Marta Kochanek is an exceptional photographer working with topics that often get sweeped under the rug. In her incredible journey as a photographer, she’s learned through hard work what it means to be devoted to her profession. On top of sharing insights about her work and projects, Marta gives valuable advice which might be exactly what you need to hear right now as a photographer.
Can you describe that moment (experience, emotion situation) when you knew that photography was something you had to do?
I meant to be an Interior Designer and it was the course I undertook to get the degree and to start my career in that field. Photography was one of the modules and it is when I started enjoying the discovery of a new medium. It was a bit more than 20 years ago and there was no way I could have afforded any digital camera!
My uncle gave me my very first analogue camera and I believe that was the beginning of the new fascination. I obsessively started photographing everything… trees, tyres in my dad’s garage, sunflowers, animals and finally people. It would not have been a surprise to hear me only talking about apertures if awaken in the middle of the night. The love story had begun and brought me to where I am now. There is nothing more important than that and it comes straight from my heart.
What has your career path been like ever since?
I don’t think I can say it was or still is an easy journey as there are always up and down moments in everything we do no matter how dedicated or passionate we are. I am very critical when it comes to judging my work too, which is good at some point, as it always pushes me to achieve more and expect better results but it can also be exhausting and tiring on the other side.
Following dreams is the only way I can keep myself focused I believe. I am constantly making notes, drawing sketches, planning my next personal shoot, scouting locations and looking for people to include in my work. It is a very ‘my way’ of being and something that really makes me feel happy.
My attention to details and willingness to learn photography by ‘touching the history’ opened the door for me to lead an archival project for Annie Leibovitz. The most admired photographer and the only woman who manages to keep a high position in the photography field for decades taught me to believe in myself no matter what.
What are some struggles that you’ve come upon in your career, and how have you overcome them?
It is very common that in business one does not have a commission every single day and because I am a workaholic, I had to find a way to keep myself busy. Doing nothing just makes me feel miserable. Working 7 days a week makes me feel happy. I am a strong believer and that is the strength that allows me to continue my career. I also have a great support system from the person I am married to.
The only things we need to overcome struggles are strong will, personal development and an ‘I can’ attitude.
What technology/software/camera gear do you use that makes you productive and helps you deliver your best work?
I use Nikon D800
Profoto B1 and B2
Photoshop + Capture One
What motivates you to continue shooting and doing what you do?
I think inner satisfaction is the best feeling ever and the greatest motivational force.
I take my job very personally and I like when things work according to plan. Precise planning and preparation are always in place as there are no mistakes allowed.
What are some resources that helped you improve your skills as a photographer?
I collect books of photographers whose works inspire me. In my early days I spent time analysing lighting and composition. I am a person of a curious character and am not ashamed of asking even the most naïve questions. It is how I got the knowledge that allowed me to master my own style and portfolio. I’m still learning but it is a wonderful journey.
What are some of the themes you explore in your works that are personally very close to you and what do you try to communicate through your work?
Love and rejection along with all the emotions that go with it are the subjects that I keep reflecting on. In my “We Love We Make We Exist” series, I concentrated on homosexual families with kids. My aim was to spend some time with the families to get to know them, to observe, ask questions and finally to portray them. I was there to create an honest picture of families that raise kids and are perfectly normal. It is still a matter of a controversy in Poland, where I come from so yes, I did enjoy such a positive and friendly outcome that I received in the UK. In another series called “Cognitive Bodies”, I reflected upon emotions and our ability to explore them through the movement or gesture of our body. It is a series of dark nudes and it brought me many awards as well as attention of some serious critics.
My recent series “Lov’yer” is about love and rejection. I worked on research for that project for 8 months and employed 27 people to take part in it. It was the biggest challenge for me so far – budget-wise but also size-wise. For that series I portrayed seven relationships that are formed by both the majority and minorities of the whole population that occupies this world. I contrasted old and young, curvy and slim, black and white, straight and gay.
Following my research, I found it fascinating to observe and read about lovers, cougars, sugar daddies, gigolos, adorers, secret admirers and cohabitants. I realised that what happens to be silly to majority can be normal to the minority. What is obscene to millions can truly be a blessing to others.
In my new series dedicated to women, I portray women, their relationships as friends, lovers and business people. I am half way through it here, it is not finalised yet.
Among your projects, which series or a single photograph is your favourite? What’s the story behind the project or photograph?
I don’t think there is one single image I admire the most. All images and series I shot, bring so many emotions and memories. I love working with my team, discovering new sitters and creating the image I kept in mind until that moment. It is what brings joy and motivates me to keep going; the atmosphere, creation, planning, drawing. Then having all the people who are so passionate and involved and to finally see the image on the screen and have that moment of inner satisfaction. I love it – the whole process is just worth it.
What have you learned so far from being a photographer?
Self discipline. Unbeaten belief in dreams as each one has its day to come true.
What do you think makes a winning photograph?
Context. A well thought through idea is what makes an impact when it comes to a photograph being judged. Another, similarly important thing is how we translate the idea into a visual.
What are some resources that you would recommend for someone that wants to take photography seriously?
In my understanding it is more about what makes your heart beat to the extent you think your chest is about to explode. It is not about what book you have read or what exhibitions you have attended – it is about what makes you feel alive.
Any serious person who wants to take serious steps in any profession must be ready to dedicate their life to it and not just a day or month or a year to achieve the desired results, satisfaction and finally serious but much needed critique. There is no resource that would let one become a master in anything. It comes from the heart, hard work, accepting failures, learning from mistakes, reaching the bottom.
If after all the bad experiences one is still able to fight, this will make him or her a happy and fulfilled person. This would also be a test to measure serious dedication and this would be the only force and power behind any dream.
If you are ready to take it all on your shoulders – no one would stop and you yourself will never give up.
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