Interview for Azerbaijani portal – oxu.az

Today, oxu.az has published an interview with me. You can find the original Russian version here: http://ru.oxu.az/culture/39357

Below is the English translation:
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 start photography and what inspired you to take photos?

Hello, I’m Tomasz from Poland. I’m a photographer. As you probably know :) Well, it’s actually hard to say when my interest in photography has started. When I was the 8-year old kid, I got my first camera and it must have been the time when I took my first photo. Most of the time, the biggest inspiration for me was… myself. Or to be more precise – a bad quality of my photographs :) It kept me developing as an artist.

I started just like everyone – shooting everything and everywhere, bringing hundreds of photos from each trip or event – the ones that you never have time to browse later and you can bore your friends to death as they all look the same. With time, I started to understand the basics, like exposure, composition and other photographic essentials, began to meet with other photographers, developed 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 the development of reality perception 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 had photographed everything – landscapes, macro, street, portrait, architecture – but I started to specialise in certain areas. Right now, I’m interested mostly in street photography and architecture. I love observing people on the streets, capturing all the tiny moments and interactions between them. Most people don’t have time to slow down, notice and experience these moments. To me, they are the most important parts of everyday life. Photography forced me to search for more and I try to show my way of reality perception through my lens. Not neccessarily a correct one – there is no such thing – but my own.

Ability to capture those moments helps me a lot when I shoot wedding reportages – it is really difficult to make it something more than just a documentation of the event. In contrast to architectural photography, you won’t have an opportunity to reshoot, you have only one chance for each moment. I guess the ability to capture these 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 a sense of perfection in it. Everything is planned, every element has it’s purpose. It is something totally different than a 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.


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 the NGO which executes cultural projects around the world. Coming to Azerbaijan was a part of one of the photo projects realised by my organisation. We came on February only for one week, with a group of young people who already 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 upon arriving to Azerbaijan?

I was here before – in 2008, taking a short trip. I was studying in Georgia due to a student exchange program back then. It was hot, a lot of chaos on the streets, quite dirty. I remember that I had 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 it is. Later on, my friend told me that it would be much easier to look for a place basing on the nearby landmark buildings. Now everything looks different, at least in Baku. It transforms quickly from post-soviet city into modern European metropoly.


 Being a man of art, how can you characterise 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 “The Coming Spring”. The main character was living in Baku when he had a vision of returning to Poland and seeing houses made of glass there. Right now, it’s rather Azerbaijan which can be proud of its modernity and the idea of “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 in 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 both a great asset and a threat to local culture. I hope I won’t see the modernity coming to remote rural areas.

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

I thought it is unreal. I saw a lot of photographs and I knew it has to be amazing, but it simply exceeded my expectations. I think I could’ve spent a few more days only on photographing this one! I also enjoyed the way it fitted into its surroundings. Especially the connection of its shape – that reminds me waves – with the Caspian sea. In Warsaw, beautiful modern architecture doesn’t fit to the rest of the city sometimes. Here it’s different. I only regret I didn’t have an opportunity to see the building from inside. Well, I guess it gives me motivation to return here one day.


You took many photos also outside Baku. Does Baku differ much from countryside of Azerbaijan? What can you say about urban and rural Azerbaijanis?

Before I came here, I was wondering how the fact that most of Azeris are Muslims will affect what I will see on the streets of the big city. In Poland, we almost don’t have a muslim community, so I expected to see some differences. After spending few days here, it turned out that the people I met in the city are very similar to the ones I met across Europe. They go shopping to the malls, hang out in the bars – pretty much the same to what I can observe every day in Poland. In rural areas thou, it was different. In Lahij, the inhabitants seemed to live in a much more closed community – they all knew each other, paid more attention to culture and traditions. There are also a lot of differences based on economy while comparing it to Baku. You can’t notice the influence of oil on the 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 “Unreal” – the 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 behind its creation. It was one of the first days of our trip to Azerbaijan. The night before, we had an integration meeting with other photographers which ended around 2 am. We had to get up at 5 am to be at Heydar Aliyev Center for the sunrise. At 5 am, the weather was 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, rain was pouring on my camera and many photos had to be deleted because of the raindrops on my lenses and filters, but finally I succeeded in taking that one. It even turned out that bad weather helped making 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 on a sunny day with a clear sky. And of course there is a cherry on top: the person standing in front of the building. He is my friend who decided that the weather is bad and he won’t take any good photographs that time. His small silhouette makes this photo stand out of the crowd, helps the viewer realise the size of the structure, its greatness and also reflects on how small a person can be compared to the world around. That’s why it is more than just another architecture shot.


 Was there any difficulty in taking photos in our country?

One of the biggest problems was the weather. The best photographs are usually taken during the “golden hour” – the time just before and after sunrise and sunset. I think that during one week in Azerbaijan we saw only 1 or 2 sunrises/sunsets. The horizon seemed to be hazy and covered with clouds all the time.

We usually had problems with security guards. All of the modern buildings 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, as I’m sure that showing photographs of this beautiful architecture around the world would only have a positive impact on country’s promotion abroad. That’s the issue Azerbaijani government should definitely work on. We also had this kind of problems some time ago in Poland, but right now it doesn’t happen very often, since we have specific law regulations on photographing public areas that include fines for disturbing photographers :)

 Are you planning to come back here one day and what experience have you gained after visiting Azerbaijan?

Regarding photographic experience, I once again convinced myself that even if everything is against you – weather, security guards etc. – you can still make quality photographs, it’s a matter of trying and never giving up. Regarding general experience after the visit – an 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. Being 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 saw some of their works through my Azerbaijani friends and I have a few interesting observations about them. Firstly, they have a lot of Facebook fans :) You can find the average photographers with 50-100.000 of them. Secondly, they often have a great gear with top-notch cameras, but in many cases the quality of equipment doesn’t go hand in hand with the 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 vision, they’re not the solution. It is much wiser to spend a few thousand dollars on a professional tuition than on a professional camera. In photography, it is extremely difficult to stand out from the rest – now everyone has a digital camera and less than 1% of people succeed, so if you are not fully committed to what you’re doing and you don’t have much to ‘say’ through your photographs, you will most likely end up outside of this 1%.

What are your plans for the future?

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