Born in 1977 in Jastrzebie Zdroj (Poland), Damian Chrobak is a member of the Association of Polish Art Photographers since 2010, founder of Un-Posed – street photography collective assembling several leading artists of this stream who were born in Poland but work in different countries.
After studying at Academy of Photography in Warsaw, Poland, Damian Chrobak moved to London in 2004, where he completed a Black & White Photography course at the University of Arts in London. Since then he is documenting city’s street life. His works were published in United Kingdom, Germany, United States of America, New Zealand, Poland and other European countries.
Statement: “Special for me in photography is a deeply humane reflection on the nature of an individual or social masses. Capturing everyday life, we are surrounded by it most of the time, while barely noticing it. This proves that the so-called ordinary, insignificant moments in life often have their hidden meaning, are interesting, funny, bizarre and memorable. Strolling through the streets of the twenty-first-century city, I try to capture on film something timeless, the eternal truth about people, the truth which has not changed for hundreds, thousands of years.”
You can find Damian Chrobak on the Web:
What is your first childhood memory?
My first childhood memory was when I was 4-5 years old and my mother bought me sandals. I hated them as, apparently then, sandals were “for girls.’’ I went outside wearing them and headed to a small pond, which then for me was more like a lake. I threw one of them in the pond and came back home explaining to my mother that I lost them. It was probably the first and last time I wore sandals.
Are you still learning who you are?
I’m sure I do. Every single thing, which comes to your life shapes you as a person, so learning and growing don’t stop, I think.
Who are you when no one is looking at you?
Probably a big child [smiling].
What got you involved in photography in the first place?
My way towards photography was quite a long one. I have played ice hockey as a teenager, later joined a punk band and played bass guitar, after that, I took up dental technician’s work… But none of these things seemed to be completely right and fulfilling for me and I would move on to try something different. When I got interested in photography, I decided to study at the Academy of Photography in Warsaw. The way my professors talked about photography and photographers’ work I discovered gave me a lot of inspiration to develop my own work. Since then, I haven’t put the camera down and photography has been a way to document the world around me.
Ansel Adams once said: You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved. Could you tell us about your favorite photographs, books, music and people who are closest to you?
As a teenager, I used to love metal and punk music, but I don’t think my photographs have anything to do with that at all. I wasn’t really into books in my early years, but once I got interested in photography, many things in my life have changed. I started collecting photographic albums, as it’s a great source of inspiration and knowledge. Most of my friends are also photographers or working in this field, so we always discuss our work and support each other.
There’s a thin line between invading people’s privacy and taking their photographs. Why do ethics matter?
Each photographer treats ethics very differently. I always try not to invade person’s privacy if it’s not the right moment. I think after shooting for about 15 years now, I just have my own way how to go about that, it became more like an instinct. But most importantly, I try not to treat people, how I wouldn’t like to be treated myself. Ethics matter for me, because I would never want to portray people in a disrespectful way.
Bruce Gilden claims that photography is a voyeuristic medium. Does it resonate with you?
I wouldn’t describe it that way. People inspire me to record their daily life.
Have you ever acted rude in front of people you have tried to photograph?
Not in front of people, whom I photograph, although I did have some arguments with few, who were complaining about the fact that I am taking pictures in public.
Have you ever been following your subject that the person could eventually think you’re a stalker or a pervert?
No, I don’t think anyone would have a reason to think this way.
Gloria Steinem once said that the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. Are you getting nervous when someone goes deeper and scrutinizes your work?
I value opinions of other people and am interested in hearing different interpretations of my work. Although I don’t get nervous about someone scrutinizing my work, I also don’t overthink about ideas or concepts before I shoot. Photographing is a very natural process for me. I collect moments, which I think are significant.
What if you take images for a couple of years and don’t get a positive audience reaction? Would you be still taking them?
I don’t shoot to get a positive reaction, even though it’s pleasing to get it. So yes, definitely I would still be taking images even without positive feedback.
Do you often get jealous of someone’s achievements?
No, because I don’t think getting jealous helps you to push yourself and your work forward. I think it’s much better to keep an eye on your peers or people who inspire you and appreciate their achievements, possibly learn something new from it.
If you could wake up tomorrow in the body of another artist, who would you choose and why?
Alfred Hitchcock, as I would like to be able to have experienced the creation of all his movies.
What artist made the most impact on you and why?
There is no one artist, which made the most impact for me. Joel Meyerowitz, Robert Frank, Saul Leiter are just a few, whose work I mostly watch at the moment. I find these photographers very unique and their approach to photography is somehow pure and honest, not to mention clear vision and creativity.
If you could have personally witnessed a perfect street scene at the right decisive moment, what would you want to have seen?
I couldn’t really answer that, because for me the whole nature of decisive moment is something that happens suddenly and unexpectedly around you, and you, as a photographer, manage to react quickly and record it. It could be anything and I wouldn’t want to plan what I would like to see, as personally for me it never works that way.
If you could witness and photograph any historical moment of the past, present – or future – what would it be?
First step on the Moon would be interesting!
What’s on your photography bucket list this year?
I am currently working on a photobook of my work from last 15 years. So most of my thoughts and energy are focused on this at the moment.
What do you like to do outside of photography?
Reading, seeing exhibitions, listening to live music, artist talks, watching good cinema and ice hockey. That is to name few things.
Blind and live forever or be able to see and die in a couple of years?
Able to see and live forever [smiling].
What do you want your tombstone to say?
He tried hard.
About Arek Rataj
“You Can Shoot. Can You Talk?” is a series of interviews created by Arek Rataj. He is a Qatar-based journalist, contemporary photographer and educator.
Arek was born in a small industrial district in communist Poland under the Soviet Union dictatorship. In midst of this human misery, political hypocrisy, environmental dirt and ugliness, he became particularly sensitive for all signs of beauty and transcendence.
You can find Arek Rataj on the Web:
All the pictures in this post are copyrighted Damian Chrobak. Their reproduction, even in part, is forbidden without the explicit approval of the rightful owners.