Ian Brumpton has perfectly captured the mood of “another year” right around the corner with this shot he added to the Flickr pool. He certainly has an eye for telling the stories wafting through the London streets.
Tom’s photography is a comment on everyday life in this loud and bustling London city. “The decisive moment” is what he is most intent on capturing and that is exactly what he excels at doing. He’s an observer, a documentary photographer who focuses on the raw presentation of reality through his work – of Londoners on their daily commute, of moments of solitude and anonymity, of reflection and people lost in thought.
Originally from Lublin, Poland, Tom completed an MA in Culture and Psychology Studies at UMCS in his hometown before coming to London. He works as a corporate and event photographer with the Polish Embassy in London and Polish Professionals Association as well as being an official Getty Images contributor. His photography has been published in several online and print magazines and he has won a few awards including the Flora London Marathon Photography Award and the Panasonic Lumix Award.
For this week’s London Art Spot, Tom tells us about how London life – particularly his South Bank/Bankside neighbourhood – influences his photography, talks about his approach to his subjects and the challenge he constantly has to overcome and shares some of his favourite London shots.
LLO: How long have you lived in London and what brought you to this lively city?
TK: I came to London first time 6 years ago and… didn’t like it really – was far too busy for me! But a year after that I received an interesting job offer so I decided to give London a second chance and it actually worked well. It’s my 5th year here and I’m still excited and surprised by this city. It’s a great place for a photographer – an endless source of inspiration with all the galleries, vibrant streets, amazing cityscape and interesting people from around the world. A great source of inspiration!
LLO: What influence has moving to London had on your approach to photography?
TK: I’ve actually discovered “serious” photography in London – before moving here, I wasn’t thinking or reading too much about photography. Now it’s almost permanent: there’s no single day without at least a small activity related to the photography. Uploading photos to my Flickr account (http://flickr.com/klbw), reading about photography, thinking about new projects… I love it and it’s like a meditation to me, it keeps me sane and let’s me constantly progress in the photography field.
LLO: Favourite place in London to take your camera and why?
TK: A lot of them, but the one I’m most familiar with is my neighbourhood: Bankside and South Bank area. I’ve spent there so much time with the camera, took thousands of photographs and I know that place so well, yet it still seems fresh and inspiring! It’s different at various seasons or time of day, there’s a lot of nice hidden places if you go away from the main touristy river bank route. Two of my ongoing projects are strongly related and sort of dedicated to that area.
LLO: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome to get a great shot?
TK: My photography style is not technically complicated or demanding in terms of equipment, I use a simple set of camera and standard lenses. Also I’m interested in documenting the reality in a possibly faithful and objective way (if possible at all with photography, but that’s a theme for another discussion). Therefore the challenges I encounter are usually related to my approach and general style of work. I work quickly and in “stealth” mode – I try not to disrupt people I photograph and do not influence the reality I want to capture. It’s important to be invisible to my objects, so I can get exactly the picture I see, and not the picture of their reaction to me. This is to me the essence of the photography: telling the stories that would exist if unframed by your eye and the camera. So basically my main challenge is finding the decisive moment without interacting with the reality I encounter.
LLO: You say you have a special focus on solitude in the crowd and anonymity in big city. How do you approach these topics with your camera? Are there specific elements you look for when you compose an image?
TK: Issues of solitude and individuality in the crowd fascinate me and they are especially visible in the metropolis like London. My approach is not to portray pathology or a problem – it’s more about keeping individuality and appreciating yourself, finding your own space and time for yourself in this usually busy, fast and noisy city. My objects usually seem to be happy and in a right place, just where they want to be, spending time with themselves. I try to compose my objects isolated against the city background, usually I use a very shallow depth of field to achieve that. The city landscape is always there and it stays significant, but the person is my main focus – a leading character of the story.
LLO: Are there any London-based photographers you really admire?
