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Interview with famous Polish photographer Tomasz Przychodzień for www.oxu.az news site

Tomasz, first of all give our readers some information about yourself. When did you started photography and what inspired you to make photos?

Hello, I’m Tomasz from Poland. I’m a photographer. As you probably know :) Well, it’s actually hard to say when I started to be interested in photography. When I was 8-year old kid I got my first camera and it must have the time when I made my first photo. Actually during most of the time I was the most inspiring for me myself. I mean by the bad quality of my photographs :) It kept me developing as an artist.

I started like everyone – shooting everything and everywhere, bringing hundreds of photos from each trip or event – those kinds you never have time to browse later and you can bore your friends to death because they all look the same. With time, I started to understand basics like exposure, composition and other photographic essentials, I started to meet with other photographers, develop my workshop and interests. I read a lot of books regarding photography focusing on creation process rather than technical issues, which I believe are not essential and their development goes along with development of perception of reality shown through your photographs. Of course I followed works of such photographers as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, Robert Capa, Tomasz Gudzowaty just to name a few – their works influenced me a lot.

At the beginning I photographed everything: landscapes, macro, street, portrait, architecture but I started to specialize in certain areas. Right now I’m interested mostly in street photography and architecture. I love to observe people on the streets capturing all the tiny moments and interactions between them. Most of people doesn’t have time to slow down, notice and experience those moments. To me they are most important parts of everyday life. Photography forced me to search for more and through my lens I try to show my way of perception of reality. Not neccessarily correct one – there is no such thing – but my own.

Ability to capture those whiles helps me a lot when I shoot wedding reportages – it is really difficult to make it more than just documentation of the event. In contrary to architectural photography you won’t have an opportunity to reshoot, you have only one chance for each moment. I guess ability to capture those moments defines a good photographer.

Architecture on the other hand gives me time to think. I can relax, slowly compose every single image, think about the lines and shapes, try to find hidden meanings. I find there a sense of perfection. Everything is planned, every element has it’s necessity of existence. It is completely opposite to street photography which is full of chaos, randomness and uniqueness of each moment where imperfection can be considered its biggest strength. Fortunately living in a big city I can easily combine both of my photographic interests.

Bak

How the idea of making photos came to your mind? Did you have any information about our country before coming here? (please include here an information about when and how did you arrive to Azerbaijan)

Apart from photography I’m also a president of an NGO which realizes cultural projects around the world. Coming to Azerbaijan was a part of one of photo projects realized by my organization. We came on February only for one week with a group of young people who are or want to become photographers, journalists and filmmakers. The main idea of the visit was helping them develop their skills and abilities under tuition of experts and gather some material for a photographic exhibition about Azerbaijan in Poland.

 What was your first impression while arriving to Azerbaijan?

I’ve been here before in 2008 on a short trip. I was studying in Georgia on a student exchange back then. It was hot, a lot of chaos on the streets, quite dirty. I remember I had a problems with finding my friend’s flat. I asked how to find a specific street while I was already on that street and people I asked didn’t know where is it J Later on my friend told me that it would be much easier to look for a place based on landmark buildings around. Right now everything looks different at least in Baku. It quickly transforms from post-soviet city into modern European metropoly.

Baku2

 Being a man of art, how can you characterize Azerbaijan?

It is difficult to describe a country after a short visit or two. To me it is a country of contrasts and rapid development. Polish novelist Stefan Żeromski mentioned Baku in his novel “Early Spring”. The main character living in Baku, had a vision of returning to Poland and seeing houses made of glass there. Right now it’s rather Azerbaijan who can be proud of its modernity and the idea “glass houses” is being developed here. What attracts me the most is that on one hand you can admire all those amazing pieces of modern architecture of Baku and on the other hand when you travel to more remote areas like Lahij you feel like you visit another country. This diversity can be a great asset but it can also be a threat to local culture. I hope I won’t see the modernity coming to remote rural areas.

In your works you paid more attention to Heydar Aliyev Center which is definitely a masterpiece of architecture and new landmark of Baku. What did you think about this building when you saw it first?

I thought it’s unreal. I saw a lot of photographs and I knew it has to be amazing but this was more than I expected to see. I think I could spend few more days only on photographing this one! I also enjoyed the way it was fitted into its surroundings. Especially the connection of its shape, that reminds me waves, with Caspian sea. In Warsaw in many cases beautiful modern architecture doesn’t fit to the rest of the city. Here it’s different. I only regret I haven’t had opportunity to see the building inside. Well, I guess it gives me motivation to return here some time.

Waves

You also made many photos outside Baku. Is Baku differs much from countryside of Azerbaijan? What can you say about urban and rural Azerbaijanis?

