“More often than not I think I only do things because I can photograph them: as long as I have a camera with me, it doesn’t matter all that much where I am and where I’m going. I collect slices of reality not because they aid my memory but because they become an extension of the experiences.”
We love our job, especially when we have publications falling on our doorsteps from photographers we hadn’t yet discovered. Jola Sopek is a young photographer from Poland who now made her home in the UK. Jola’s book ‘Morningrise’ was one of the topics we spoke to her about. “Morningrise is a book about dreams. For as long as I can remember, mornings were my favourite time of day, filled with hope and a sense of endless possibilities. I always thought of mornings as if they were physical bodies, palpable and constant. Perhaps that’s why my camera seems to complement mornings so well – they were made for each other.”
Hi Jola, how’s it going?
It’s going well, thank you. I am home now so things smell and look familiar. My best friend got married recently and that made me very happy.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? Who is Jola Sopek? Where did you grow up, favourite childhood memory etc?
I was born and grew up in Poland and I moved to Scotland when I was 18. I lived in Canada for a year when I was 4. One of my favourite memories from that time is swinging in a park in Cambridge (Ontario), eating a bright red jelly candy from a plastic tube. It’s not something I would eat now but the sheer inaccessibility of the memory of that taste is something I tend to get nostalgic about. I also lived in France for a while so I find the idea of settling down in one place a bit strange.
How did you start photography? Do you remember the first time you held a camera in your hands?
I took some first memorable photos at 13 or 14. A lot of kids were taking snaps back then because it was a fun and creative thing to do, but I haven’t really stopped since. I remember I used to think it’s would be so mysterious to be a photographer. Now I prefer transparency and honesty in photography but I still just want to have fun with it.
How would you describe your work?
I shoot from the perspective of an observer who is on a periphery looking in because I prefer to listen rather than interact directly. I like being among people but just witnessing so it naturally leads to a reportage-style photos. I think I would be a good paparazzi cos I can be very sneaky! The work is like an open-ended essay, or maybe a poem because I like using metaphors for explaining things. I call it a ‘visual stream’ because I used to shoot nearly all day every day for years, it was a kind of meditation. I shoot a bit less now because I refined my interests to the moods I want to emulate, but I still shoot for therapeutic reasons. When I can acknowledge and preserve daily life in its various forms to then play around with my material to create moods, I feel relaxed.
Who are your subjects?
I love shooting both people and nature but my only proper subject is light. I thrive in strong sunlight and dark shadows, so very often I find my subjects because the weather is good. But it varies because my self-proclaimed duty is to photograph emotions rather than events – that sounds dramatic but it feels genuine. I photograph because I have an urge to acknowledge the moments when emotions influence the way I see my surroundings. When shooting for projects I rarely choose my subjects directly, they seem to just present themselves to me because I walk and cycle around a lot so I stumble upon a lot of interesting things.
You recently published a book called ‘Morningrise’ can you tell us a bit about what the project is about?
“Morningrise” was my first book but it feels like a chapter in a bigger story. In short, it is an homage to my favourite time of day, the morning – I like to imagine that a part of the day could live its own life and I could enter it when I wish, at any time of day. It’s the first complete work where I explored the concept of shaping a reality parallel to my own life. It embodies my vision of an endless morning.
Why did you decide to self-publish? Why print in this digital age? What did you learn from the process? Do you have any tips for other people considering self-publishing their work?
I knew I wanted to make a book and that it was going to be an experimental niche concept so it seemed obvious that I would self-publish. It felt free and flexible because I wasn’t afraid of making mistakes. As for the book form itself, tactile objects feel good to hold and carry around. There is a lot of discussion about the fact that photography’s prime place is on a printed page and when you see a good quality print, it becomes clear. If I was to give any tips to people who want to self-publish I’d say you need to have a clear concept in mind – this is crucial, otherwise, you might spend long days looking for something you’ve never seen. Try a lot of different sequences, question your choices, test various paper finishes. But also relax because stress doesn’t bring anything good and good ideas come when we’re at ease.
If you could go anywhere in the world to take pictures, where would it be and why?
Rural Japan. I love Daido Moriyama and his book “Tales of Tono” particularly haunts me. He travelled to this town Tono to confront his imaginary visions of it with the reality of life there. That’s an interesting concept. Besides, I read a lot about Japanese art history, it’s very different to Western approaches. So a bit like Moriyama, I’d love to go to little Japanese towns and villages to see if the life there is what I imagine it to be. I’d also want to visit Tokyo and Kyoto but big cities have more of a shock value whereas the quiet and intriguing life can usually be found in the less obvious spots because people don’t put on that many masks.
What excites you about photography?
It still amazes me that you can seemingly enter so many different realities just by looking at various people’s work. I say seemingly because there is always a barrier to how deep you can go – you know that the world you see on a picture is not palpable and it only exists within the frame of a particular image. I feel that about my own work too – that this reality I’m emulating is not factual at all, it’s a myth or a dream. This sort of fakery is what pulls me into photography, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle which you have to assemble to understand something. Photography is never objective and this fact alone helps to understand how the world works a bit better.
Have you ever tried storytelling through any other media? Can you tell us a bit about that?
I like to write short poems. They rarely rhyme and tend to be observations of my emotions and reactions to certain events. I don’t show these to people because they are basically conversations with myself but they are fun to write.
What or who inspires you as an artist?
There is a bunch of photographers I look up to but I think it’s more fun to find guidance elsewhere. I love music with conceptual lyrics. I enter faraway realities when listening to Dead Can Dance, Leonard Cohen, Lana del Rey and Slowdive. As for the written word, Walt Whitman hugely influences the way I photograph. I also love looking at Japanese woodblock prints from centuries ago. I also love films and one of the most inspiring visually was ‘Enter the Void’ by Gaspar Noe.
What’s the best advice you ever had as a photographer?
I found good advice in “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryū Suzuki. The book is not about photography but it can well be if you want it to. The author tells you to acknowledge everything that you encounter – anything can be your teacher, a source of inspiration and an object of praise. But the best advice is to just be honest.
How would you like to grow as an artist?
I’d love to shoot cover art for music and books, publish more photo books, organise more solo and group exhibitions with Latent Image Collective – http://www.latentimagecollective.com, properly get into food photography… And travel as much of the world as possible and be able to shoot things till I have no energy to do it anymore.
Any exciting new projects you would like to share with us?
I will be studying photography again soon so I am excited and open to everything that comes my way. I started working on another project, I’d like to emulate the feeling of looking at people when they are being themselves, of being electrified by the sight of people who give out a certain blossoming energy. You can tell the ones who do when they pass you by I think.
Please describe your favourite Sunday Morning.
A perfect Sunday morning is in a house with a lot of windows with the sun facing the bed. It’s summertime, there are a lot of trees outside and we are by the sea. I get to eat a watermelon for breakfast. Such a morning could only lead to a perfect Sunday afternoon with my favourite person, we are both doing whatever we please, and I’m looking at him in the sunlight.
Any famous last words?
I don’t think it’s famous but I like “truth should never impede to a beautiful lie”. Lana del Rey said it, I don’t remember when but it’s a strong concept.
Who should we interview next?
Shane Connaughton, definitely.
Thanks so much Jola!