“For me, right now, photography is all about telling stories. The work I make is about telling stories, and about making people connect with their own histories and stories.”
Bronek Kozka (born in 1970) is an Australian contemporary photographer and visual artist, currently based in Melbourne. He studied photography at RMIT in Melbourne (Australia). Bronek Kozka is represented by Bett Gallery Hobart and MARS Gallery.
“I am interested in memory, how we see or perceive those memories, and remembered moments; the small details to the more general ‘feel’ of an almost lost memory. Constructed carefully in studio spaces or lit locations, my photographs become ‘home’ to a cast of actors and models who act out a series of stories created from story boards. These scenarios range from a man and woman driving a car, a confrontation outside a suburban home, a cleaning lady resting in a quiet room, to a woman and her two children watching TV in a non descript living room. These stories are assembled from fragments of film references, other people’s experiences and memories of spaces they inhabit, and of course my own memories.”
Interview with Bronek Kozka
Bronek, what was your first camera and photographic experience?
My first camera, that was my very own, was an ME Super, a Pentax. I’d used my father’s Agfa prior to that, but this was mine. During World War II, my father served with the Polish Squadrons I the RAF, Squadron 317, my uncle with the Polish regiment in the 8th Army, in North Africa and Italy. From this period, there are many photograph, especially of my father and his fellow pilots, there are less but also images of my uncle, my grandfather and grandmother, they were based in Palestine.
While I had always been aware of these images and the various flight log books, military ID etc., it was not until I was about 11 or 12 years old, the power, importance and interest images could have. A local antique dealer wanted to stage an exhibition of wartime memorabilia, part of that exhibition would be my fathers photographs of his time in 317 squadron. The small 3×4 inch photo were re-photographed, blown up and mounted with the originals, in all there would have been 40 or so images. These were images that were important to me, to my family but at the exhibition their interest was universal, they prompted discussion and the re-telling of other people wartime stories.
This is now something that I actively explore in my current work, back then my response was simpler, I wanted to do photography.
Why did you become a photographer?
That is a hard one to answer as I have been a few different kinds of ‘photographers’. As a kid it was a hobby, then as a student and later as commercial photographer it was about the industry (and money), but this fit was always awkward. Now as an artists, I think it’s clearer to me. Something about photography appealed early on, maybe it was the gear, maybe it was the (relatively) instant gratification, associations with what I thought was ‘cool’ – whatever I learned, the skills enabled me to communicate using photography. So I think I became a photographer (although I am now using the term artist as my practice has diversified to other areas) because that is a language I happened to learn.
What does photography mean to you?
For me, right now, photography is all about telling stories. The work I make is about telling stories, and about making people connect with their own histories and stories.
Charlotte Cotton said:
“One of the great uses of tableau photography is as a format that can carry intense but ambiguous drama that is then shaped by the viewers own trains of thought.”
This resonates with me, and with the type of work I create. I have described the props, rugs, lights clothes and locations as “hooks”, they are selected to attract and draw the viewer into the shot, they are what connects the viewer to the images. They also invite the viewer to re-connect with their own memories and share in the commonalities; to use the image as a springboard into their own history.
This was made evident to me while watching a group of elderly ladies at the Albury Art Gallery looking at the image “Kew House: Diner Time”. They were gathered around, pointing and laughing, chatting away, the image is certainly not a humorous image. So I asked the ladies what was so funny, it was the salt and pepper shakers, one of them had owned exactly those, and that prompted their own stories, several other proposals in the image were also things they had owned, or friends.
Which photographer has inspired you most and why?
This is an exert from an article by Trent Walter published in Australian Art Review:
Bronek Kozka has been gaining a reputation over the past five years for his considered and technically adept tableaux photographs that reconstruct narratives of personal memory. While comparisons to American photographer Gregory Crewdson are inevitably drawn due to the shared cinematic qualities (and sometimes overlapping subject matter) of their respective oeuvres, Kozka’s narratives reflect a well of personal observation and experience.
While citing Crewdson, Robert Mapplethorpe, Bill Henson and Renaissance painting among his influences, Kozka’s main inspiration comes from light itself. As we talk in his Collingwood studio, his eyes occasionally wander about the room taking in the subtle shifts of tonality and volume afforded by the waning afternoon sun. Explaining this sensitivity with regard to his work he states, ‘You go into a particular room, or location, or house that you find and quite often the lighting that’s been put in there just doesn’t tell the story of what the room is actually like.
