Tony Pierrakos has a lot to thank the Victoria Market for, and his muse, Melbourne.
After 13 years, the photographer has made a living selling the essence of Melbourne, whether it be a slightly touristy image of a tram or the ever popular arty laneways that many local Melburnians will talk your ear off about.
It was never supposed to be a business, Tony says. He was content with working his family friend’s hammock shop in the Victoria Market to fund his photos.
“It was literally an amazing job, meet great people, sit on a hammock all day and get paid,” Tony laughs.
“But I thought, OK, I’m going to waste away here and I thought, what can I do here to just to mix it up?
“Why don’t I take some photos of Melbourne, which is what I always do anyway, and see if anyone wants to buy them?”
Years later and people from all over the world are still buying them.
The idea to start Intone Photography in 2001 in a small gallery and shop in the Victoria Market was the key to a flourishing career.
It enabled Tony’s works of art to sing from the walls and entice all the market goers out from their doughnut trances.
Before the crowds start filing into the night market on a Wednesday night, you’ll find Tony bustling around his gallery, adjusting frames and prints.
His gallery is located in the newest and trendiest part of the market, String Bean Alley.
Despite the name sounding like it’s come from the land of Disney, the alley actually harks back to its former days as a market shed selling the green bean.
Even if you might not find a string bean in sight, you’ll be enticed by colourful shipping containers showcasing local handmade wares, from jewellery to furniture, fashion and accessories.
You’ll find tourists with a look of awe on their faces, feeling like they’ve just won the lottery after trawling the aisles inside the market, one koala bear souvenir after the other.
The best validation for his work is when a tourist comes up to the gallery and picks out a print of Melbourne that isn’t touristy at all.
“I always tell people you need to be shown around Melbourne by someone who lives here,” Tony says.
“Some of the best things in Melbourne are just out of reach of the tourist areas, outside of the CBD.”
Growing up in a Greek household in Brunswick, Tony started finding the little gems locals love to take their visitors to quite early on.
He even remembers coming to the Victoria Market at the age of four or five and taking the atmosphere in.
“I remember walking down the aisles, seeing fabric and live animals,” he says.
It was at the age of 12, when he asked his parents for a camera for his birthday, that the image stuck in his head that he wanted to be a photographer.
“I got one of those instamatic, almost a throwaway camera, with very tiny negatives,” he remembers.
But that little film camera started the obsession. He’d use it to take family photos, his soccer buddies on the pitch and anything else that caught his fancy around town.
In year seven, when asked to research a career, he picked photography, and it stuck.
After university he tried his hand at commercial photographic assisting, but soon realised he really didn’t have a passion for it.
“I’ve always been of the mind, I’ll take the photo I want and if you want it then you can buy it,” he says.
Assisting was forcing Tony to stick to a script, so he did what his heart yearned, and he packed a bag and started travelling the world.
“I travelled because I wanted to, the camera came second,” he clarifies.
He got immersed in culture and tradition, and fell in love with a small region in Vietnam.
“There’s an area in Northern Vietnam near the Chinese border called Sapa, and they’re an indigenous tribe called the Hmong tribe,”
“They’re just beautiful people and beautiful to photograph.
“If I couldn’t take a good photo in Vietnam then I would have had to give up.”
Travelling also defined his photographic technique and it’s where he fell in love with colour. Asia was a goldmine for perfect photos without needing to set up anything. He was shooting life like a fly on the wall, and along with the soft light he encountered in the Northern Hemisphere, he captured some of his best work.
Those photos are still available in his gallery, and are very popular not just with tourists but with locals.
“Some of my work is just wall art, it’s just interior design stuff, it’s canvases with beautiful colours,” he says.
Fifteen years ago, Tony was making a name for himself in black and white. Film had a way of showing light and dark much better than digital cameras could capture.
“Back in the film days and my uni days it was all black and white, I didn’t know what colour was,” he says.
“I had total control over it, from the film to the processing to the dark room, it was complete and utter control.”
But, despite the digital camera’s shortfalls, there was a great advantage. Digital cameras love colour.
Coming back to Melbourne, Tony found his city just screamed to be photographed.
He had to adjust to the harsher light our climate has, but it did create a great mood in his photos. Bold shadows made colour stand out.
“It’s a beautiful city to photograph, I lucked out,” he says.
“I could be stuck in some other city trying to make any sort of photo.
“Look at the laneways, look at the colours, the design, the street art – how lucky am I?”
With an ever-changing canvas, Tony says he has to stop himself from going down his usual haunts, Degraves Street and Centre Place Arcade.
“I’ve done them to death.”
Yet, as he says that, you can see in his eyes he’s itching to go back and see what new graffiti and what new colours now adorn the laneways.
It’s easy to see why those photos are his best sellers. Melbourne’s laneway romance is so perfectly captured in Tony’s photos that it’s hard to pass the prints up for anything else.
The old trams or Flinders Street Station don’t have the edginess of the graffiti lining Hosier Lane.
Amazingly, all of his prints are hand-printed and mounted by Tony himself and his wife. When all our tacky koalas and kangaroo key rings are made in China, his prints are a breath of fresh air, and provide one of the best souvenirs you can pick up in Melbourne.
It’s no wonder tourists can’t get enough, but locals are also attracted to them like flies.
“I sell to anyone that loves Melbourne,” he says with a laugh.
You can find Intone Photography stationed in the yellow shipping container in String Bean Alley on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and on Wednesday nights during the Night Market season.
You can also buy prints online at www.intonephotography.com