Studying at Manchester School of Art, photographer Anita Kwiecien is still exploring her medium, but tends to focus on portraiture, fashion, and artistic photography. She has recently experimented with film photography and mixed media, creating double exposures on film, embroidered images, as well as exploring documentary photography. She is very interested in human nature and captures gorgeous portraits that feel intimate and insightful. We asked Anita to share her thoughts on her work, her creative process, and what her degree has taught her so far.
What made you want to study Photography at Manchester School of Art?
I’ve always wanted to study photography, the only decision to make was: where? I went to an open day at Manchester School of Art and I found the facilities really impressive – both the studio and darkroom were really big, and since I use both a lot that was important to me. I also really liked that the course was quite self-directed. I feel like it prepares you well for the future.
How did you get into photography?
I’ve been making things and drawing ever since I can remember. At 13 I got interested in photography and wanted to try it out. That’s when I saved up for my first DSLR – my parents said I would respect it more if I paid for it myself, and they were right. I still have it to this day.
Who or what inspires you and makes you want to create?
A big inspiration to me is the human mind and emotions. The endless need to portray the way I see and experience the world is what pushes me to create. When it comes to artists, at the moment a big inspiration for my work is Duane Michals and his use of text and narrative. Recently I got into bookmaking and when it comes to that I look up to Sophie Calle – she’s very skilled at sequencing and making beautiful, meaningful books.
How would you describe your work and photographic style?
I think I am still searching for my own style. For a while now I’ve been mostly shooting film, because it makes me think about each frame, so the photos turn out better, but I don’t find it very reliable. In my personal work I usually address social and mental health issues, and document society. A lot of the time I find myself trying to capture how we express ourselves through our clothes, the way we decorate our living and working spaces, or through the objects we own. In the end it doesn’t matter what subject I do my project on, my approach is always the same. I try to get to the bottom of it, get to know it, and document it all in detail.
Your work includes film photography and mixed media work. Tell us about this.
Within the last few months I have been interested in exploring the medium of photography to its full. There are so many rules and perceptions about what photography is supposed to be; I want to re-invent it, taking advantage of what a camera makes possible and take it beyond its usual function of capturing reality. An example is my double exposures on film, where I don’t have full control over what the resulting image will be. However, sometimes I have to use other media to alter my photographs in order to achieve the results I want, like provoking a specific emotion. For example, my last photo-embroidery project was inspired by how proud I feel every time I go home and see how much my friends have grown and blossomed since the last time I saw them. I found it really hard to capture that just with photographs, so I ended up stitching into them.
What are you currently working on?
Usually I work on a few projects at the same time. At the moment one of them is a book inspired by Duane Michals, where I am experimenting with narrative and how text and handwriting in particular changes the way we look at images. The project feels very personal as most of the writing touches issues close to me. I am also engaged in a collaboration with my pen pal from Serbia, where we expose one roll of film twice – he takes photos in his home town and then sends the film to me so I can expose it again here in the UK. I have just finished our first roll and can’t wait to see the results!
What’s your creative process?
It’s quite chaotic at the start. Usually after I get an idea for a project I will do a bit of work on it before I start to research. Then it’s time to experiment! That takes a long time, but I find it the most interesting, as that’s when I discover new techniques and can expand my practice. When I finally arrive at the final idea it’s just the matter of organisation to get it done. Some projects will last a month and others two years, but I always try to have at least one in progress at any time.
How has your style and work developed while studying your degree?
Studying photography taught me that failure can be a new start. I used to be a perfectionist, which isn’t bad, but it limited me. I feel like if I wasn’t pushed to experiment and to not be afraid to fail, I wouldn’t have arrived at the ideas that I’m working at now. Thanks to that my work has naturally progressed from what I thought photography should be, to what I actually want to make.
What has been the most valuable thing you’ve learnt on your degree?
I think besides learning to accept failure, a very important thing my degree taught me is a better critical understanding of photography and media. I never studied art before I came to the UK to do my foundation degree, and even though I was quite sceptical about the critical approach at first, now I find it very valuable.
Do you have a dream project for the future?
I would love to get commissioned to document other countries or communities from the perspective of a foreigner like Raymond Depardon did in 1980s. I am really interested in Nordic countries, so maybe that would be a good place to start!