“My father was a psycho-analyst and I think that fact was very influential on my development as an artist. Trying to search beneath the surface of things for an unexpected sense of mystery.”
What’s your favorite photography quote?
I haven’t got one, so I thought I’d do some research – didn’t want to leave a blank, but nothing. This, in many ways does not surprise me. While I do enjoy looking at photography, reading about and of course doing it, it’s not where a guiding or inspirational quote would come from for me. A quote that has always stayed with me is:
“Man is the measure of all things.” Protagoras
But most importantly it is where I first heard, Kenneth Clark’s book and TV series “Civilisation”. So it is more than just the quote, it is the quote, the series I first heard it on and that special time in my life, I think the quote represents a confidence to be an artists on a very personal level.
How would you describe your photographic style and way of creative process?
This changes and evolves, well at least I hope it does. Currently I am interested in constructing detailed images, crafted well executed images but the reason is I believe this approach is the best way to communicate my idea and successfully interact with the viewer. I would like to think I am or will be able to communicate a very different story or idea using a very different style. So attributing a “photographic style” is something I find very limiting. Often students are very focused on having a style. Possibly over time ones interest in certain ideas or concepts may develop into a way of seeing or interpreting the world, maybe this is a style, but that achievement seems to grand for that label.
What do you consider to be the axis of your work – technically and conceptually?
As I have mentioned my interest is in communication and interaction etc. as such these are all important to achieve that goal, but concept is above all important. The work can not exist (for me) with out it. It is all about the story I want to tell. Light is a very powerful communicator, in some ways more so than composition. You can set the mood, change a persons mood, really establish an idea with nothing but light. There is an assignment I like to do with students sometimes, I call it “a light narrative”. The idea is to create an image that has a strong narrative, but to use only light and a person, very few in any props.
Composition is important but, for me that is more about image structure than it is a bout narrative. There are certain compositions that I like, I like flat plains, shooting straight on to walls, I tend not to shoot into corners on rooms (Kew House 2: “Bedtime” is a real exception.) I like linear compositions. Subtle camera height and angle changes are important. “Three minutes to Five: time to go” was shot from a lower angle than I usually do, it was a small change but created a very different composition.
What qualities does a good photographer need?
I’m not sure, you have got to want to do it. There are many clichés I could come up with but when I think about they are not qualities, they are, maybe competencies or skills. And I stress I am now talking about an artist who wants to make work rather than fulfill assignments and briefs. To be the latter you need to be focused on business, a good communicator etc., but where I am now, the type of photographer or artist. Whatever you want to call me, I think a real desire to do it is all you need
What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes?
This varies as my interests, obsessions and direction changes and shifts. Work I thought was brilliant ten years ago make me yawn, and things I thought were just awful I now appreciate. So now, right now, I like images that tell me stories, but are some how ambiguous, but not inaccessible. One I want to jump into and be part of it.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
What kind of photography equipment and photographic supplies do you use?
I pretty much exclusively shoot digitally, very occasionally I will shoot 10×8 for a personal project. I shoot a Hasselblad H series camera, ease and versatility: the Hasselblad with 50 to 110 zoom to 120mm lens. I have been shooting the Hasselblad since I became a Hasselblad Master in 2008, I can not fault this camera, it always delivers and the results are very impressive.
When I was studying, Broncolor was always the gold standard, the best. It was Hasselblad cameras and Broncolor lighting. Being introduced to Broncolor at the university, was great. My shooting requires many different types of lighting, one shoot soon will be entirely lit with huge balloon lights that generally used only of major night-time road works, but when it comes to flash equipment Broncolor has always been my first choice.
What’s your favorite website on photography?
Andy Adams Flak Photo, links to everything best in the photography community.
What photography book would you recommend?
There are so many, I wish I read more theory when I was younger and had more time. Some times in these kind of interviews they will ask the question: “So what are reading at the moment?” So I’m going to answer that instead. Sorry, I know it is a bit cheeky when the interviewed re-writes the interview. I’m reading “Live Photo Volume II” by Crispin Gurholt.