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Szymon Brodziak: photography is a gateway to imagination

an interview by Enrico Ratto – translation by Elisa Chisana Hoshi

Szymon Brodziak, I just saw your exposition here at the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin and it occurred to me that even as a fashion and advertising photographer, you are attracted by nature most of all.

Actually, all the images of nature that you saw in this exposition are part of my recent work. In the last two years I started looking for new locations, more closely related to nature. What fascinates me about nature is that you can never guess where a certain path will lead you, or what will interest you tomorrow.

In the early years you were very much attracted by abandoned places.

At the beginning I used to shoot abandoned places, big industrial spaces, castles and locations that created a contrast with the model’s refinement. In such places I could find many details that filled up the picture. Today, when I’m surrounded by nature I realize that my pictures contain fewer details, which gives much more power to the overall image.

“What you see is what you are” is something that you often say. Does this apply to advertising and fashion photography as well?

This is a very important point in my work. I’ve never made a distinction between commercial assignments and my personal artistic research. Many photographers make this distinction; but when you cultivate a dream, a scene or a vision within you, then you naturally try to bring this very vision into your commercial work, if your budget allows, that is. What was the question again?

Is it possible to remain faithful to “what you see is what you are” also when you shoot for advertising and fashion?

My secret is to put every idea into words, everything that pops into my mind, every scenario, everything. And whenever I have a new assignment I try to make my idea fit into the brief that I receive. When this works, then I’m able to get a picture that perfectly matches my idea.

In fact, I often ask to the photographers how they feel when they put in an exposition a picture that comes from a more complex work, like an editorial or a photo report.

What I learned from Helmut Newton is that any image can be extracted from a more articulate work, yet it must contain a whole story in itself. The first time that I saw his work I realized that he could tell a complete story within a single picture, a story that the observer can then develop. Photography is a gateway to imagination. I think that the best photographers are those that are able to stimulate your imagination within a single picture, and not within a full series.

Do you think that the theatrical dimension in your pictures is a return to the style of Helmut Newton and David Lachapelle after years of photography in more private, less flamboyant locations?

I’m not attracted by real life or reality. What draws me is a world that I can create using my imagination.

And you, with the help of your team, recreate this world.

Yes, and I am really pleased that you mentioned it. The final product is a result of strong teamwork, where each and every single person adds something to the work; without a well-coordinated team it would be impossible to obtain such results.

Do you always work with the same people?

Yes, whenever possible. But it’s also very interesting to meet new people, open up new horizons and gain new experiences.

How do you choose your locations?

In my work it’s not the people, but the locations that inspire me. In order to obtain information, I normally inspect the locations at least one day before shooting, and that’s the minimum. Doing things spontaneously is more fun, but the result is uncertain and the job more stressful. I see a place and immediately I imagine what can happen there. Moreover, I already picture the whole thing it in black and white.

Do you think that your photography can exist without people?

It could be a good experiment. Like I told you at the beginning, I like exploring and experimenting in new ways.

In the photo with the big tree, the woman is almost hidden.

That’s right, that’s the direction I’m heading towards.

On your website there are many videos.

I invite a cameraman to join me on the set whenever I can, because I find videos to be a nice complement of my work. People are very interested in what leads to a certain picture.

That’s right, the question that we have in mind while looking at a picture is: how did he do it?

And the video is also a memory of the job. When I’m shooting, sometimes I’m not aware of my surroundings: later, when I watch the video, I recall all the fun, the stress, the choices and the movements that lead me to take that photo.

Fashion photography is very often sculptural and definitive. Videos make the context more understandable.

June and Helmut Newton made some videos that helped us understand Helmut’s approach to life. And once you understand his approach towards life, you can understand his photography.

How did you meet June Newton?

I got introduced to June four years ago, here in Berlin, during an exposition. I then met her again at her house in Monte Carlo. I had the mock-up of my book with me and I was petrified, since it is known that June always says what she thinks. She said that she liked my photography but she couldn’t do anything for me. When the book was published last year I sent it to her, and she decided to invite me to join this great exposition at the Foundation, that also features Frank Horvat and Helmut Newton.

It’s a big responsibility for your future works.

It is. I think it’s a huge responsibility; I cannot disappoint a person like June, who believed in my work. I’ll keep on doing my job in the best way I know how, always trying to develop and move it in the right direction.


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