Adam Kozioł is a 26-year-old Documentary Photographer from Poland. In 2013 he started a photographic project whose aim is the documentation of the dying tribal cultures in the world. He draws particular attention to human phenotypes, tattoos, scarifications, ornaments and the appearance which identifies a given tribe.
In his words about this project “The goal of the “Heritage” project is to reach and document the last members of tribes, which culture has become extinct or will in the next few years. The project puts special emphasis on documenting the phenotypes, tattoos, scarifications, decorations, and appearances, which identify a given tribe. The most characteristic tribes from Asia, Africa, and South America, have been selected to be presented in one full-length film and a photo publication.”
Thanks Adam, for accepting for our invite. Please read on…
How did you become involved in photography? Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I started photography by taking photos of tropical insects. Since I was 12, I started cultivating insects and this was my first contact with photography. I was spending much time learning. When I was 16 and had quite a big collection of insects, I decided to go with an adult friend for a trip to Borneo. It was a landmark moment in my life, as I discovered my passion for traveling, discovering – documentation of insect made even more sense to me. I documented a lot of very rare species, some, in the form of eggs, were brought to Poland and I could start cultivating species that are not available in Poland.
This was an important trip for me also because the income from my cultivation could be spent on next trips. Half a year later, I went to Sumatra where I was able to find a new species. This was an insect from the Haaniella family which included only 6 species. From then on, I started traveling regularly, sometimes even 7 times a year.
Can you tell me how you first got the idea for this project?
My most frequent destination was Borneo – a mekka among insects which I was most interested in. At every place on the island – in Sarawaku, Sabah, and Kalimantan, I found many rare species. I photographed and placed on forums for insect cultivators. In the Sarawak part, I often heard about the culture of Iban headhunters. From one person I bought tribal masks from, I heard that there are still elderly people with authentic tribal tattoos on shoulders, so-called Bunga Terung. This inspired my imagination, as such tattoos were received by people who were characterized by exceptional courage, participated in battles with other tribes or brought an enemy’s head to their tribe.
This was the culture of headhunters. I was fascinated by meeting those people. The first time I decided to change the objective of my journey and in 2013, with my Malaysian friend, we decided to search for the last tattooed members of the tribe. We reached one of the parts in Sarawaku where Iban tribes lived. Currently, they are peaceful villages in the middle of the jungle, longhouses in fact – long buildings in the jungle, housing more or less 15 families. For 3 weeks, we have been visiting longhouse after a longhouse, traveling by motor scooters or, in more difficult terrains, on foot with a rucksack. For me, this was also an amazing – different adventure in comparison with looking for insects at night. In one of the longhouses, we managed to find 3 elderly men with tattoos all over their body.
This was an amazing experience for me, as while talking with them, I was aware that I was probably the last person to be told all those stories. They were more or less 90 years old, one was in their 70s. I remember a moment when one of the men took of his T-shirt and I saw his entirely tattooed body. I made a photo report and interviews with these people. On my way back in the plane, I was thinking about the plan for the second trip to look for more people in that region.
After returning home and analyzing the situation in the world, I realized that the condition of most of the tribes is similar. Often, there are the last people left, and their tribal identity is proven by their tattoos and scarifications. It is them who might tell the story of their life, their culture, which will become history upon their death. Another destination were not insects, I started to go and document people and their culture.
Please describe what we see in your images in your own words?
I would like to show the beauty of the cultures, the variety of origins of the people all over the world. I am fascinated in particular by tattoos, scarifications and other individual features identifying a given tribe. I am also interested in characteristic phenotypes of all societies and external attributes such as clothing, jewelry, arms. I am trying to develop relationships with people before making any photo and I spend as much time as possible on peace talks. Time and getting used to one another results in me knowing what to do and, more importantly, in those people feeling comfortable.
How were you able to take these incredible shots – can you tell me your method?
I love portrait and I am trying to master the light. What helps me is studio lighting I take for every trip. It is really a big logistic undertaking, since usually, the luggage is up to 65 kg, but then I can control the light. I used to travel alone, since then I felt that I was making more meaningful relationships with local people, but for some time, I have been traveling with my wife who helps me in many aspects and I am able to do much more.
Were there any problems you had to overcome?
Logistics, logistics, logistics… Reaching the destination takes most time and finances. On-site, apart from several exceptions, I met with much hospitality. One, I had to leave the guide and the carriers in Papua as I was cheated, another time I had to pack at night and leave a certain village in Ethiopia, as there was a serious alcohol-induced fight between the villagers, ending in gunshots. I had 3 serious food poisonings, after one of them I was so sick that I was not able to contact anyone. Apart from that, I hope that I would not experience any more serious trouble. In most cases, it is very safe.
What do you love about this type of photography?
Working with people, knowing their life stories, in the context of culture. The adventure of reaching the tribe and being there. Equally fascinating is planning photoshoots. In Poland, I am trying to learn about the culture, I am planning how to present it, I am sketching the shots. I mostly manage to do more than planned, but I probably end every of the trip with no full satisfaction.
There is always something I did not do, which I might have done, or I have a certain idea and regret I did not do it with another culture. I am recording all of my thoughts in a simple application and I recall them during the next trips. Each trip is very developing for me and perhaps this is why it is so fascinating for me.
Is there a particular message you want to convey?
I am presenting an authentic story of people and leave it for individual consideration. I do not have any message to convey with the project. Every person has a different story and for me, this is the most important thing in the project. I also focus on aesthetics. I choose the tribes that fascinate me with their cultural beauty and I would like to present them. I would like to create photos that are not to be viewed in 2 seconds and forwarded further. I would like to create images that are analyzed by people for some time.
You can find Adam Kozioł on the Web:
All the pictures in this post are copyrighted to Adam Kozioł. Their reproduction, even in part, is forbidden without the explicit approval of the rightful owners.