The Art of Thinking – Interview with Jagoda Wisniewska

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In a few words, who is Jagoda Wisniewska and what does she do? 

Jagoda Wisniewska is a photographer and a thinker (I like to think a lot and thus I enjoy saying I am a thinker). I work with photography both professionally as a freelance photographer and (let’s call it) privately on (let’s call it) freer, self- incited projects.

How did you get started in photography?

My first ever photographs were fashion related. I grabbed my parent’s film camera back in the late 1990s or early 2000 and I was photographing my girlfriends dressed up in my mum’s clothes. Very cliche posing and very bad backgrounds of mostly bedsheets hanging on the wall. My girlfriend-gang was quite creative and we did a lot of short films together, telenovelas, talk-shows, and radio shows on top of those fashion-shoots. I have to say it was what we all enjoyed doing back then. We have carefully archived all of this precious data, and we often come back to it, as it obviously brings a lot of laughter. My more serious start in photography was when ex-boyfriend bought himself a DSLR camera. It was Canon and it was me using it more often than him. Shortly after that I decided to study photography.

How has your style evolved from the first time you picked up a camera to now? 

Oh it has evolved ! I think that evolvement is a very good sign. In my case, I was very sure deep inside of me that I was doing what I wanted to call art. Looking back at that time, I really didn’t  know that much about myself or photography. Studying in Edinburgh and having some great tutors helped me to grow over time.  Continuing to photograph and learn from your own mistakes is crucial. I had many fascinations along the way that I was taking in as inspiration, mostly around documentary photography. I was studying in Scotland, where “documentary” and “slow photography” are leading genres. I am definitely more open now and not fixated on one style. I am less stubborn and this gives me some lightness. However, I still keep questioning everything and I hope that never ends.

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What/who makes you happy?

Good people and human interactions make me a happy. It is super precious to know you have your people out there with whom you love to spend time. I love to be out in nature. Spending time outdoors with my loved one is the best. Travelling in our van is the most amazing thing. We always learn something new and this is a really beautiful feeling.
Working and having clear aims in front of me also makes me happy because it gives me a lot of energy and purpose.

What/who makes you sad?

Stupidity and aggression make me very sad. Seeing what happens in my home country with the scary nationalism and growing phobias make me very sad. There is also another type of sadness that helps in the creative process and I try to recognize and differentiate them from one another. It has some healing properties as well and it is as some call it, “weltschmerz.” I think this general feeling of sadness and melancholy has great creative properties.

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How connected and emotionally infused are you in your projects? 

I am quite an emotional person, therefore really emotionally connected with the photographs I take. When working for someone I always try to do a good job. The emotional level and the types of emotions involved in certain projects are all different and so are my connections with projects and the photographs. I learned how to take joy in working for commission and perhaps some less-personal projects too. I work as a photographer and it is a job. When you think of photography as a job it slightly changes your mind-set. What I have learned is how to be happy and take joy from the experience of photographing. I am lucky because I meet a lot of new people through my work. I watched an interview on YT with Alec Soth, who said that when you are a photographer the best thing about it is: “You will always have an interesting life.”  The best thing about working on projects for someone else is that you get to bring your emotions to other people through your work. I think this is a really cool and precious aspect of my job.

What influences do the people around you play? 

During my photography studies, I had the opportunity to meet some really influential people made up of both professors and fellow students. When studying in Edinburgh, my photography teachers Robin Gillianders and Chris Hall were great. They taught me the absolute basis of image making and were always so sensitive to my ideas and listened intently to our young voices. My theory teacher Dr. Roberta McGrath way of thinking changed my own and influenced me so much. She made me question what I see and why I look at what I look at. She also helped me to expand my writing on photography and my love for theory and the history of image making.

I also loved to read complicated and intense writings by philosophers like Nietzsche and Jung or Fromm. Their studies and theories influenced my vision of the world and also messed me up a bit. During my master studies at ECAL, I was lucky to meet a great Swiss artist named Linus Bill. He was so open and light in his guidance as a tutor. He helped me get my diploma, but also helped me not to loose sight of working as a photographer.

Currently, my main muse and thought-triggering person is my partner, with whom I hold hour-lasting discussions on everything. He opens up my eyes and helps me to push myself into unknown territories. We exchange ideas and inspire each other.

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What has been your most memorable experience in your work so far?

It is very hard for me to name one memorable experience.  It might have been when I photographed my own family for the Czarna Madonna project. Working with them was quite strange because through close examination, I have seen things in them that I have not wanted to see. When I looked at them through my camera lens the image I held of them seemed to crack in meaning and power. Family members gradually became someone else and it was a bit bizarre. I would even compare it to discovering something in your family that you maybe should never discover. I looked at their fragility from too close, for too long. For some it won’t make much sense, but perhaps someone might understand the feeling.

Are you working on any projects right now?

After finishing my masters,  I entered directly into working as a freelancer and I have been quite occupied with that. As a foreigner living in Switzerland I find myself often disconnected in some way or another. I am not sure what this world will signify in my work, but I hope to express it. I am working with a Swiss blogger who I met recently and I have bravely asked to be my new subject / model. I found her extremely unique not only in her looks but also admired her personality. She is a blogger and she is all about being connected and visible. She is always right there available for anyone who wants to look at her. The idea of transparency really fascinates me and brings up a lot of questions. I hope to touch base on that in my new work.

To your eye, what makes a good photo?

A good photograph is visually strong and it has to be either ‘a mirror’ or ‘a window’, if I quoted Szarkowski properly. The aesthetics for me are quite an essential point. On top of the “looks”, I think a good photograph speaks to me without me needing to read anything about it. It needs to have some tension, some power or total lack of it all. It needs to be within the extremes. If it is too safe, I will not look long too long. I know the modern observer maybe doesn’t want to look for too long. I think a real passionate photographer should aim to keep creating good photographs.

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Interview by Lauren L. Smith
In collaboration with SPIT GALLERY