose of publishing a book. There were around 12 visits to Sydney, ranging from four to ten days, over a two-years period. Over 200 panoramas were photographed and around 80 have been used in Con Hionis’ new book. To order Sydney360, visit www.conhionis.com/Sydney360.”