Five years ago, my fiancée Agnieszka and I moved from our home in Seattle, where I grew up to Poland, where she is from. The move was partially spurred on by the idea of being closer to her family since she had lived in the states for 12 years, the distance had become somewhat great.
She was accepted to graduate school in Poznan, the city that would become our home. For myself, the adventure of another world was all the selling point that I needed to say yes….that and where she goes, I go.
My passion had always oscillated around creativity and art. I taught myself how to draw and paint at an early age, influenced by comic books and cinema. Later I attended art school that helped me solidify and make sense out of the techniques I had developed on my own such as perspective, framing and composition.
The time and effort proved to be invaluable. However, in order to pay the bills I landed in the hospitality industry and developed a different set of skills. Of all of the skills that I acquired through these working years as a waiter, barman or floor manager I learned how to observe from a distance and appreciate the patience of moments.
Some years ago, I hit the proverbial creative wall, and was it a thick one. I was in a slump where I just couldn’t seem to focus on anything that could help bring me out. I stopped drawing, painting, sketching, reading, etc. Really, a kind of nightmare. At the behest of my fiancée, who is an avid photographer in her own right, I reached for the camera to help discover a new creative process. She gave me simple lessons on how to use it in manual mode, change the lens, different functions, etc and let me run with it. And I began to explore. Slowly.
At first the camera was very intimidating to me, bulky, heavy and uncomfortable. At the time, it was a Nikon D80 that we had purchased brand new and already had an assortment of lenses. This is actually the very same camera that I continue to use today, eight years later. At that time, everything about this camera seemed to be uncomfortable, somewhat hard to manage and I didn’t quite grasp as to how this was supposed to help me creatively.
But, because Agnieszka had implored my use of the instrument, I continued to work with it, and after many weeks of trial and error, I discovered a taste for shooting macro and revealing the smaller often unseen world around us. My subject of intrigue was rust and I shot a lot of it.
It was common for me to go to a junk yard and shoot hundreds if not thousands of images of rusty landscapes as close as I could get our 60mm to them. The explosions of alien landscapes and colorful nature really set my creative edge on fire and it remained this way for some time.
Working through all of this rust, the camera began to become a part of my persona and I would travel everywhere with it. I was still very intimidated about how to frame shots that were not up close, but as time went on I began to experiment with street shots or subjects that interested me. About this time I was also heavily involved with the community at Flickr, posting each day, looking at thousands of images and participating in discussions.
Often, I would see another artist’s work and try to replicate or figure out how they were able to get that type of shot. This is when I learned about how optics played a huge part in how the shot would come out. I began to insist that we get a 50mm as soon as we could. And we did. And then everything changed.
Getting the 50mm 1.4 lens changed my entire approach. Suddenly I discovered the beauty of bokeh and blur, the crispness of focus and depth of field and how it helped to compose the image and often mirrored how I normally saw my world and allowed the creativity in me to flow. Now I was in love with the camera and couldn’t get enough of shooting. I began to join groups online and started to see some sense of my own style emerge.
Jumping ahead to our move to Poland, I realized that what I knew about photography was going to change the very first day we hit the streets. I started to get a sense of the “story” I wanted to tell to my family and friends back home. Suddenly my brand new world was at once alien yet interesting, and every detail seemed to scream at me to be acknowledged. My way of communicating all of this to my loved ones was of course through the camera. I experimented with “street” photography back in Seattle, but never really made it work. Here, the streets of Poznan offered me a new school of viewing the world around me and I dove in.
My first year here, was a year of getting myself acquainted with my new surroundings. For a time it felt like a long vacation but then it settled on being home and my images began to be a bit more personal. Surrounded by so much newness and difference, I found inspiration in everything around. The style of how I shoot began to shift as I learned new approaches to subject matter based on the season, light and often weather.
It really changed the second year, as we opened up a small coffee shop and I began to walk to work early in them morning and would see these incredible sunrises often with a backdrop straight from a film. I was hooked. I began to shoot anything and everything in these minutes as I went to work, in every season as it passed. I had never really worked with people in my shots but found myself very attracted to lone figures moving through the city. I often imagined myself looking like one of these figures.
Last year, I again found myself in a sort of creative slump. Something I knew I would have to push myself through to get different results and rewards. So instead of backing away I decided to go full on and start a 365 project where I would shoot and post one image a day for a year. Such a simple sentence really but it only sounds easy. Upon announcing that I would be doing this, I knew it was the right decision but I was also not sure I would be able to commit.
I decided to not put so many parameters on it and leave it to as simply an image a day for a full year. My subject would be open to whatever caught my eye. Shooting every day has its challenges, sometimes I would have to get creative to work around them. Sickness for one. What to do when you have the flu and just don’t want to get out of bed..or can’t. Travel…I had to negotiate a 9 hour time difference as I traveled back to Seattle and keep up on my daily project as I shuffled between airports, time zones, baggage, etc. Still, I managed to find something that would remind me of this as I look back.
One time, I dropped my camera as I was shooting. I was so afraid it was broken that I panicked. In my panic, I tried to shoot as I normally would and for that frame the camera would not focus…it made an awful noise and then clicked. Afterwards it went back to normal, but I have the image as one of the shots because it reminds of that second of terrible, gut wrenching feeling. The positives outweigh the negatives by a landslide. I have a year of images under my belt that I would never have had the chance to take otherwise. That alone is worth all of it.
I have just finished my 354th day and have only a few left of this amazing project. I have not really yet sat down to explore my feelings about every image and all that has transpired through the last year. That will come later I imagine. For now, I have a body of work that encompasses travels, publishing a book, daily life, sickness, winter, cold, heat, warm, people getting older, family, loved ones, and my life, at home, abroad but mostly with Agnieszka. She may not be in every image, but her presence is. I also had the chance to travel back to Seattle for the first time in five years and this is also part of this journey.
On an average, I have shot around 100 images a day for 354 days now. I have filled 3TB of backlogs and most of these images I have not really had the time to look at. Soon I will begin the process of sorting those stories as well and am quite curious as to what I shall find. My equipment has always been minimal. I use for the most part a Nikon D80 with usually a Nikon 35mm 1.8, but sometimes I use a Nikon 50mm 1.4 or a Tamaron 20-35mm. I also use my Samsung A5 phone from time to time, especially when travelling so that I can post if I need to.
I am a believer in “whatever you have on you” philosophy and approach to shooting. I keep my everyday walking kit minimal here in the city and have grown used to this because as a group, Polish people are very wary and often suspicious of cameras. So, since I am kind of a big guy, I try to be as inconspicuous as I can be. That being said, I do draw a crowd often when I am pursuing an image in a puddle mostly because I am sure it looks so absurd.
Over the course of this last year, I have learned an incredible amount, especially about myself and how I approach subjects. During this journey I have learned to appreciate the little things and live by the mantra “If I don’t go, I will never know” to help drive me.
I have learned to be less focused on perfection, letting it go often, so that I can enjoy the moment and be more mindful of the present. I have learned that every moment is important and to not judge it so much as it passes, allowing for a deeper appreciation of the people around me and that often there is truth in what could easily be disregarded. I have learned that there is always a story that is worthy of being told if you look long enough.
Cześć (hello) from Poland.
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