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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