Before I came here I was wondering before how the fact that most of Azeris are muslim will affect what I will see on the streets of the big city. In Poland we have we almost don’t have a muslim community, so I expected to see a lot of different type of interpersonal relations. After spending few days here it turned out that the people I met in the city are very similar to other ones I met across the Europe. They go shopping to the malls, hang out in the bars, pretty much the same what I can observe every day in Poland. In rural areas thou, it was different. In Lahij the inhabitants seemed to be a much closer community, they all knew each other, paid more attention to culture and traditions. Comparing it to Baku obviously there are also a lot of differences based on economy. You can’t notice so much oil influence on development of Azerbaijani countryside. It’s much more difficult to spot Ferrari in small village than in the capital :)

 Which photograph can you name “the best photo I’ve made in Azerbaijan” and why?

Definitely it is “Unreal” – photograph of Heydar Aliyev Center. It won a lot of awards and was exhibited in over 15 countries around the world but I like it mostly for the story that lies beneath its creation. It was one of the first day of our trip to Azerbaijan. The night before we had and integration meeting with other photographers which we ended before 2 am. To be at Heydar Aliyev Center for the sunrise we had to get up at 5 am. At 5am the weather looked really uninviting, it was windy, cloudy and raining – “normal people” would give up on making any photographs that day, but I made a call that we have to try anyway. The conditions were tough, the rain was pouring on my camera and many photos had to be deleted because of raindrops on my lenses and filters but finally I made that one. It even turned out that it was possible to use bad weather to make that photograph unique. During 8 second exposure I managed to get a nice effect of blurred clouds and the wet pavement nicely reflected the building. I wouldn’t be able to do it in a sunny day with a clear sky. And of course there is a cherry  on the top: the person standing in front of the building. He is my friend who decided that the weather is bad and he won’t get any good photographs that time. His small silhouette makes this photo stand out of the crowd, helps the viewer realize the size of the structure, its greatness and also reflects on how small a person can be comparing to all of the world around. That’s why it is more than just another architecture shot.

Unreal

 Was there any difficulty in making photos in our country?

One of the biggest problems was the weather. The best photographs are usually done during the “golden hour”, the time just before and after sunrise and sunset. I believe during one week spent in Azerbaijan we have seen only 1 or 2 sunrises/sunsets. All the time the horizon seemed to be hazy and covered in clouds.

In most cases we had problems with security guards. All of the modern building have security, they usually ask for permission to photograph and behave like they have an authority of the police. That’s why I didn’t manage to shoot any pictures of flame towers from a close range. I don’t really understand this approach, especially that showing photographs of that beautiful architecture around the world may only have a positive impact on country’s promotion abroad. This is the issue Azerbaijani government should definitely work on. In Poland we also had this kind of problems some time ago but right now it doesn’t happen very often since we have specific law regulations about photographing public areas that include fines for those disturbing photographers :)

 Will you come here once again and what experience did you earn after visiting Azerbaijan?

Regarding photographic experience – I once again convinced myself that even if everything is against you – weather, security guards etc. still you can make quality photographs, it’s a matter of trying and never giving up. Regarding general experience after the visit – amazingly fast development of Baku is something that I will surely follow. I don’t know if I will come here again. I hope I will have an opportunity to observe how the city changes, but it depends on many factors. Beeing a professional photographer requires a lot of travel but then you don’t have much time to travel for your own pleasure. I shoot weddings also abroad so maybe I will come here for a photo session…

Smoker in the Alle

Have you ever seen any works of Azerbaijani photographers? If yes, what could you advice them?

To be honest Azerbaijani photographers are not among those who inspire me the most. I have seen some of their works through my Azeri friends and I have a few interesting observations about them. First of all they have a lot of Facebook fans :) You can find  average photographers with 50-100.000 of them. Second of all they often have a great gear with top-notch cameras but in many cases the quality of equipment doesn’t get along with quality of their works. In my case achieving a certain level of proficiency required a lot of hard work with basic equipment. All the difficulties with overcoming technical limits of my gear kept me searching for creative solutions and helped me develop my skills. So Azerbaijani photographers – remember that cameras are only tools that can help you share your visions, they’re not the solution. It is much wiser to spend few thousand dollars for professional tuition than on professional camera. Photography is also a extremely difficult to market your work at, now everyone has a digital camera and less than 1% of people succeed so if you are not fully committed to what you are doing and you don’t have much to ‘say’ with your photographs, most likely you will end up outside of this 1%.

What are your plans for future?

My plans are mostly resulting from my photo assignments. I have plans to shoot some  weddings, business photography sessions etc. In meantime I’m developing my photo equipment rental company and updating my personal website www.przychodzien.com. In beginning of September I’m travelling to Italy to Dolomites for a photo shoot. I have also some other photo sessions abroad. Still have some free time for interesting assignments so I might add something to my schedule. Next year – I’m thinking about publishing an album with my works and planning photographic exhibition to Iceland. I can’t wait!

Woman from Lahij