Capturing Human Theater With a Flash: An Interview with Charalampos Kydonakis (Dirty Harrry)

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Charalampos Kydonakis (or known online as Dirty Harrry) is a street photographer who was born in Heraklion of Crete and raised in Rethymnon. Dirty Harry is indoubtly one of the greatest contemporary street photographers out there. Not only does he consistently create solid work, but he also creates innovative images getting close and at times shooting with a flash. He is an architect by trade, but creates his true artistic vision through his street photography. Read more to see the rest of the interview as well as his inspirational images.

Hey Harry, it is a great pleasure to interview you. In my opinion, you are definitely one of the most innovative street photographers out there and have been creating a consistently great body of work. To start things off, can you tell us more about your history with street photography. How did you stumble upon street photography and how long have you been shooting?

Hi Eric, thanks for your kind words and your invitation here.

I started with photography in 1997 in the university when i bought my first analog camera as it was a necessary tool for my studies and my work. The first years I was shooting only buildings and urban spaces. I have shot street photography since 2008. I think the reasons that i was interested were some photos I saw in Magnum photos at that time and also the fact that I got my first digital camera the year before. Therefore I started to shoot more than the previous years. As I shot more and more I realized that I had to go on and shoot something else than architecture. I started to shoot some more landscape and one day I finally realized that what i liked most is the street and the action inside the human theatre.

Looking at your work you like to work really close to people and at times use flash. Can you tell us what appeals to you about working closely with your subjects and when you like to use flash?

The main reason that i use the flash is to be able to create my own light and be independent from the natural and other external to me artificial light sources.

Working closely for me is a matter of how true and direct a photo finally can be. I believe  the photographer has to be a participant inside the human theatre, not a distant telefocus viewer. If you don’t go close to people for me it means you didn’t love your subject enough so as to go close to it and approach it. If you don’t go close it’s like watching television and i don’t like television.


One of your images which really stuck out to me was this image in which you were able to create what appears to be a composite image with a lady and a cat using flash. Would you be willing to share how you were able to create that image?

This image was made with a double flash shot on the same click in bulb mode with an external flash on my left hand.The one flash went on the cat and the second on the lady after some seconds.

Describe your personal character and how it applies to your street photography.

Well, they  say that you can understand the photographers’ soul from his or her photos. I believe that this is generally correct,but not always. So I’ll leave a question about me, a part of its answer  can be found inside my photos. The other part is hidden out of my photos, out of the internet and people who know me,know a part of it. The last part of the enigma’s answer is known only by me, and I only know a part of it. So it’s difficult to describe precisely myself, as Socrates said “I only know one thing, that i know nothing”.

When you go out and shoot, how do people react to you? Are people threatened by your style of street photography or don’t notice you very much?

Nobody is threatened, cause i’m not going to harm anyone. I just shoot photos. People in big cities are full of stress and sometimes they are ready to quarrel without any serious reason. Also some of them are frightened of cameras and what is weird is that they don’t mind being recorded by cameras in banks or in supermarkets. They mind being recorded by cameras of strangers cause they think that their photos will be used afterwards with evil intentions.

Anyway i don’t have any moral doubts about what or how I shoot,cause i know what i do won’t hurt anyone,the maximum pain that  someone can feel is a surprise,nothing more. Also most of the people don’t understand what happened, cause I shoot close and rapidly and it’s difficult for them  to realize anything. Usually what I tell them if they ask is that they are beautiful. Some of them like this and smile and some of them don’t and continue to shout. Well, that’s the truth for me – people are beautiful, that‘s why I shoot photos of them. Less than 1% of the people that i have shot a photo has reacted badly,so i don’t think it’s a serious issue to think of.


In your images you have a strong and consistent style which screams your name. Tell us how you were able to create your own style and who are some photographers that influenced you and your work.

Technically I have used a lot the technique of Bruce Gilden,but  i think the most inspirational photographers for me are Garry Winogrand , Weegee, Martin Parr, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank.  I don’t know if i have my own style as everything has been done before,I just try to make my experiments with light and tell stories through them.

What are one of the photos that has a strong personal significance to you and why? Also can you tell us the story behind that image?