TK: Of course! I love to see London through the eyes of other photographers, it’s a great experience and exercise in seeing too. David Solomons, Nick Turpin, Matt Stuart, Stephen McLaren are some of my favourites. I like their approach to street photography: deep, smart and elegant but at the same time light and funny. Their imagination, observation skills and sense of decisive moment are impressive.
LLO: Share your favourite image of London that you’ve captured so far and tell us what makes it special to you.
TK: It changes every now and then, but recently I really appreciated this picture: St Paul’s (http://www.flickr.com/photos/klbw/4588387091/). It was taken in the one and only snowy day last year at Bankside, next to the Millennium Bridge, overlooking St Paul’s Cathedral. I love the dreamy mood of the background and the dynamics of the foreground as well as the tiny detail like the bits of snow floating behind the bird. It’s simply composed and well timed. It’s not my typical photograph and probably not most typical capture of London either, but that’s the one that says a lot about my own vision of that city, not necessarily realistic.
LLO: What are you working on now?
TK: I’m finishing two projects – one is the solitude/individuality in the metropolis that I’ve mentioned earlier – between 15 and 20 large colour prints. Another one is a collection of my street photographs taken within last few years in London. Both will be presented in a form of exhibition later this year, maybe a self-published book too. Meanwhile some of the photos are available to view on my website: www.kulbowski.com.
For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.
I met David briefly at the Trafalgar Hotel last month where his work was on show as part of a jottaContemporary exhibition called Into the Wilde which featured pieces that drew inspiration from Oscar Wilde’s work. He was hanging about like any normal graduate, drinking a beer with friends, happy to chat about his work. It’s surreal, perverse, playful, sometimes disturbing and full of energy.
And it’s been given quite a lot of attention lately, particularly due to his position as a finalist for the Catlin Prize this year. With an MA from Chelsea College of Art on his already impressive CV, David’s sculptures have been featured in Art Review, Spoonfed.co.uk, The Independent, Elle, The Guardian and BBC, among others. Perhaps it’s the bizarre materials he chooses or the narrative popping out of each piece or how quickly his mind churns out intriguing new ideas. Whatever it is, props to David for his long list of gallery exhibitions, commissions, awards and relentless ambition.
For this week’s London Art Spot, David talks us about experimenting with shark teeth and treacle, digs into his experience to reveal a bit of advice to recent art graduates and shares a story about his grandfather’s cane.
LLO: This being a London blog, which aspects of London life most influence your creativity?
DS: It’s an obvious answer but the Galleries and exhibitions that, if you were so inclined, could keep you busy with show openings and visits all week long. Although I do love, that even in this city, you’re never too far from a bit of greenery, a park or something similar to wander into. I need a little bit of nature close by as it helps me work and London has plenty of these wonderful areas a stone’s throw from the busy streets.
LLO: What’s the most unusual material you’ve used so far to create a piece of art? Is there a story behind it?
DS: I would say Shark teeth have been the most unusual material although I did do a project with a fellow student at Chelsea where we created a pool on the floor out of black treacle. We projected an image against it of two studious looking men and made it look as though they were sinking in the pool. It took 16 cans of treacle!
I have also just completed a piece which used a resin foetus skull. I re-worked the skull so that the jaw could hold a machete in its mouth then the whole piece was covered with a rich purple flock.
LLO: Anything particular objects you have in mind to experiment with in the near future?
DS: I have just acquired a resin bust form of a black bear. It’s going to be another light piece and a lot of work but I’ve been excited about starting on it since I drew the plan out in my sketchbook. I also have a resin cat skeleton that I’ve had in my studio for a while and I think now is the time to progress with this piece too.
LLO: It’s been said your work shows a “macabre sense of humour”. Would you agree? If so, give us a good example of a piece that best represents this part of your personality.
