“I believe in (…) the beauty of the car crash, in the peace of the submerged forest, in the excitements of the deserted holiday beach, in the elegance of automobile graveyards, in the mystery of multi-storey car parks, in the poetry of abandoned hotels.” – Excerpted from “What I Belive” by J.G.Ballard
I like to know what books artists and photographers like to read and which quotes they select to paraphrase their cherished works. The quote given above is from famous English author James Graham “J. G.” Ballard and it aptly describes the core idea and elements of photography of Asia Chmielewska (b.1978), a self-taught Polish photographer currently living and working in Paris. Her foray in the world of photography is sort of cliché… a classic (and humane) tale of a daughter (or a son) learning first lessons of photography from dad (or mom) and all that stuff. After many a years, Asia was well into photography and documenting her world and environment. Her work prominently revolves around urban/suburban landscape and with its distinct characteristics – symmetry, shapes, colours, lines, pattens and repetitions.
Tell me about yourself and your relationship with photography. Do you ever regret over not studying this medium systematically in an institute or university?
I was born and raised in Poland. In early 2000 I packed my bags and my fathers Zenith camera and I travelled to London. The idea was to stay six months, learn the language, experience life in the big city and come back…But the come back actually never happened. I mean later on I change London for Barcelona and almost two years ago Barcelona for Paris. That first travel, completely new experience to me, new landscapes, different cultures, different people, easy access to small and big art galleries made me a photographer – I began to take snapshots of almost everything. I don’t regret not having formal training in photography at all. I don’t think you need to study in the institute or university to became a good photographer. Of course there is always a benefit from education but you can always take a class or seminar to learn something new. I think if you are passionate enough about it with systematic exercise and real curiosity you will develop your photographic skills very fast.
Photography is my biggest passion. I can’t really imagine my life without photography. When I go through my archives I can see I definitely grew up as a photographer. From literally taking photos of everything till nowadays where I rather carefully choose every frame I can say I came a long way and the most exciting thing is there’s still a lot to learn.
Urban settings, architecture and spaces form a central theme of your work. What are the other genres or themes that you like to shoot or would like to shoot in future?
Yes, there is a lot of architecture and urban settings in my photography. My two latest projects “Linescapes” and “Out here-In there” were about suburban landscape with focus on bold shapes, colours and geometric forms and also symmetry and repetition in the landscape.Those two bodies of work were developed in Spain under Mediterranean sun. Now things are changed. I live and work in rather grey Paris, so definitely the light in my photographs will be different. Since long time I am thinking to start a long time documentary project that involves travelling, discovering completely new place, its people, its history.
Usually I spend one sometimes two frames to photograph one thing. Typically from the very same place from which I “saw it” for the very first time. Of course, it happens I do come back after some time to retake picture of landscape or a place. I work on medium format film and I have got only 12 pictures on film, so before pressing the shutter button I like to be sure I really want to have this picture. While working on my last project (“Out here-In there”) I tend to go out with the camera in the middle of the day, when the sun was strong to achieve really bright images. At the moment I shoot at any time of the day. I can say my work is rather instantaneous but my subject and choice of place is carefully planned. Sometimes I do research on Internet before going to shoot, then very often I choose to go to random places because of the name, location, or any other reason.
I am fascinated with the interaction between the constructed and the natural world and how that affects the way we, people move within it. Any peripheries are particulary intresting for my photography because those are the most unstable spaces and the most dynamic ones at the same time. There you can witness environment changes, urban expansion, there are all the industrial spaces and waste grounds. There you can really see how man is changing the landscape.
How do you deal with very rapidly changing photography technology? Do you use a walk-around digital camera as well?
From the very beginning I shoot on film and because of many reasons I am happy about it….I must admit I am a bit stubborn if is about digital technology. Of course I scan my negatives and I edit my photos using digital software but I don’t actually own a digital camera. When I go out to take pictures I usually have my Mamiya 645 loaded with colour film and 35mm camera loaded with black & white film. When I don’t have my cameras on me I do use my iphone to take pictures but they have got a role as let’s say “sticky notes”, just to remember where I should/would like to come back and shoot with the real equipment.
As a small kid I used to spend long hours with my father in his homemade darkroom. My father was a passionate amateur family photographer. He was taking photos on a daily basis, on holidays, on every major family events like weddings, birthdays and also he liked to organize kind of staged photography shootings at home with me, my mum and my sisters. We would invent different situations, change the clothes for almost every picture and we would for example using different gadgets in it. I was small and it was a great fun for me. Then usually next day he was developing the films and doing the prints. Normally for this he would occupied the bathroom (which was pretty normal for any amateur photographer in Poland at that time) in our small flat and it was a must for me to be with him. I remember the smell of the chemistry and my excitement every time the image was appearing on the paper.
I am trying to stay up to date with current trends in photography. It doesn’t mean though I appreciate everything what is considered as new and emergent in the contemporary photography. At the end I like when pictures got something to tell, something to transmit. Also I try to attend to as many photography exhibitions and events as I can to keep me motivated and inspired. Social media are perfect to reach wider audience and the whole Internet sphere to discover beautiful and interesting work of the others and also to learn new things.
What are your future plans/projects, ambitions, inspirations etc.?
Right now I am focused on a new project which I began some time ago. It’s called “Code unknown”. There is plenty of work to be done until it will be finished. It is about a feeling of both being trapped and floating endlessly in time, about hope and despair, desolation and beauty.So my plans for upcoming year are to keep working on it.
Recently I am really into two great photo books: “Lago” by Ron Jude and “Tranquility” by Heikki Kaski.
I also admire work of Alec Soth, Mo Costello, John Gossage, Gregory Halpern, Vanessa Winship, Ricardo Cases, John Gossage,Mark Steinmetz just to mention few.
I watch a lot of movies also. Particularly I love cinematography of Bela Tarr, Yasujiro Ozu, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Jaques Tati.
Something to say to our readers or aspiring photographers:
Find the time for your photography, it is very important. Have your camera with you all the time and if this doesn’t work for you (it doesn’t for me any more) set at least one day a week and go out shooting. After some time you will find out what kind of places are your favourite for wandering with the camera. Photograph whenever you feel like is “necessary”.