Grace Petrou is a very relaxed and easy-going, 26-year-old professional photographer from Melbourne. Her parents George (from Famagusta) and Zola (first generation Cypriot) were both creative types, so from a very young age Grace found herself working on creative projects with them. “Growing up in a creative family gave me the freedom to experiment with art − it was always acceptable in our house, as my parents are artistic themselves.
“Dad was always a little bit eccentric, and certainly creative, and I felt I was definitely on the creative side too,” she tells Neos Kosmos.
“My parents are most definitely modern Greeks (Cypriots).”
Like many young people, Grace took a while to find her true passion, beginning her journey studying the arts and then working in a bridal boutique on the weekend, where she fell in love with all things bridal and found she had a genuine enthusiasm when talking to brides and sharing their excitement for their big day.
“I decided I wanted to be an arts curator, which would involve an undergrad in arts and post grad in curating (six years of study),” she explains, pointing out that volunteering helped her see she wasn’t going to be happy in that career.
“While volunteering, which I encourage ALL students to do, I discovered being an art curator wasn’t creative enough for me. It’s so easy to continue along a particular line and not realise that perhaps it isn’t for you. In 2010 my father suggested that I work with him and then eventually take over his business in graphic design,” she says.
And it was during her brief time working for her father that she picked up the camera for the first time, to shoot products for various campaigns. “I gave it a shot. I hated it, felt like I was going cross-eyed every single day.”
But it was another experience entirely that resulted in her eventual career path.
In 2010 Grace was asked by a neighbour to photograph their wedding, seeking relaxed, candid shots of the day.
“It snow-balled from there, all of my work was found through word of mouth, which I found so encouraging.”
She tells me that even though her work has developed and matured, her style can still be described as “whimsical”, as she tries to avoid overly staged or posed photos.
“My wedding work is definitely photo journalistic with a mixture of rawness, moodiness, contrasted with a little bit of the whimsical. I look for the intimacy in the unseen moments.”
In March of 2013 Grace took her leap and started Grace Petrou Photography. She decided to split her business and involve herself more in commercial photography, which includes fashion, food, architecture and portraiture.
“I adore this sort of work,” she says, clarifying that initially it was really difficult to break through, as it’s a very oversaturated industry, made more difficult by the fact that all creative work is viewed most often subjectively.
“Not only are you competing for work,” she says, “your client has to love your perspective on their own product or service.”
Her long list of clients include City of Melbourne, Anna Campbell, Georgia Young Couture and Bunnings just to name a few.
“I am absolutely in love with the idea of curating my clients’ ideas creatively, so I suppose you could draw parallels between being an arts curator and a photographer,” Grace enthuses, saying she loves the mix of creativity and interaction with clients.
“Sometimes you have to go with your gut in regards to what you do for work everyday!”
Meanwhile, Grace is also involved in the Cypriot community and NDCP, a program connecting the Cypriot diaspora from around the world and immersing them in the Cypriot culture.
It was in part her relationship with boyfriend Julian, a non-Greek who is also her assistant at weddings, that helped her to appreciate her culture more, describing it as a fear of losing her identity, and since has endeavoured to ensure that her culture remains a prominent part of her life.
Grace had so many more cool little stories to tell of her life, so here are a few things we discussed:
Grace isn’t a very common Greek name − where does it stem from?
“My mum was very ill with cancer at a young age, and after some seriously heavy chemo she was told she couldn’t have kids. Some six or so years later, Mum fell pregnant with me and both Mum and Dad decided to call me Grace, meaning Gift from God. In Greek, my name is Harissa. Mum fell pregnant to my sister Isabelle a short time after, so she definitely considers herself blessed two times over.”
Have people always been supportive of your career?
“My family have been so incredibly supportive of my career choices. I believe that’s partly due to Dad having started his own creative adventure from a young age and also due to my parents being a little less ‘traditional’. As for my grandparents, I’m still not sure they know what I do exactly … bless them!
“I’m often asked by yiayiathes and pappouthes what I do. I tell them I’m a photographer and I often get most hilarious replies, e.g. a very short ‘den peirazi‘ (doesn’t matter) with a shoulder shrug, or ‘Kala einai kai afta. Vgazeis fotografies sto feisbook? Mou ta lene ola oi ksaderfes sti kypro.‘ (These things are good too. You put photos on Facebook? Your cousins from Cyprus tell me).”
Has there been a moment in your career where you felt that you had ‘made it’?
“I would definitely say mid-last year where work should have been dying down, I kept thinking next week will be quieter yet it never did get quiet. My work has been full-time ever since, which makes me feel so happy.”