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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