Katalin Száraz, the second-place winner of the Depositphotos photography contest “Authenticity 2.0”, is a Hungarian fine art photographer who currently lives in Paris. From a very young age, she was interested in art and images. She got her first camera when she was just 14 years old.
“My father is a sailor and once I had a chance to visit him on the ship at a harbor in Denmark for a few weeks. I have arrived with my drawing books and art supplies, but when I got his camera in my hands, I began to discover the city and take pictures. After my time there I left with his camera back to Hungary and my journey with photography had begun”, says Katalin.
Years later, Katalin studied photography at university and worked on different projects in fine art photography, as well as in portraiture and fashion. We spoke to her to find out more about Katalin’s creative path, passion for archaic photography techniques, and award-winning works.
The fine art approach to photography
Because I was drawing before, I always had a fine art approach to photography. At some point, it felt like I exchanged my brushes and pencils for camera gear.
When I begin a project, I focus on the concept first. Sometimes I think and make notes and drawings for a month before I even push the exposure button.
The first thing I need to think about is what I want to express, and then I can choose tools that best serve the subject. This can be anything – from using a plastic toy camera to creating videos or building an installation – the options are endless. I like to experiment with new techniques that also helps me to make sure that I avoid getting back to old overused methods and to learn something new.
During some of my latest projects, I experimented with more intuitional and personal works, where I use photography as a kind of therapy or ritual. This way, I push myself to learn how it is when I cannot influence every single detail.
Photo from the series “Phases” / © Katalin Száraz
Coming up with ideas for projects
When I am really interested in a subject, I dive deep into it, do research, and sometimes it becomes the starting point of an idea. I have always liked that photography gives me the chance to connect with interesting topics through my work.
Then in the last five years, I began to develop more and more personal issues and feelings in my projects, because I realized that processing your own emotions can lead to powerful and honest works. It also takes some courage to open up though.
The story behind the award-winning photo
This picture is part of a series that I have been working on during the lockdown.
I took the winning photo when the official quarantine was just over in Paris. While we had to stay in our homes, the streets were silent. But when we got more or less free from restrictions, everything changed in one day, though I did not believe that things could become better so fast. However, I did not take it as a release, and I kept observing the things from inside. With this self-portrait I was depicting this confused, observing state, as I am peaking out at the bedroom’s window.
The winning photo from the series “Phases” / © Katalin Száraz
To create the ambiance of these photos, I have been using a mix of daylight, flashes, and streetlights. My target was to create an atmosphere when a viewer is not completely sure about what time of the day it is. I think it is a very typical element of the days spent in lockdown, as we slowly lose our sense of time.
Creating this series helped me a lot to overcome my bad feelings about the lockdown and the pandemic.
My ongoing projects and works, including the award-winning photo
I have several ongoing or recently finished projects but some of them I had to put on pause because of the pandemic.
I will begin with the project to which my award-winning photo belongs to.
As I already mentioned, I did this work during the first lockdown, spending all my time behind closed doors for two months. When this situation occurred in March, at first I felt lost, confused, and anxious.
Staying at home during a lockdown can have some extraordinary aspects when you live in a foreign country and you have already been coping with your ideas about the meaning of home.
I began to turn my ideas and feelings into visual forms. I did sketches, and then I “built up” the photos. They were becoming a strange intermediate between documenting my life in the lockdown, mixed with the projection of my emotions. It turned into a so-called strategy to keep on creating, to stay sane, and to have the illusion of having control over the situation. This series also enabled me to share my thoughts and feelings with others, since we are all connected through one main problem now. It felt great to realize this.
Photo from the series “Phases” / © Katalin Száraz
I have developed another important project during the summer. Since I have moved away from my home country, my main subjects are the emotional and psychological aspects of living abroad. Linked to these ideas, I have been thinking about a slow and experimental project for a long time, and finally, I could make some time for it in this strange year.
This is a photography-based photo and video project where I use polaroid emulsion lift technique. I use the floating emulsion, its hovering, and crumpled state as a reflection of the rootless lifestyle and the mindset that goes with it. Sometimes it is difficult to split your life between different countries, and I wanted to turn these strong feelings, which are constantly present in my life into a body of work.
Photo from the series “Unsettled” / © Katalin Száraz
3. La fille du marin
Last year, I also began a long term project about my personal heritage. I have been traveling and taking photos in Asia to discover the places where my parents have been going together decades ago. My mother could often follow my father on the cargo ship, but due to the changing situation in the early 90s in Hungary, I had no chance to travel with him like her, even if I really wanted to.
I grew up hearing bedtime stories of their adventures and captured the places and anecdotes in my imagination as a kid. This family heritage has influenced my life a lot and it gave me the urge to travel and discover as much as I can. I am still processing this work, and it will be a long personal journey.
I could not really choose one favorite project. On the one hand, I am kind of emotional about them as they are very personal. On the other hand, I can be critical about myself, and with time, I see them differently. I always like my projects the most when I am working on them so I can just go with the flow.
Working with archaic techniques in photography
In my earlier works, I have been creating ambrotypes (a positive photograph on glass), argentotypes (iron-based silver printing process, a derivative from ambrotypes), and cyanotypes (a photographic process that produces cyan-blue prints). I discovered them in an art camp called “Foto Falu” in the Hungarian countryside around 2012 and fell in love with them. But since I am always moving, it is harder to find a way to work with these techniques, but I would love to get back to them more in the future.
My attraction to archaic techniques comes from my “fine artist attitude”. I love to create things with my hands, using tangible materials, and I also had some ideas where it seemed to be a perfect match. For example, I had a project where I wanted to create collages of new creatures based on X-Ray negatives of different animals. Argentotype became the best solution to strengthen the idea. When I exhibited it, some people were confused about seeing the wrecked papers and were wondering if they saw real fossils or not.
But it is not only about archaic techniques, I would more say experimental photography, in general, is what I really like. I also spent a lot of time in the darkroom or did some experiments with sheet films and fire, for example. This is still one of my favorite projects, very deep and personal where I could find the right support of my ideas using the matching techniques.
Sources of inspiration
Most often, personal experiences and impressions launch a flow of ideas in my mind. When I think about a new art project, I try not to look up other works but attempt to recreate what I have in my mind. Though we are all influenced subconsciously by the images we see.
Sometimes I listen to podcasts, lectures, and interviews, and it is very interesting to learn how artists have different approaches and ideas in different fields.
Looking for fashion photography inspiration is a bit different. With it, it is very stimulating to look up images as references and create mood-boards. Movies and paintings are always giving me a lot of inspiration when I prepare an editorial.
Music can be a great inspiration too, I am always listening to it when I am working.
Advice to aspiring professionals that would like to take award-winning photos
My advice is to keep on creating and dare to try new things to find what suits you best and what you can do the best.
Work a lot, be demanding with yourself, and do not be shy to show your images. Reaching out and applying for opportunities is very important to make things happen.
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