Tomasz Kulbowski is a documentary and street photographer who is the originator and director of the annual Eastreet exhibition and publication as well as a member of the Un-Posed street photography collective. He will be in Sydney this March delivering a one-day intensive street photography workshop and kindly agreed to have a chat with AUSSIE STREET's Sam Ferris.
AS: Hi Tomasz, thank you for chatting with us! Could you start off by introducing yourself and telling us a bit about your work? What drew you to street photography and what do you look for when you photograph on the street?
TK: Thank you for inviting me! I come in Lublin, Poland, although I’m on the road for few months - at the moment in Thailand, soon going to Australia… I travel a lot for photography, I teach workshops, I do collective work together with my colleagues from Un-Posed and manage the international exhibition and publication called Eastreet. But first and foremost I’m a documentary photographer. I’ve started using photography for personal and practical reasons. In 2004 I relocated from Poland to London and at that time it was almost like changing planets - I suddenly was in a completely new and different space. Photography became my main tool of getting familiar with these unknown surroundings, investigating them and understanding. I was always fascinated with seeing the world through the lens, but during my time in London I’ve started reading more about photography and developing a more conscious approach to my work (I think I’m still in this process). I was shooting every day, before and after work, during my lunch breaks and over weekends… Purely for myself and close friends, occasionally publishing my work on Flickr, which at that time was an amazing and inspiring community. After some time it became my main professional activity and now my whole life seems to be revolving around photography. I still use photography as a way of documenting and exploring both new places and familiar surroundings. I’m focusing on searching of those rare coincidences, brief moments that can transform an ordinary scene into a unique happening or a short story.
"I was shooting every day, before and after work, during my lunch breaks and over weekends… Purely for myself"
AS: You’ve worked previously in Australia, what’s your experience of shooting street photography here been like? Do you have any favourite locations? Anything unique about shooting down under?
TK: I’ve only been to few locations in this amazing country, but I can say that Sydney is one of my favourite locations in the world for street photography. Also a special place for personal reasons - here I got engaged to my wife (who is Polish Australian) and some of my good friends live here. I feel I need to properly explore Sydney and Australia - also through the lens. I really appreciate the work of local photographers like Narelle Autio, Trent Parke, Jesse Marlow, members of the Oculi collective and many others. It’s been a great source of inspiration and information about Australia and I’m very curious about finding my own approach and connection to that land. I’ve been also studying the work featured on Aussie Street Instagram - so many great frames to sharpen my appetite!
Shooting in Australia is a special experience. There’s one very unique quality that instantly comes to my mind: it’s the light! Especially in central Sydney - the light is unlike anything I’ve seen. It creates those amazing effects, with deep shadows and shapes of strong light cutting through them. Also, the public space of Sydney is really interesting, diverse and different from what I’m used to, which is always refreshing and inspiring. You can get a sense of open space and perspective, even in the central area with tall buildings and canyons of street. It’s less claustrophobic than some European or Asian cities I know well from my photography practice. I can’t wait to dive into Sydney streets again!
"Shooting in Australia is a special experience. There’s one very unique quality that instantly comes to my mind: it’s the light"
AS: You’re conducting an intensive, one-day workshop in Sydney on the 24th of March entitled “Beyond street Photography”. Could you tell us a little more about it and what the students can expect?
TK: I look forward to it! I’ve been thinking about organising an event like this for a long time. I’ve been teaching street photography workshops for about 7 years in various locations around the world and Sydney was always one of my dream locations. There’s a huge potential and some areas are true street photographer’s playgrounds!
My workshops take usually three days, but in Sydney I will be using a different formula. It will be a really intensive, one-day workshop where I’ll try to fit as much content in only 7-8 hours. This is not a regular photo walk – more like a photo marathon! I have a specific plan and I want to take the participants through a certain process. We’ll start with some theory and I will discuss the “backstage” of many of my photos, explaining what was going on in the streets and in my mind, why those scenes captured my attention, how they developed, etc. Based on this I will try to equip the participants with techniques, tips, and tricks which they can use for the next hours when we all go out shooting in central Sydney. I’ll be shooting together with them, assisting with getting the best possible shots, as well as helping with issues related to working within the public space, like photographing strangers without being intrusive, developing their own approach and ideas. It’s going to be hard work but I’m expecting some great results from this!
We won’t be only focusing on “classic” street photography frames – this will be our starting point into an exploration of other possibilities. I’m more interested in where this genre ends, what’s happening at its borders and how this candid and spontaneous approach can be used for other types of work. This is why I called the workshop “Beyond Street Photography”. I’ve been a professional event and documentary photographer for around 10 years now and I always try to incorporate some street-like thinking and tricks into what I do, even if it’s a commission work not directly related to street photography. it helps to keep your work fresh, unique and simply to have more fun doing it! It’s all about the right approach and perception - trusting your instinct and being properly focused on what’s going on around you. Being in the right place at the right time is not enough if you’re not prepared.
TK: It’s been a great adventure and learning curve to be involved in those two project. Last year was busy for the Un-Posed members - exhibitions, books, workshops… this one will not be different. We’ve started a new project called Street Meet, presenting selected photographers from outside our team and discussing their work with the public. For the first one we’ve focused on Polish photographers but in the future, we will be opening this idea to foreign authors as well. We’re thinking about exhibitions and publications featuring our own work too. It’s interesting to see how different authors and personalities creatively collide and build something bigger together. It’s not always easy and straightforward, but it’s a great learning curve and a way to connect and give back to the community of street photographers.
Eastreet always keeps me super busy… It’s my child and I’m very happy with the latest edition: from over 11.000 photos submitted, precisely 100 were selected for Eastreet 4 by a team of highly skilled curators. We also have a new partner, which is The Centre for the Meeting of Cultures in Lublin, Poland, and the premiere exhibition opened last October at their gallery blew me away. Production was top-notch, we had a lot of visitors from whole Europe and published a beautiful book featuring all the photos included in Eastreet 4. Since the premiere, we had a chance to present Eastreet 4 in Bangkok and we’re working on other locations for this year. Eastreet is bi-annual now, so we finally have more time to properly put it on tour and share with other countries, connect with other photographers and promote the work of featured authors, which are our important goals. I’ve connected with so many amazing photographers and institutions through Eastreet. We’ve managed to create some sort of a community network between us, so we can support projects, ideas and build something new together. It’s so great to see how photography connects people beyond borders, languages and differences - especially in recent times in Eastern Europe!
I would really love to present Eastreet in Australia one day. I’m actually started working on it already, fingers crossed!
"It’s my child and I’m very happy with the latest edition: from over 11.000 photos submitted, precisely 100 were selected"
AS: Thank you Tomasz, where can people find you, follow your work, or sign up for your workshop?
TK: The main source for my portfolio and the most important announcements like new exhibitions and workshops is my website http://kulbowski.com, I’m also active on social media, mainly Instagram http://instagram.com/kulbowski/. If you have any questions about my Sydney workshop or would like to sign up (only 3 places left) please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or go directly to the dedicated Meetup page https://www.meetup.com/Beyond-Street-Photography/events/247485920/.
Thank you for having me, it’s always a pleasure to connect with fellow photographers!