Photographer’s Eye: Franek Strzeszewski

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From football fans to village theatre, to children on summer holidays photographer Franek documents the rituals practices and spaces of everyday life.

Franek Strzeszewski is a photographer of “Urban Wildlife”. While classic wildlife photography is about the natural world, Strzeszewski’s Wildlife is about people – the rituals, practices, habitats we create for ourselves.

Like the rituals of football, catalogued by Strzeszewski in his ongoing project Upton Park, 15.00. Upton Park has been the home ground of West Ham United in East London since it rented the “Boleyn Ground” from the local Catholic Church in 1912, and being in the area of Upton Park the name stuck. However West Ham are due to move out in 2016 to the Olympic Stadium recently built for the London Olympics, and Strzeszewski is documenting the culture that currently surrounds the club. Images such as the one picturing the stadium and its environment below underline the physical presence the “Church of Football” has in the local community. 3901-whu.jpg.5000x550_q90

Being a football fan, and all that it entails is about a set of rituals, these rituals help establish boundaries, of those who belong, are part of the community, and those don’t. Strzeszewski’s images are both sympathetic and humorous, in establishing whats it is to be part of the group – clothes, scarves, caps – but his images also capture stuff at the edge that winks at the seriousness of our beliefs and rituals. Like the older, wiser observers peering over the wall.

Franek Strzeszewski, Upton Park,15.15

Franek Strzeszewski, Upton Park,15.15

or the old woman with her bags, oblivious to the line-up of uniform male fans beside her.

Franek Strzeszewski, Upton Park, 15.15

Franek Strzeszewski, Upton Park, 15.15

Strzeszewski documents the spaces and peoples on the edge of Bucharest, the summer holidays of kids in an idyllic mountain village in South East Poland, and the magical Village Theatre project where he documents custom of caroling in villages on the Polish-Lithuanian-Belarusian border. Caroling he explains is more than just singing, “it is a unique theatre of masks, characters, dances and various customers related to Christmas and Easter Holidays. Every year, the theatre group travels to some remote villages on Poland’s eastern borderlands. Moving from one house to another, their short acts engage entire village communities.” Theatre_13R.jpg.5000x550_q90

Village Theatre

The resulting set of pictures visualize that fabulous “in-between” world we experience at theatre, where we occupy the same physical space as the actors but they are in the world of the play. Strzeszewski’s Village Theatre shows the blurring of storytelling and life, and the sheer joy, intimacy and sense of community that is created from such a wonderfully strange, shared experience.

Franek Strzeszewski’s photographer’s eye is a generous one, an education on how we bond, a vision of the eccentric practices that make the world liveable all delivered with the skill of a photographer who turns the intrusive power of the lens into an invitation to discover behaviours and relationships we take for granted.

1. A shot of a single object that expresses a powerful memory

Seat / Franek Strzeszewski

Seat / Franek Strzeszewski

2. Three books that have inspired you?

Tom Waits Rain Dogs album is here instead of Anders Petersen’s book Café Lehmitz, a copy of which I have just sent to a friend of mine as a gift [Rain Dogs cover from Café Lehmitz].

Cafe Lehmitz, by Anders Petersen

Cafe Lehmitz, by Anders Petersen

Café Lehmitz is one of my favourite photo projects of all time. Published over three decades ago, it set high standards for all documentary photographers for its authenticity, closeness to the subject, poetry, and the photographer’s dedication. Through beautiful and moving images of a shabby bar in a port district of Hamburg the book tells a story about a place that was a shelter for various outsiders and drifters. Rain Dogs, one of my favourite music albums of all time, could be a perfect soundtrack to Café Lehmitz. Witkacy remains one of the most intriguing artists of the 20th century. He was a poet, philosopher, playwright, novelist, painter and art theorist, but he also was a photographer – insane genius, eternal experimenter, wonderful freak. His avant-garde photographs from the early decades of the twentieth century that have become the classics of the genre are displayed at MOMA in New York. In The Perfidious Man, Will Self writes that: “Being a man is not just about personal grooming. Being a man is not just about football, or fighting, or fornicating”… I bought this book a long time ago from a bookstall somewhere in London. I found it to be a great example how words and photographs can complement each other.