DS: I would agree there is something slightly humorous about some of the works I make. Shuck was piece that had a dark streak to it yet kept some humour around it. It was a skeletal dog form I had finished with black gloss paint. I positioned the piece in the corner of a room, and inside its rib cage leading out of its mouth I had threaded electroluminescent wire that piled up on the floor beneath. It really grabbed the viewers’ attention when they entered the space, despite its small stature. It was an irradiated guard dog for my exhibition space, happily ingesting this radioactive looking wire in spite of it leading to its current appearance as nothing more than blackened bones. It became somewhat disturbing but also endearing as a creature that really shouldn’t be there, and wasn’t alive, but still had something life like and charged about its presence.
LLO: Share a piece of work with the most interesting story behind it and tell us about it.
DS: It’s perhaps not really an interesting story but it means a lot to me. After my Grandfather died I got hold of one of his walking sticks. I wanted to do something with it as it was such a beautiful wooden form but I also wanted to preserve the memory I had of him, protect it in some way. After much decision making I used the piece, and placed human teeth made from resin all around the handle of the cane. It made the Cane obsolete to any other potential user as the teeth defended the cane from the grasp of another. It’s a very personal piece and I don’t think I’ll ever let it go.
LLO: Animals (including skulls of dead animals) and neon lights both play a huge role in your work. Where does your fascination with these two elements stem from?
DS: I grew up always being encouraged to look at and understand nature. There is always something new to learn and that’s the interesting part. Growing up in a more rural setting you get a firm grasp of the fragility of creatures in their natural habitat, and that death is something very close by. I use skulls because they show the fragile form of a creature. There seems to be a something divine about these forms, be it the way antlers have developed on roe deer skull or the way the teeth in a tiger skull are designed specifically for its hunting prowess. Light is something I came to late in my MA so I feel I’ve got a lot of experimenting to do. I like using light as it makes you work harder when creating sculpture; there’s a lot more to consider in relation to reflection and shadow. Importantly, the effects I can get from it are precisely what I am looking for particularly when I use Electroluminescent Wire.
LLO: Each piece seems to hint at a story. How important is narrative to you and do you think about this before you begin or does it unfold as you work?
DS: Narrative is quite important in my work but my practice has begun to steer further away from a deep reliance on it and more towards referencing specific areas of animals as omens and their apparitions as bearers of news. I have a way of working that begins with one idea and soon gathers pace including other areas of my research quite quickly. It’s always nice to see what ideas and thoughts you can have when you start working but some ideas tend to be quite tenacious and once I begin with them I get a little obsessive about seeing them through to a specific conclusion I have in my mind.
LLO: Having recently graduated with your MA, you’ve been exhibiting constantly, getting a good amount of press attention and positive feedback. Do you have any solid practical advice for other artists about to face the real world?
DS: I have been more than pleasantly surprised at all the interest my work has generated; it’s been fantastic. The best piece of advice I can give is keep in touch with your fellow graduates if you can, and if you got on with them! Moving out of your college studio space is one thing but when you leave you also lose you peer group and these people are the ones that have been around you and know your work well. Keep these friendships and opportunities for mutual feedback strong. It’s always good to know what others are up to. It can keep you going, help keep things positive. Also if you sell any work from your degree show to collectors, then keep them in the loop about what you do next, what work you make next.
LLO: Which other London-based artists do you admire?
DS: There are quite a few, so, in no particular order: Alex Virji, Sîan Hislop, Blue Curry, Jeremy Willett, Sam Zealey, Aidan Doherty, Matt Clark, Amy Moffatt, Luke Drozd, David Cochrane, Abigail Box, Adam Dix, Lindsey Bull, James Capper, Tianzhuo Chen, Tim Ellis, this list could go on and on…
LLO: What are you working on now and where can we next see your work?
DS: I currently have two commissions that I am working on at the moment that will keep my summer fairly busy but unfortunately both pieces are going into private collections so won’t be seen too widely. The next shows being mooted are in September after that I have a solo show in November, at the Yarrow Gallery, which has been pencilled in for a while now. I have also been approached by a gallery in Los Angeles but that’s a future possibility at the moment and still needs some discussion. I always try and keep something in my diary to work towards, it helps keep me motivated and dedicated to improving.
For more about David and his work, see his website: www.davidasmithart.co.uk
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