Michael Kowalczyk was born in 1979 in Wroclaw, Poland. Currently he is living a nomadic life, traveling trough South America. Michael always like to wander and look for what catches his eye, an interesting thing or situation.
In his words about shooting on the street “Nice natural light, gestures, people in though, elderly people, little details, in-between moments. I do not actively search for subjects, rather take what is given. By editing and organizing my work I recognize which themes keep reappearing. With time I became interested in collecting more of them. Editing is crucial for evolving.”
Thanks, Michael for accepting for our invite. Please read on.
Hi Michael, Could you please introduce yourself?
I was born and raised in Wroclaw Poland, lived studied and worked in Aachen Germany for a long time. I moved to NYC in 2015 and started to expand my photography skills by trough courses and workshops about street and documentary photography. Since January 2018 I am traveling with my wife Joanna in South America and continue to document our travels audiovisually.
What is your first childhood memory?
I don’t know for sure but one early memory is me looking news on Polish TV and believing that the speaker can see me too.
What first drew you to photography and how did you discover it?
My mother’s friend Krysia introduced me to her SLR and helped me to make my first portrait photograph. I was maybe 7 at that time. It was a funny coincidence to give back the photo to Krysia when we meet again in NYC after many years. I got much more interested in doing photography in 2000 through my father Lech. He introduced me to his Zenit SLR. Also, trough Jutta who was my girlfriend at that time. We made photos and designed personal photo books. In 2003 I bought my first digital compact and started to photograph life around me.
What makes Street Photography so special for you?
It easy, fun and an invitation to get around and explore. I like to wander and look for what catches my eye, an interesting thing or situation. Some places I wouldn’t go to when I wouldn’t have a camera with me. The tradition of photography in public is as old as the camera itself, starting with the first photograph of a person on the street by Louis Daguerre. This tradition thrives on, now more than ever. I like to contribute my vision to help evolving it and inspire others to try it out.
What usually do you look for when shooting on the street?
Nice natural light, gestures, people in though, elderly people, little details, in-between moments. I do not actively search for subjects, rather take what is given. By editing and organizing my work I recognize which themes keep reappearing. With time I became interested in collecting more of them. Editing is crucial for evolving.
Please choose one picture from your portfolio and share the story behind the making?
My initial point of interest was the hot steam rising from a gully next to the crossing between East 37th Street and Madison Ave in NYC.
I start photographing pedestrians walking into and out the steam from a standing point of view. Then I notice a uniformed looking, hat-wearing character walking towards me. Distinctive hat-wearers get my street photo attention almost always. As he gets closer I get a better sense of his classy 50’s outfit. He appears to be from another time. I pre-visualize the scene and plan to shoot a frame right after he walks through the steam.
I want to scale up the steam in comparison to the guy. To achieve this I need to crouch down and tilt the GR up a bit. In this position, the camera display becomes less visible. I half-press the shutter and prefocus on the curb. The man starts walking over E37th and I make single exposures. The first ones have the subject centered. As he moves I realize that the scene needs a stronger vanishing point and spin the camera slightly to the left.
He passes through the steam and I capture him in mid-step. His head positioned in the upper right, following the classic rule of thirds framing. The steam is sticking to his neck and coat. It connects him with the rest of the cloud down below. The steam’s triangle shape repeats in the building lines on the right. This makes the frame stick together more strongly.
Your camera and lenses?
I am a happy long time Ricoh GR & GR II user. The GR is a swiss knife of a 28mm prime lens camera. For those interested to learn more, I published a couple of instructional blog posts about it.
Besides this, I like using the swivel screen and looking through the viewfinder on my wife’s Fuji X-T20 camera.
What artist made the most impact on you and why?
I don’t know if he would be categorized as an artist in the first place but I consider Steve Jobs as an influence. In 2005 he said something that I like and carry in my wallet. “have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become… everything else is secondary”
What is the best compliment you received so far?
During the Street Photography course with Mr. Jeff Mermelstein at the ICP, he made a comment about one of my photographs. I understood it as a compliment when he explained to see similarities to those who became photographers with Magnum.
Any favorite photography books?
Cartier Bresson’s the Decisive Moment. We looked at and discussed the original first edition of the book during a class at the ICP, it was a great moment for all.
Criticizing Photographs, an Introduction to Understand Images by Terry Barrett. Great resource to learn to talk about images.
Not yet published but promising looking preview so far: WARN’D IN VAIN’ a Minotaur inspired tale by Charalampos Kydonakis aka Dirty Harry.
What is Love?
“… baby don’t hurt me, no more”
Apart from photography, tell me about your hobbies and interests?
Listening to music, swimming, reading, writing blog posts, learning something new.
Thanks again for providing 121 Clicks with this opportunity to interview you. Any final thoughts for our readers?
Don’t be afraid, be creative!
Visit my project @streetphototip on Instagram to learn useful tips, inspirational quotes and stories about making photography in public.
You can find Michael Kowalczyk on the Web:
All the pictures in this post are copyrighted to Michael Kowalczyk. Their reproduction, even in part, is forbidden without the explicit approval of the rightful owners.
Wow! Michael has some of the nicest street photography that I have seen in a long time. He works really well with different layers and as mentioned having a solid vanishing point to lead the eye. I think this is a key takeaway for anyone looking to up their Street Photography game.
Thanks Ben, I think a clear vanishing point and layers can be seen as popular ingredients in a street photo recipe. It’s the mix and mash of different, sometimes very little but strong (confusing) flavors that can make a photo stand out.