PictureTalks: Aleksandra Modrzejewska
In this series we will be reaching out to professional photographers to get insight into their practice. This week our photography editor interview Aleksandra Modrzejewska, a Polish portrait photographer based in Scotland.
What’s the first picture you remember taking?
My father used cameras for operational purposes in his job - I still have some medium format equipment from him. Since he developed the photographs, there had always been a camera and some film rolls in the house. One time my mom cut my hair and took a photo of me so I really wanted to get one of her. I took a portrait but her chin was out of the frame. My dad made a lot of copies of it though. Later, I wasn’t very interested in photography. When I was 19 I wanted to paint but I was very impatient. I don’t think it’s possible to paint a portrait that can capture someone’s personality as well as a photograph.
When (and how) did you decide you want to pursue photography ?
I first wanted to go to the school of visual arts in Krakow but I ended up going to a photography school there. After two years, a football club from Krakow asked me to take photographs of their players wearing suits: looking back I now hate these photos but it was my first serious job related to photography. Afterwards I shot at weddings. I was 24 years old when I first came to Scotland and I wasn’t planning on taking pictures here. My boyfriend sent my portfolio to modeling agencies. They called me and I barely spoke any English but I went to Glasgow to meet with them. That’s how I started doing test shoots.
Someone told me that recently you’ve been shooting in London too.
I go there to do test shoots every now and then so sometimes I end up doing 14 shoots in 3 days.
Would you say event photography can prepare you for a job in a different area of photography?
Yes because it makes you look for subjects and create opportunities.
Film or digital?
If I could afford it I would only shoot film. I work mostly with digital though, it is also what the clients expect from me.
I find your style to be very uncontrived: the pictures, even when shot in the studio, are full of what seems to be natural light.
It is natural light! I don’t use strobes, just a large window. Also, I don’t plan my shots: I know how other people do editorials, but the way I work is very intuitive. I should probably be working on them beforehand but I like to just go out there and shoot.
You shoot a lot in black and white: would you say you prefer it over color photography?
I think if you shoot in color then it should be with a purpose in mind. Otherwise, I choose black and white and focus on the composition.
What’s the most recent project you’ve been working on?
I wouldn’t call it a project but outside of work I mostly enjoy taking portraits. Also, I approach test shoots in the same way: I won’t be able to take a photo of a model until I spend even five minutes with her beforehand to get to know her better.
How do you make the people you shoot with feel comfortable?
I make tea and just talk to them for a bit to put them at ease.
Is that why they seem so natural in the photographs?
I take photos when they speak to me! That’s why I take so many pictures while taking a portrait, sometimes three or four hundred, in order to capture the moments when they’re most natural.
Would you let anyone else edit your photos for you?
I think when you take photos digitally you should be the one editing them because that’s how you create your own style: by getting the final product to look the way you want.
According to you, what makes a ‘good’ photograph?
Just looking at it makes you smile: if you saw it on Instagram and you didn’t take it, you’d like it and comment on it saying you love it.
Do you look at instagram or other photographers for inspiration?
I don’t look at them and go “I want to do something like this” but I do use other photos to describe what I want to say instead of putting it in words.
I have picked a few of my favorite photos from your portfolio. Would you mind describing these?
Jam and James from the series for Model Team group shoot. Just two wild souls :)
Jamila for Cavan Jayne/MT. The graduate collection for Cavan. Beautiful pieces and an extremely raw image.
Conner (Model Team) with my cat. Styled by Ian Tod.
All photographs taken by Aleksandra Modrzejewska http://aleksandramphoto.tumblr.com/
Interview by Ania Juszczyk