Abandoning the digital options, Paulina Surys is a photographer who has stuck to the more traditional ways of producing her work. Her images bridge art and fashion in both style and form, and are at once mesmerising, haunting and thought-provoking in content. Surys’ latest collection of works will be shown in an exhibition, ‘In Absentia Lucis’ at The Book Club in East London on 20th September 2012. Beautiful Crime caught up with the art-meets-fashion photographer, who has previously worked with ShowStudio, to find out what her work entails and why for her, old school photographic tricks have proved the best.
What are the themes, subjects and ideas behind your photography?
It is a record of my thoughts and experiences heavily mixed with influences from art and literature to religion or science. I always carefully study the subject before employing it in my photographs. Sometimes there is a fusion of several influences which creates unique results – unfortunately I work with small budgets so I have never been able to show truly my creative potential. I think it is important for an artist to be able to find beauty and inspiration in subjects which may be social taboos, like death or deformation. A photographer also has the ability to elevate any trivial subject to become something of great importance.
Tell us more about the process: why you use the analogue techniques and the additional traditional methods you employ to create your work? Is there any painting involved?
Analogue photography seems to more organic; the beauty of the process itself and how unique it is. It is very important for me to work manually on my works. Hand-embellishment (hand-colouring) is one of the techniques I work with. I love the way each work becomes a fingerprint; it is individual: how colour application changes the initial composition of every photograph. It is fascinating for me as originally I trained to be a painter (I studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poland). I have tried digital photography but I cannot find a feel for this medium, I cannot identify myself with works of such perfection.
Your work is often coined as art or fashion photography – what would you call it?
I agree with the great masters of fashion photography such as Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin that good fashion photography shouldn’t look like fashion. It should look like anything but fashion! I use clothes as artifacts to introduce certain mood and vice versa, I use certain moods to introduce clothes and models to the spectators, to make the viewer remember the image. It may be something surreal, strange or simply very beautiful and romantic, but the key thing (and the great success) is to make the photograph memorable. It does not need to satisfy everyone’s taste as that is simply impossible. It may be controversial, but it should be strong enough to be remembered.
We hear you are publishing a book too?
Yes, my first monographic album, published by PAULSEN will be out in October. It will be a book about the past, present and future. It’s about women, approached in a spirit of inquiry. The outer picture is always a mirror of the inner. Then another
And then you also have two upcoming shows – one at Browns and one at The Book Club – tell us more about these?
The exhibition in The Book Club (20th September) is my first solo exhibition in London. I will be presenting a mixture of old and new works, a record of my journey presenting various colouring techniques and different moods. There will be also another exhibition at Browns, and a signing of my book in Paris and London (due to happen late Autumn).
Where can people buy your work? Do you sell in limited edition prints and originals and how much does one of your works cost?
I usually sell my works through the galleries (unless an art buyer or collector approaches me individually); the prices vary. Naturally, the hand embellished gelatin silver prints or ambrotypes/ tintypes are the most expensive as they exist as one-off copies; I cannot reproduce them, so the buyer knows that the artwork is something special and that no one else could possibly own an identical photograph. I also sell small editions of gelatin silver prints (maximum 5 prints in the edition) as well as limited edition giclees (editions of 5-10),
giclee prints are the cheapest option.
Where are you from, where did you grow up, where and when did you study and what influences your work?
I grew up in a little town in Poland. Since I was a child, I have been surrounded by art, books, visits to the theatre, museums and operas (thanks to my mother). Being brought up in Poland, I was also surrounded by orthodox Catholicism, my family have never been church goers but the atmosphere surrounding the subject in my country is quite intense; it is the Church who rules there along with the government. Hence the religious motifs that occur repeatedly throughout my work.
Any other important things or achievements about you and your work we should know about? Has anyone important commented on it / owns it etc?
One important thing was my exhibition with VOGUE Italia, in Carla Sozzani Gallery in Milan this summer. Another would be my feature, interview and commission for The British Journal of Photography (for whom I gave a talk at the International Photo Festival in Arles). Also, the collaboration on my book with the art curator, Camilla Brown (TATE Liverpool, Photographer’s Gallery), as well as some great comments from Sarah Moon. There are a few more surprises on the way but I cannot reveal what just yet!
You can see ‘In Absentia Lucis’ from 20th September at The Book Club, 100 Leonard Street, EC2A 4RH.
The show runs from 20th September – 11th October 2012.