In October of  2009 I was in Athens walking and shooting photos with my friend Costas Papageorgiou. Costas was shooting with a flash and a cable and all his photos were clear and bright,mine were dark silhouettes as we were walking against the direction of the sunlight.Finally Costas’ words convinced me, we went to a store and i bought a flash and a cable. I was totally ignorant of how to use my new equipment and after about an hour and more of improvising and shooting , I started to change the direction of the flash and finally i shot the above photo. It had  the opposite light from the normal natural light, as the sun is up on the sky and we are used in viewing the world with the light coming from the top and not from the bottom. That moment I realized that a tool that since then i didn’t want to use could give me creative ways of expression.

From then and on most of my flash photos are shot this way with the light from the bottom to the top.

What equipment are you working with, and how does it allow you to achieve your artistic vision?


The lenses I use in the street are:

  • a 28mm or a 35mm lens with a full frame digital camera
  • a 20mm lens  with a non full frame digital camera

I use these lenses cause they permit me to go inside  the human crowd and be part of it ,also they permit me to use and handle  the perspective. Telefocus lenses destroy it and flatten photography’s  theatrical substance.

Also I use for the reasons mentioned in a previous answer:

  • a flash with a cable
  • a wireless flash

And finally when I travel to shoot photos, I have two pairs of comfortable shoes. One pair is waterproof so that I can walk and shoot if it’s raining. Actually the shoes don’t help directly my artistic vision,but they permit me to walk comfortably for hours

On your blog in your biography you wrote “The more i shoot out in the streets, the more i realize what i want from photography and at the same time the more i get confused about what i want …” Can you explain this a bit more?

When I have done something a lot of times, most times I get bored of it. That’s when i start to feel that I have to go on to something new for me and this is difficult as I don’t know how to approach things that I’m not used to. And that’s why I get confused: cause when I reach  a point that I feel I have learned something, this is the moment that I feel I must quit from it and go on and learn something new.

When you are out shooting, how do you identify potential scenes to photograph? Do you envision what you are going to capture before-hand, or like to simply shoot and surprise yourself afterwards?

It depends. There are photos that you somehow predict the photographic result cause you see some typical signs that something is going to take place,and others that  it’s not sure what is going to happen. Not only the happenstance but also the light itself -natural or artificial flash light-can make their games and produce a weird and unexpected image.


Describe the streets of Crete. How is shooting street photography in Crete different from anywhere else in the world? How do people react to your street photography?


Crete’s main characteristic is the strong sunlight. In the streets of my city Rethymno, it’s interesting to search for corners that light makes its sculpture.

Another thing is the touristic nature of the the place: in the summer it’s full of blond tourists,in the winter full of black haired locals.

I find interesting to shoot both tourists and locals.

Cretan people, even their character is powerful and wild enough, I think they are calm though with my way of photographing, It’s not difficult for me to shoot here. What I believe is that the best place for a phototographer to shoot is the place that he lives for the simple reason that there he has more time to walk the streets again and again and  the  possibilities of shooting something interesting are better. The majority of my favourite photos, I ‘ve shot them here.



Can you describe which projects you are currently working on?


There are some events in Crete that have fun to shoot there like the carnaval and some traditional fiestas that I go there every year.

But there’s no standard line,most of the times i take the camera and go out to shoot around improvising. This winter I want  to shoot more photos without people to make a small break and fill my batteries for a following trip.

What is one tip that you would give to aspiring street photographers and Is there anybody out there you would like to mention or give thanks to?

What I did and what I keep on doing is shooting a lot and searching and trying to learn from other people’s work. Also I try to figure out what is this that I want to say through my photos. I think ths is the most difficult part. If these three things can help anyone, then fine.

I ‘d like to  thank two friends of mine:

  • Marilena Stafylidou : I attended a photographic seminar by her, which helped me think of things about photography that I hadn’t thought until that time.
  • Dimitris Mavrozoumis : He tought me useful techniques for shooting “invisibly” in the street. Even if I have stopped to be “invisible” long time now since I bought the flash, Dimitris’ shooting advices are always helpful and I follow them when I don’t use the flash.


What do you think about Charalampos’s work? Which of his images or what he said really stood out to you? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

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  • Justin Waggoner

    Very good interview!

  • Anonymous

    Interesting. The photo of the old man with the glasses followed by the old ladies bickering are his best photos, in my opinion.

