In your practice you often use analog photography techniques. Why do you feel it is important to stay connected to a classic technique such as analog photography in a world that is so focused on digital?
For me the analog tool represents all that Photography is about. It’s also very personal for me. My father stood in line for eight hours in Poland in ’78. Those times were tough for my parents’ generation as our country was under such political influence from Russia. In spite of this, he managed to get hold of a new Zenith analog camera and he taught me how to use it before I was ten years old. Using a darkroom wasn’t an available option for me. I kept practicing on my sisters Praktica - which I still use to this day, despite the light meter not functioning correctly (selen meter). I appreciate the seriousness and slower process involved in the art of analog technique. Each photograph has to be consciously set up, each has to be thought through. I never considered to “upgrade” myself in the digital era, I saw no need. I use both devices, at different times, for various reasons. The mainstream tendencies and the pressures of consumerism haven’t really affected me. I still have an old typewriter back home ( in Poland), although I rarely use it since I live mainly in India.
How can you describe the experience of photographing in digital and the experience of using analog?
My personal vision in photography started to change quite significantly, after coming to India four years ago. Until then, I was mostly interested in the texture, within light and shadow. As a daughter of an architect I developed great interest in structures, buildings, always with the attention to details. Even when I was capturing a landscape, that was directly an expression of my current emotion. In India I became fascinated by people. On my second journey I packed my old analog Praktica and took some black and white rolls with me. I met various significant souls along my way and I broke through the insecurity of asking them, to allow me take their portraits.
Digital photography for me is rather fast and I feel that people would be quite annoyed about yet another “Westerner” wanting to click the picture of them. Holding my analog camera I have a chance to spend time with each one. I approach them in a much more intimate way than with the other camera; Sigma that I also carry with me. Very often they are more relaxed and curious about the device I’m using to shoot. Once I have a chance to develop the rolls and make the small size prints, I’d show them and they would be absolutely astonished and fascinated by the real medium. The whole analog experience is stretched in time. It connects me to those I captured very much. I carry both cameras and digital outcomes I can share directly with the shyest ones - children of India. They are crazy about seeing their own faces on a small display screen, often surprised with no colour in the frame. I set my digital on the black & white mode, shooting RAW, because I see the world around me as a texture and contrast between what is lit and what remains in the darkness.
What is your favourite and least favourite thing about each technique?
I cannot compare the quality of grain in the film technique versus the other. Digital provides the excellency of what is captured, but the mood and nostalgia of the analog is absolutely more interesting for me. The honesty of each analog frame can’t beat a digital picture. What is definitely a pity is that the analog technique is dying but luckily, there’s a collective effort of various photographers striving to maintain it alive. Materials and processing is expensive. There is also a risk of losing the frames, due to different circumstances. Digital option is the best back-up for any situation that requires less time to compose, or might never happen again. That tool is easier to post produce, however I don’t focus on such facilitation. I’m trying to catch precisely what I feel and notice directly, right at the spot. The risk of damaging the negative is the reason I keep digitalising all my rolls. One way or the other both techniques interweave constantly in my practice.
Your work seems very introspective in nature, what kind of photography projects inspire you the most?
I approach each photo separately. I care to shoot a frame even if it tells a story alone and exists outside of a bigger photographic series. There are same qualities that are always present in my photography. It applies to a project, or mini series, or a single photo. Intimacy and self-exploration is the link. Recently I saw the common ground to include all what interests me with certain feeling of a “project”. At the moment ( April 2020) I am experiencing a lockdown in India, coping with the reality of life within the limits, imposed on us by the governments. I started a series of portraits, focused on the sense of a freedom within a lock-down reality. That theme is only a loose construction for an idea to approach various people within my community, talk to them, understand their states of being and explore it within this frame. It makes me excited, because I am meeting those who accept to be photographed, in their flats or outside, despite the strict rules of a “social distance”, which I call fake isolation.
We noticed you have some really captivating photos capturing South Asian people and culture both in the fashion sphere and in your own personal photography. What did you connect to the most creatively in your photographic journeys?
The people. There’s an intimate, personal feeling in me, prior to taking decision to photograph a person. I could describe it almost as falling in love with the other human. That applies to both male and female. Once I am connected with the person, I start to observe closely. I notice the incredible beauty of the individual and then I look for the right space to photograph them in. That space contains the fragility and vulnerability of the person. Perhaps something that can’t be even well perceived by themselves. There is intimacy and closeness. There’s a split of the second where I grasp to see their Self. I am deeply connecting and resonating with each individual that I capture, for the sake of keeping their beauty in my memory. My photos carry the story behind them even if there is no more than a shadow of a palm tree composed against a blank wall.
All Photography by Karolina Piech Karolina Piech