Interest in Photography

I have been inter­ested in pho­to­graphy since I was a child. I became enchanted when I saw an image appear on a sheet of paper float­ing in a dish filled with developer. That was bet­ter than magic. I received my first cam­era from my uncle. My mother took the next step when she signed me up for mem­ber­ship in a local photo club. Soon, as a nine-year-old, I star­ted devel­op­ing my first pic­tures and I was show­ing off my know­ledge of optical aber­ra­tions to my play­mates. Two years later, our bath­room became my home dark­room when my always very under­stand­ing mother spent her last pen­nies buy­ing a second-hand pho­to­graphic enlar­ger. My old­est neg­at­ive, which I have still kept, dates from 1982 when I was eleven years old. I have always been fas­cin­ated by the tech­nical side of pho­to­graphy with its goal of cre­at­ing a cap­tiv­at­ing, inter­est­ing and beau­ti­ful image.

I have spent many years look­ing for bet­ter res­ults as I was dis­ap­poin­ted with the formal qual­ity of my tra­di­tional 35 mm pic­tures — des­pite their like­able con­tent. I have, also, envied the excep­tional pho­to­graphs taken by the mas­ters of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. I decided to ascend to a tech­nic­ally more advanced level on a whim in 2000 and I entered the world of large format pho­to­graphy. This opened aven­ues that were pre­vi­ously closed to me. It enabled me to encounter an older and sim­pler form of pho­to­graphy before it became more auto­mated and stand­ard­ised. For example, a large format cam­era lets me set the plane of the film any way I desire, often not par­al­lel to the plane of the lens, yield­ing full con­trol of the per­spect­ive of the frame. This makes it easier for me to express the dynamic nature of see­ing in a static pho­to­graph. A 4 × 5” sheet of black-and-white film is cap­able of record­ing an image with a high fidel­ity, beau­ti­ful ton­al­ity, sharp­ness, and a par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ter that is not avail­able in a smal­ler format or even with digital photography.

Large format pho­to­graphy has its own spe­cific require­ments: time con­sum­ing pre­par­a­tion for the day of work, slow­ing down of the entire approach, execut­ing addi­tional tech­nical steps in the cre­at­ive pro­cess. All of these obstacles actu­ally intensify the engage­ment of my mind and of my heart. When I hide my head under the dark­cloth and I look at the upside-down, almost abstract image I find myself in a dif­fer­ent world — I con­tem­plate what I see and I increase my under­stand­ing of the pos­sib­il­it­ies a par­tic­u­lar scene might offer. Usually, I take between two and six neg­at­ives in a day ded­ic­ated to pho­to­graphy. There are days when after hav­ing set-up my cam­era I decide to put it away an hour later without mak­ing any expos­ures. This slow pace of work helps me improve both the formal qual­ity and the sub­ject­ive con­tent of my pho­to­graphs and forms an import­ant aspect of my cre­ativ­ity. I respect pho­to­graph­ers who hav­ing shot hun­dreds of takes in a day find a num­ber of great images amongst them. Though I have tried that approach too, I feel decidedly bet­ter work­ing slowly and more med­it­at­ively. When I have been denied the lux­ury of this time con­sum­ing large format ritual, such as when tak­ing por­traits or when trav­el­ling in a more lim­it­ing way, I sim­plify by using a medium format cam­era with 2½ × 2½” film. Often, it turns out to be only a tem­por­ary sav­ing as I return, pla­cated, to those places car­ry­ing my large format kit and resign­ing myself to the neces­sity of spend­ing the time I was try­ing to save by choos­ing that compromise.

Karolina Vyšata inter­viewed me in October 2010 for a photo book that accom­pan­ies the (Be)Longing exhib­i­tion, which she has cur­ated. This was her ori­ginal ques­tion, which I have answered above:

You have been a pho­to­grapher for many years. What is the ori­gin of your interest in pho­to­graphy and in large format? What makes you pas­sion­ate about it?

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2 Responses to Interest in Photography

  1. declan wylde ·

    Rafal,

    I believe I have the same original experience of growing to love photography through the magic of seeing, at 2 AM, a bath full of floating black and white images after having spent the day in the dublin mountains with my dad and his rolleicord.

    I never reached his technical ability as an amateur photographer but I certainly got some of his love for the beauty and enjoyment of the experience and the finished product.

    Declan

    PS I have been to hear your seminars and would be interested to know if you ever have a bad day and to what you would usually attribute such occurences?

    • Rafal Lukawiecki ·

      Thanks for sharing this, Declan. That special moment of seeing, for the first time, images magically appear on wet pieces of photographic paper is something traditional darkroom photographers share and love referring to all their lives, I believe. I hope you have many more chances to experience that.

      I do have “bad” days from time to time, and I try to make the best out of them, if I can. Usually that means I use the day for something, well, less productive than proper work. I’ll try reading, pondering darkroom improvements, day-dreaming about making fine-art photography into my life’s only career, or I just spend the day thinking… That is, if I can — if I am stuck, I just try to get through, as the next day is usually a better one.

      Unless those days are a result of my own laziness and my trying to avoid doing something for far longer than I should have avoided it, I am not sure what causes them. Still, I think those days fulfil a purpose, for me at least, by showing me that there are more important things in life than just the things I would normally focus on. So are they really bad? No, any day I live is a good day, I tend to think nowadays, even if I have to face sadness, sometimes. It is what I make out of those days that can make them better, even if perhaps a bit harder. Thanks for asking this question, and for doing so here… I hope it is useful to someone, who stumbles upon this page.

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