Conversation With . . .
A Portrait Photographer
A self-taught Portrait Photographer who evolved from the old school reel to the new age digital. He has tremendous experience working with other well-known photographers in London and Warsaw which is also home. Held a successful Vernissage for his project “Cultural Landscape” and interviewed on ‘Heart of Poland’. This month in Conversation with Pawel Dobrowolski, the Portrait Photographer talks about photography, the pandemic and freezing cold water.
How long have you been a photographer?
In my school days, I recall asking my parents for a camera, but we were unable to afford it so I borrowed one from my grandfather. I practiced taking photos in school and developing the reels in one of my cousin’s darkroom. When I moved to London, people generally buy their first car, but I bought my first camera. From 2004 I began photography as a hobby and was taking up small jobs. Then I moved back to Warsaw, which is home and that’s when I started teaching myself more about photography and thought I could make a living out of it.
What was your first Camera?
It was a Canon 35mm film SLR and I traded it for a digital model afterwards. Even though there were digital cameras at the time, I wanted to learn the craft of developing films. I converted my small room to a darkroom, breathing in a lot of chemicals and documenting all the details of when the photo was taken. It was easy to move to digital and not having to document the details of the photo since I could get all the details within seconds.
Did you go to school to study photography?
I am a self-taught photographer and I learnt from photographers that I met on my journey. I recall working with an old school photographer in London and working with the various equipment. Nowadays there is so much material out there on YouTube and online, so I learn from mistakes and teach myself from the experience and improve myself. I also had the opportunity to co-work with a commercial photographer, here in Warsaw, who worked internationally for magazines, I was observant and learnt a lot from him. Using lighting, props, and various aspect with the technicality, and added my passion and soul into it.
What does photography mean to you?
Its an emotion that I can capture in the moment. Being a portrait photographer, it is the emotion between me and the person which is magical for me. I display my point of view and many as viewers will have their interpretation. It is fascinating on how I can bring the artistic or corporate portraits with their own mood, theme and getting the best out of the moment. Through the lens I have the flexibility to capture various angles and the composition will be different every time.
How would you describe your photography style?
As a portrait photographer I worked on project ‘Cultural Landscape’ with 82 portraits of people from 55 countries. They were in Warsaw for various reasons, some were there for work, students, transfer from companies they work for, expats and love. I am not a strict photographer and usually like to have a chat before a session, I do not have a scripted routine, generally I go with the flow. I listen to clients and bring out the emotion required before the shoot, making them comfortable and relaxed.
Among your works, which one is your favourite? And Why?
It’s like you asking me to pick which one is my favourite from my babies. But the one that stood out to me the most was a photoshoot I did with a lady who suffered from breast cancer and her story moved me a lot and I wanted to photograph her and bring out the beauty in the photos. But next year if you ask me the same question my answer would have changed. And I am also proud of my Cultural Landscape project of the 82 portraits in 55 countries.
Another photoshoot of a 96-year-old lady who is an artist in her field, she makes handmade tapestries and had 15 different designs, I photographed her and her designs and got a lot of inspiration from the lady and the memorable time I spent with her, by being around her.
Photo by Pawel Dobrowolski
Where do you get your inspiration from?
It’s more of appreciation for the work of various photographers. I believe what you see every day is an inspiration. For my project I was inspired by Platon Antoniou a British photographer, his portraits always stood out. I recall when I was working on my Cultural Landscape project, I watched his documentary on Netflix, and it was like he was talking to me and it was an aha moment for me that enabled me to bring an element of authentication.
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
I used to shoot with the Cannon SLR, now I use the mirrorless camera. Sony has always been the pioneer and affordable with high quality equipment. Other equipment I like to work with is studio lighting, tripods, and all type of modifications such as umbrellas and soft boxes.
What makes the good picture stand out from the average?
It’s how people react. On Instagram I get people commenting how they could not ignore my photos and had to stop and see each photo as they spoke to them. It is all about the connection with the photos.
How do you deal with difficult clients?
I deal with them before I work them. I rely on my intuition when I am dealing with the clients, in the initial stages of negotiating the price or any technicalities, I always know that this client is going to be hard work. I avoid being in situations where even after all the discounts given to the client, they are not happy, and I intuitively know I will not be able to take good photos knowing that this person does not respect my profession. Its ok to let go of a difficult client and there will be many other clients who appreciate and value my craft. It is like when you buy a cup of coffee you pay the price for it, so why not pay for the price for the service you require.
What do you like least about being a photographer?
Selling! As a one-man business I must do the selling, admin, photographing, editing. I wish someone else could do it for me.
What do you like most about being a photographer?
Many things I love about photography. Meeting new people, the locations I get to visit, the studios I hire for photoshoots or even working from home as opposed to working in an office day in day out, I did that in my 9 – 5 job in London and I realised this is not what I want to do in the long term, which can get draining.
What is your way of contributing to the community?
My Australian girlfriend introduced me to a group of expats who provide food for the Polish homeless. It was an eye opener to see many homeless people. I volunteer in the distribution if food, drinks, and clothing. Last summer it was extremely hot, so we ended up distributing a lot of cold beverages. Warsaw is now becoming multicultural and there are expats from different communities, I saw an opportunity to photograph various people from different backgrounds and that’s how my project came about. I was also the sponsor of this project and we had an event where different people from various backgrounds gathered to meet and have a conversation with each other.
How has the pandemic affected you?
In 2020 I had a line-up of projects, I only managed to do three photoshoots, and then I lost clients who signed up with cancellations. It was hard-hitting and my business suffered as a result. Luckily, I had a lot of support from family, friends, and my girlfriend, so there were jobs I could do. The expats helped me with giving me paid photography jobs, after all it is all about supporting small businesses. On a personal level, the parks were closed so there was no way to go out to exercise, we went for walks near our neighbourhood instead. Not following the media has helped a lot, you can control what you choose to watch and reduce the impact.
What do you do for relaxation?
On Sundays, a group of us head out to the countryside near a river and begin with a meditation followed by a swim in the cold water, we compete on who can stay longer in the water, no pressure, you stay in the cold water as long your body lets you. This boosted the immune system and increased the blood circulation. I am now used to cold showers, and I meditate to improve my mental health, detach, and enhance on my spirituality that I had started years ago. I really recommend it.
If you were not a photographer, what would you be doing?
I think I would have been an actor 😉 I went to acting school as well. I know for sure I cannot work in corporate or work for someone. Or perhaps work with my hands, carpenter, electrician or a mechanic, something physical, be more creative.
How can people contact you?