  • Michael

    I don’t understand why some photogs would be inspired and encouraged to flash people up close just to get a satisfying shot. I understand about approaching creative ways to find personal signature but when flashing off someone right under their nose to me is pretty offensive. Why can’t one find different ways of street photography without flashing or invading personal space, why can’t one find a better approach then capturing photos of people with an expression of surprise and fears in their eyes like the old couple on this post. I could imagine this style of photography could easily get out of hand and start making people annoyed with anyone holding a camera in the streets. I thought the whole point of street photography was stealth and capturing natural moments of life. I hope this is just a fad but probably not.

    Also I think this interview was lame (I got nothing against with you Eric, just my opinion), here’s my breakdown. I felt this photog was just trying too hard to be somebody nor very creative or impressive.

    ‘Nobody is threatened, cause i’m not going to harm anyone. I just shoot photos. People in big cities are full of stress and sometimes they are ready to quarrel without any serious reason. Also some of them are frightened of cameras’-Dude, it’s because they feel threatened.

    ‘and what is weird is that they don’t mind being recorded by cameras in banks or in supermarkets.’-Come on are you serious?

    “You can find pictures anywhere. It’s simply a matter of noticing things and organizing them. You just have to care about what’s around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy.”~Elliott Erwitt


    “It’s perfect-I wanted to shoot, but not smiling. Don’t smile!”~Bruce Gilden (Now that’s tragicomedy)

    • twocutedogs

      “I don’t understand why some photogs would be inspired and encouraged to flash people up close just to get a satisfying shot.” – because photography is about the image.

      “I thought the whole point of street photography was stealth and capturing natural moments of life.” – that’s one defintion, but not the only one.

      • Michael

        “because photography is about the image” – I totally agree with you but where’s the quality or genuine creativity? I always admired professionals to non professionals who can capture an image that shows genuine nature of moments captured at the right time at the right place. Even Eric Kim wrote “street photography is taking the everyday and the mundane and making it into something unique and beautiful.” I love this quote but I feel flash photography is too artificial and forced into peoples face without respect. I don’t mean to give any disrespect to anyone but as much as I like to explore different styles of photography I want to share my negative view on ‘Bruce Gilden’ style of photography. Here’s something I like to share:

        • Bophoto

          Michael, in some ways I agree with you, but on the other hand, I just can’t find flash that offensive, people are close enough to smack the guy, it is his job to smile and make it work. Im offended by guys with huge tele lenses “sniping” images from across the street, that is offensive and chicken. I just can’t hate a guy who have the balls to get involved like this because he believes it will help him create better images. :-)

          • Eric Kim

            As people say–creepiness is directly proportional to focal length

          • Michael

            First of all I really enjoy your blog Eric and I agree there’s many different ways I should be more open to it. @Bophoto haha I was just the guy with a telephoto but because that was the only lense I had suitable enough to shoot street photography and I really liked the images and people who I shot seem to enjoy it as well so I can see now with a better perspective in terms of different styles, these are what I shot with Nikon 70-300mm & Tokina 12-24mm my first camera kit (I was into wild life and landscape), Now I am into film camera so I am getting a Ricoh GR1s inspired by Daido Moriyama
            This style fits more of my personality, I guess.
            Thanks for opening me up :-)

          • Richard Hankin

            I wonder how much experience you have with a tele? and perhaps that might be ANOTHER challenge, to use, say a 70-300mm to take “street photos”

          • Richard Hankin

            What do you do with the photos that you take?

    • Eric Kim

      Thanks for your comment Michael! There are many ways that people shoot street photography (think Henri Cartier-Bresson) but there are also many people that enjoy shooting strangers close-up.

      I believe the beauty of street photography is to have more than one definition of it– and exploring new ways to showcase the beauty of the human condition.

      Thanks for your input,

  • Krlevd

    Lol. I love all the flash/no flash arguments that have been going on here for a while now. Thanks for the post. I love Dirty’s work!

    • Eric Kim

      Flash or no flash, Dirty is the man ;)

  • Gazonthestreet

    Great interview Eric, more like this please on your blog! Normally I am not a lover of close-up flash portraits, but in this case the dramatic positioning of the flash makes them stand out for me, especially in the first one of the man with glasses, love the shadow they make.

    • Eric Kim

      Definitely agree Gaz!

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