3. Favourite photo you have taken?

I do not have one favourite photo, but a few, maybe about ten. If I were to pick one, it would be a photo from one of my current projects Behind the grey blocks. Peripheral Bucharest. In this project, I photographed districts of housing estates located towards the peripheries of the Romanian capital and focused on what happens on the edges of the city, how urban and rural elements blend together, how residents have warmed up the grey legacy of the old regime.

Peripheral Bucharest/ Franek Strzeszewski

Peripheral Bucharest/ Franek Strzeszewski

4. Favourite artist/photographer/image-maker?

It is impossible to name one, but I can name a few. I consider Richard Avedon’s In the American West to be a benchmark in portraiture: a collection of black and white portraits, all sitters look at the camera against a white background. I would recommend everyone to see these photographs in a gallery, as this kind of work should be seen printed large. I saw them a few years ago in Berlin and the immaculate, big enlargements blew me away [see also Ashley Jouhar’s analysis of Avedon’s Network of Influence

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Another very inspirational photographer for me is Simon Norfolk. I have been following his career since his book Chronotopia about Afghanistan. I have been always impressed not only by the sheer beauty and quality of his photographs, but also by the strength, consistency and integrity of the artistic and political message expressed in his numerous projects. Without any doubts, this is photojournalism at its best. There is also a bunch of commercial photographers whose work I admire for their artistry, intelligence and humour without which the adverts that surround us would not be worth looking at even for a moment. Kiran Master is one of them.

Kiran Master, AT&T

Photographer Kiran Master for AT&T

5. What was the most important thing you took away from your time at college – Literature and Culture degree at the University of Warsaw and Professional Photography Practice at the London College of Communication?

I did a course at LCC because I thought that I could possibly make a living from photography, but I needed to learn a few more tricks. The course gave me a good technical training, which continued later when I worked as a photographer’s assistant. My studies at the University of Warsaw immensely developed me as a person. My first project and exhibitions took place during that time. Back then, I only used manual SLR with a 50mm prime lens, and black and white film, which I would later developed in a bathroom.

Portrait of The Village / Franek Strzeszewski

Jozef Dziegiel’s Motorbike, Portrait of The Village / Franek Strzeszewski

I did a course at LCC because I thought that I could possibly make a living from photography, but I needed to learn a few more tricks. The course gave me a good technical training, which continued later when I worked as a photographer’s assistant.

6. A lot of your projects are driven by the idea of community – new ones, old ones, changing community. Where did that interest come from?

This comes from the fact that the human aspect lies at the core of my interest in photography. I do not think I could be a good Still Life photographer. To classic wildlife photography I prefer “urban wildlife”, and cityscapes interest me more than landscapes. This does not mean I dislike nature. I love and cherish nature, I love being in nature, but I do not know how to photograph it unless there is a human element in it.

7. In your images, what kinds of relationships are you trying to picture?

Friendship, family bonds, common passions… relationships between people and spaces they occupy, how the space is shaped by people and how it influences them.

8. You are also interested in different kinds of “folk” culture from the Village Theatre project to tracking the disappearance of the rituals and practices of football fans round Upton Park?

I am particularly interested in the special relationship that people, or communities have with a place. A strong person–land bond is the core identity of the Polish peasants whom I photographed years ago traveling with the Węgajty Theatre. Theatre_extra.jpg.5000x550_q90

 

 

My current project, Upton Park, 15.00 is about the little world in East London around a football stadium that means a lot to the community of fans, but which will disappear in a couple of years due to the relocation of the club to the Olympic stadium in Statford. It seems to be a very glamorous step forward, but it will inevitably bring an end to an era.

Franek Strezesewski, Upton Park, 15.00

Franek Strezesewski, Upton Park, 15.00

 

 

9. What is the relationship between your personal and professional practice?

My personal work is mainly portraiture and documentary photography, in which I comply with certain restrictions, such as very limited post-production reduced to just basic optimization of contrast, brightness etc. In my commercial work, there is more post-production, but I try to keep it authentic and believable. There is so much over-saturated and over-done imagery in these days of digital era, which, although as technically impressing as it may be, does not appeal to me. I like simple, “gimmick-less” photography.

10. One ambition?

Right now, I would like to publish a book about my Peripheral Bucharest project. I see this project as a book and it would be great to have it published. See Franek Strzeszewski’s website here See Franek Strzeszewski’s work on Image Source here

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