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Retro Kolkata Exclusive : Interview with amazing Portrait Photographer Wojtek Stark from Germany

©Wojtek Stark
Once a blind woman asked me if I could photograph her. After the picture was taken, she said with joy, “I'm just trying to imagine what it might look like” and started laughing happily. This moment impressed me a lot.Another time, an elderly gentleman told me that no one wanted to take pictures of him until now and that I was the first one, then he started to cry. I'll never forget that moment either.

RK : Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, We’re excited to have you. Let’s have a jump into the past. What first attracted you to photography?

WojtekStark :It was definitely my first India visit in 2014. I’ve purchased my first DSLR camera especially for this trip and after I turned back home there was nothing else in my head then street photography in India. It continues until today.

RK : Does photography come easily to you? Were you ever unsure of your talents?

WojtekStark :Yes, usually it does. I’m not unsure of my talent but I often see mistakes I’m performing while shooting. At the end it helps much to develop myself as a photographer. there are also days in between, as you doubt your abilities. But this also helps to develop further.

©Wojtek Stark

RK : What are your favorite genres of Photography?

WojtekStark :Portraits, street photography and every kind of photography connected with humans.

RK : What are you looking for when you have a camera in your hands?

WojtekStark :First of all, I check the camera settings before continuing to take pictures. This usually happens on the street and I have hardly any time to change the setting while taking pictures. I look for characteristic faces, unusual arrangements and pithy situations. Rarely do I construct a picture or wait somewhere for it to finally happen.

©Wojtek Stark

RK : What type of camera, lenses and lighting equipment do you use?

WojtekStark :I’m using since two years the Sony Alpha system, actual bodies: Sony Alpha 9 and Sony Alpha 7rII, lenses: Sony G-master series: 85mm f/1.4, 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm F/2.8. I’m a huge fan of natural light. In the meanwhile I don’t use custom lights at all, because of the high ISO my actual cameras are able to handle. A silver or white reflector ist he only one tool I’m using sometimes to provide some soft atmosphere into a portrait when needed.

©Wojtek Stark

RK : Your portraits convey lots of depth and often reveal deeper stories. How do you decide which moments to capture?

WojtekStark :The moments are coming to me while walking or riding a motorcycle and I take every chance to freeze it on the memory card as soon as I see a setting.

RK : What has been your most inspiring encounter since you began your photography journey?

WojtekStark :There have already been several moments that I have experienced as very inspiring, I can not rate it clearly. It was the encounters with people that I photographed. Once a blind woman asked me if I could photograph her. After the picture was taken, she said with joy, “I'm just trying to imagine what it might look like” and started laughing happily. This moment impressed me a lot. Another time, an elderly gentleman told me that no one wanted to take pictures of him until now and that I was the first one, then he started to cry. I'll never forget that moment either.

©Wojtek Stark

RK : Every picture of yours seems to be a well thought of creation. We would like to know what goes into the conceptualizing process of every frame you decide to create ?

WojtekStark :I am interested in man, his joys, sorrows and his life. The more obvious written in the face, the more interesting. At the same time I have a weakness for striking facial features and eye colors. If the overall impression is correct, I ask immediately for a portrait. For street photography, the overall impression of the pre-existing situation counts first and foremost. If all the parameters match: statement, composition, light and uniqueness, I immediately press the trigger. The resulting photo I consider as a sketch that receives the finishing touches through digital image editing.

©Wojtek Stark

RK : Your photography is so inspiring and you create such beautiful art. We especially love the expressions you capture. Would you like to share some of your favorite tips for photographing such amazing expressions.

WojtekStark :The expression in a portrait results from the interaction between the photographer and the person depicted. You will always be able to photograph and express what you can see and understand when standing behind the camera. Either you create a random product and you are glad that you have pressed the trigger at the right moment or you are working on your own conceptual approach to attract desired expressions, which, however, requires a lot of practice. Both methods have their charm but i recommend to work out an individual style of communication by practicing a lot and never give up.

©Wojtek Stark

RK : How do you get a subject to open up in front of the camera and how much direction do you tend to give them?

