This week it’s time for Katarzyna Kubiak. Based in Warsaw but travelling regularly, Katarzyna focusses on street and documentary photography. Besides many honourable mentions at international festivals, she is the winner of the Grand Prix Leica Street Photo Poland 2018. Welcome Katarzyna!
Hey Katarzyna, thanks for your time. Just curious, what does your average day look like?
My average day looks probably the same as the day of millions of people around the world. I’m not a professional photographer. I work in the office, so I’m used to getting up in the morning. Before leaving home, I wake up my daughter to school. To get to work, I need to take two buses and a train. I try to have my camera with me every day, because interesting situations can happen anywhere, even in public transport. I come back so late from work, that I only have time to play with my cat, spend some time with my daughter or go to the gym. And then you have to go to sleep, to gain strength for the next day.
That sounds like a busy day. Is photography a way for you to relax outside of your work life?
Yes, definitely. This is my escape from daily life. Usually I combine photography with my second great passion, which is traveling. Whenever I have the opportunity, I pack my backpack, take my camera and try to leave for a weekend, usually to another country. In fact, the place doesn’t matter much. It is important to change the environment. Once a year I also try to make a long trip for a couple of weeks and then I usually choose a different continent. It is wonderful to get to know such distant countries and other cultures, looking at everything with a fresh eye. Taking pictures of it gives me great pleasure.
What kind of place fascinates you the most, and why?
What fascinates me the most are the places that are not so affected by mass tourism. That’s why I most pleasantly remember my trips to Iran, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. These are places where you can really feel like in a completely different world. Even in the pictures it is difficult to reflect the atmosphere that surrounds you there. You are not overwhelmed by the mass of tourists. You can easily observe everyday life. It is very different from the situation I got used to in my hometown, Warsaw. I feel at home in Europe, no matter which country I visit. I have my favourite places here: London, Prague, Vienna, Budapest. Last year I visited Ukraine twice, which is close to my heart. This country reminds me very much of Poland from my childhood and I feel comfortable there.
Have you ever thought about doing photography as a full time profession?
Yes, of course. I’ve already had the opportunity to try work as a pro, for example as a photo-set photographer or making a private photo shoot. It was a great experience and I was very close to make the decision to switch to professionalism. The only obstacle that prevents me from leaving the office is that I raise my daughter alone and pay off my apartment loan. Photography is unpredictable. So working in administration gives a sense of security and stability. I was afraid to take the risk. However, I haven’t completely abandoned this idea yet and I hope that one day I will have enough determination and courage to take up this challenge.
How do you approach your subjects on the streets?
Both in life and in photography I always try to have good intentions. If I know that I don’t want to hurt, humiliate or show anyone in a bad light, I certainly have nothing to worry about. I think people sense this approach. I try to approach people as close as I can without interfering with the scene. I use a small camera so very often people don’t even know that I’m taking pictures of them, so I get 100% authenticity of the scene in the pictures. And this is an ideal situation, especially in street photography, which cannot be posed. Fortunately, with elements of the environment there is no such problem. Then I photograph what I find.
Do you ever get a negative reaction when people become aware of being photographed? How do you respond to that?
Such a situation may have happened to me several times, usually in Poland. I have no problem with it. I usually try to explain what I do – that I am a photographer and why I do it. Usually it’s enough. If not, I just leave. If someone is aggressive, there is no point in discussing it.
What kind of subjects interest / attract you as a photographer?
Where is the line between documentary and street photography, according to you?
Street photography is a good way to show in one photo a certain part of reality – in some way it is also a documentary photography. Street photography is characterised by freedom of creation and a lack of imposed rules. It is not explained to the viewer, which is why its definition is so broad and everyone has their own boundaries in its interpretation. When I think of documentary photography, I imagine photographs presenting a specific history, a social problem, an event or a person. It is about the world around us.
What are your boundaries in the interpretation of street photography?
I just try to photograph what I want, no matter what kind of photography it is. I don’t like to close anything in definitions or frames, but when it comes to street photography, it won’t be posed or arranged photography. I also don’t allow manipulation in post-production of a photo.
You are one of the editors of Street Photo Poland. Is there anything that connects the Polish (street) photographers in terms of style or subjects?
For me, Polish street and street photography taken in Poland are two different things. Polish street is characterised by the fact that most of our best street photographers take pictures abroad, leave Poland where it is difficult to photograph people, which is due to their very suspicious and distrustful attitude towards the photographer. Street made in Poland is in my opinion a bit grey, rather subdued, I also have the impression that it has the atmosphere of such a sad, monotonous everyday life. Compared to many other countries, during the year we have few sunny days, and in winter at 4 p.m. it gets dark. This all has an impact on the atmosphere of these photos.
Interesting observation. I can imagine that the weather conditions influence the colour palette of the images. Also I see a lot advertising and (wall) decoration photography from Poland, how would you explain this element?
The observation is correct, but I cannot agree with the fact that this is the domain of Poland. I observe it in many countries I travel to. Frankly speaking, I was interested in the origin of this. I have been collecting photos that illustrate how people try to beautify the reality around them. Sometimes they manage to do it, and sometimes it looks kitschy or comic. I feel that people have such a need to show reality in a more beautiful light.
For example, this photograph was taken in Monaco, where the pavement along the coast was being repaired. Half of the picture shows the real sea and the other half shows a poster that was covering up the real landscape.
Or, as in this case where we see an old house in Switzerland. A wallpaper imitating doors and windows was attached to it. For what purpose was it made? Is it good to cover reality when it is not too beautiful visually? These are the questions that come to my mind when I see these solutions.
Last year you won the Leica Street Photo Award (congratulations for that!). I was wondering if winning the prize has changed anything for you?
Winning the Leica Street Photo was a very nice experience. Several of my photos were awarded, one of them won the Grand Prix. But such a win doesn’t really change anything. All the contests I decide to take part in are for me a way of entertainment, a test for my skills. They are never an indicator of how good a photographer is. Many people treat contests too seriously. And photography is supposed to be our passion and pleasure, not a race for the number of competition awards.
Amen. Thanks Katarzyna!
You can find Katarzyna’s work here:
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