WojtekStark :It is so different that I can not formulate specific instructions. I take pictures on the street and you meet different people with different abilities. It takes a lot of tact to do the right thing at the right moment, to follow a thread in order to press the trigger at the right time. Since they are mostly foreign and unknown people, warm friendliness is the key to the first door. Once it's open, most people embrace much and follow your directions and wishes when they see you as a special person and look a bit more professional in their equipment.

©Wojtek Stark

RK : What do you consider to be the axis of your work – technically and conceptually?

WojtekStark :I keep developing. This happens both technically and conceptually. In technology, when shooting, I pay close attention to the best possible focus and the best possible sharpness of the essential image areas. Photographing as in reality is always my endeavor and almost to get a painting as the final result after the image editing. The seen should also seem close enough to touch and emphasize the essentials. Conceptually, I pursue the deepening of expressions in portraits. In street photography, I try to create primarily socially critical statements. Furthermore, I work intensively on a photo book, which I would like to publish in late 2020.

RK : What photo are you most proud of?

WojtekStark :I photographed a sibling couple two years ago. The photo is titled "Love" and is by far the most successful photo I've ever posted on social media.

©Wojtek Stark

RK : In your opinion, what are some of the qualities that make some photographic portraits stand out and apart from ordinary photos of people? Can you offer some examples of great photo portraits that hold power for you?

WojtekStark :A good portrait is far from good quality. For me, the complete work of a photographer counts as the most important quality feature. Only then does one recognize the personality, its depth and variety, or it dwindles into stereotypes. My big role models for portraits are painters from art history and not photographers. These include: Amadeo Modigliani, Rembrandt van Rijn, Francesco Goya, Otto Dix and several others. They all showed me things that no photographer has ever done, and I have already seen countless photos.

©Wojtek Stark

RK : Do you feel that photographer need to build a relationship with their subjects or do they need to remain detached?

WojtekStark :Since we humans are social beings, a relationship already arises at the first eye contact or mutual perception through other senses such as hearing, smell or touch. As a portrait photographer you always build a relationship with the person you are photographing, even if only for a few seconds. Without a relationship no portrait is possible. Even if you have unobserved hunted a portrait, then you should then visit the person and tell her about it, otherwise it is morally questionable. When you shoot a lot in big cities like me, there is usually not much time for long conversations, and there are often communication problems. Over time, you learn to act very friendly and fast, and so you move on quickly to find a next portrait.

©Wojtek Stark

RK : You are now in India— tell us about where you went and how you planned your itinerary. How is your experience.

WojtekStark :I travel to India for the tenth time and have been here since December 2018. All in all, I have planned this whole two years to get to know India extensively and to travel. My main goal is, of course, unique photographs but also touring all the states of India including their capitals. Since I'm traveling with a motorcycle, I have the greatest possible freedom of travel.

I started my journey in New Delhi, was over the winter in the ice-cold and beautiful Kashmir, drove back and on to Prayagraj (Allahabad) to KumbhMela, then Bihar and Assam to Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam again, West Bengal, Sikkim to Nepal and actually back to India, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. My next travel destinations include: Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh and Kashmir again, this time in summer. And what are my experiences? Very rich! It would already be enough for a book, but I'm really looking forward to more.

©Wojtek Stark

RK : Do you have any advice for photographers who are just starting out?

WojtekStark :Practice, compare, practice, compare, and so on and never stop or give up. Study art history and watch everything on Youtube at what you can capture about photography, both engineering and creative.

RK : We (Retro Kolkata) are trying to build one single stage for all the artists, because we believe that artists are the most beautiful creation of God and geographical boundary can never break their unity and harmony. Please say something about our initiative and any special message for your followers.

WojtekStark :I would like to thank you for your invitation to the interview. The initiative is a wonderful opportunity for people from all over the world to marvel at the diversity of the arts. I wish you a great future! And I would like to tell my followers: Thank you for your loyalty and your interest in my work! I will continue to do my best to please you daily on my Instagram account with new content. Cheers!

©Wojtek Stark


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