“I wanted to see how the work we do, especially creative and manual work, can make a difference on our lives.”
Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte
Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte (born in 1986) is a contemporary photographer from Lithuania. In this interview she talks about her recent series called “Homo Faber” which deals with the impact creative activities can have on people’s lives. For Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte photography has become a way to comment on the world around her in a visual language.
Interview with Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte
Kotryna, you have a special interest in narrative and visual language. How does that translate in your most recent work “Homo Faber”?
I started “Homo Faber”as a series of portraits. I soon realized though how each of the makers I photographed had a very distinctive creative space around them. To create a more accurate portrait of each person I started photographing their tools, workspace, the light. Whilst traveling to the Outer Hebrides to photograph Harris Tweed weavers and mills I was shooting nature and countryside they are situated in. Combining shots of details, the portraits and landscapes I hope to recreate the overall feel of creative community of Scotland, that’s very colourful, varied and small at the same time.
Why did you choose that particular title for your series?
When doing my research and reading some books on the topic (I could particularly recommend “The Craftsman” by Richard Sennett) I came across the philosophical concept that refers to humans as controlling the environment through tools. „Homo Faber“ is Latin for “Man the Creator”. I wanted to see how the work we do, especially creative and manual work, can make a difference on our lives. It’s not a new concept, craft and other creative processes have been used as therapy for people with mental illnesses and disorders.
You write that “Homo Faber” is about “inspiration and pleasure of work”. What did you find out and learn about that while photographing people at their workplace?
I was curious whether people whose professions are creative or craft related tend to get more satisfaction of their work. My project isn’t a scientific research project, but I have definitely observed that having partial or full control of the process is a very satisfying part of the job. Having a tangible result, whatever that is: a painting, a roll of finest Scottish tweed, silver rings or a loaf of homemade bread is a feeling incomparable to others.
And what is it that motivates you personally?
“I have this inner urge to put my experiences through my camera.”
My own motivation comes from my inner drive to share stories, to point out things either strange and unexpected. I have this inner urge to put my experiences through my camera, and there’s nothing more satisfying than looking at finished edited prints and see people respond to them.
At the beginning of each project one often has some kind of idea in mind as to what the result could be like. Sometimes that changes along the way and the result is quite different. Was that the case with “Homo Faber” and if so what did you learn during the project?
“Homo Faber” was a bit of a roller coaster of a project. In the beginning I saw it as purely a photographic portraiture project, but as time went along, I realized something was missing. That’s how supporting images made their way into the final edit. It was a massive learning curve in terms of communication and meeting new people. Most of the makers I approached were keen to take part in it, and there were some that didn’t respond to my emails. Each persons workshop though was like a separate world, I left inspired, optimistic and a little tired. I value the connections I made through it and see some of the models regularly.
What reaction do you intend to provoke in people looking at your photos?
If people could feel even just half of the inspiration and curiosity I felt when working on “Homo Faber”, I’d be very happy. I want to offer an insight into a little Scottish community, and present creative individuals who make very interesting things. I want the buzz to be felt in my photographs.
What does a single photograph need in your opinion in order to stand out and get noticed? Especially keeping in mind the abundance of visual imagery in today’s media?
I am quite sceptical about the power of one single image in my own work. That’s why I tend to work in series, where the narrative can flow more easily. Abundance of visual imagery makes me even more sensitive to it, I require more from an image, be it my own, or somebody else’s work. I am interested in photography outside the “art photography” concept, the images we use every day, snapshots, Instagram pictures, adverts and newspapers. I am observing it with as much interest as I do fine art. Neither is superior.
Susan Sontag once said “The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own”. How has photography changed the way you look at the world and what have you learnt about yourself?
It is indeed a very accurate description. I am looking for strange and unexpected in the everyday life and it’s partly my camera’s fault. I am training my eye to see beyond mundane or beyond simply pretty.
Every photographer is going through different stages in his formation. Which “landmarks” do you recall that have marked you and brought you to the place where you are today as a photographer?
“I don’t have to put myself in a drawer with a label.”
Most important steps I took towards where I am now involved shaking off one or other kind of restriction I created myself. It was very liberating to learn that I can do work without necessarily having to have a dry logical explanation of each move. That’s when I welcomed intuition into my creative process. I still try to justify as much as I can to myself, and my work isn’t deeply personal to the extent where no one can possibly read into it. But an element of freedom is definitely there.
An important realization was that I don’t have to put myself in a drawer with a label. Having branded myself a documentary photographer before, I now feel perfectly fine doing some constructed still life work, or more poetic series about my hometown Vilnius.
Last but not least, let’s switch roles: Which question would you have liked to be asked in this interview about your work that I didn’t ask? Please feel free to add it – as well as the answer.
Q: The questions are very extensive and deep, I thoroughly enjoyed being forced to put my thoughts into words. There’s one more question that I would like to hear and it is about the final stage of photographic work. What importance and role does the final outcome/ presentation of the project have?
A: When “Homo Faber” was finished, I put the selection of images into a small book and got some copies printed. Since the project was partly funded by Glasgow Visual Artist Award, I wanted to give it a more tangible form. I think there are so many different ways of presenting your work, that one doesn’t need to necessarily exhibit it in the traditional way.
Apart from there being many online platforms to feature photographic work, there are opportunities to make books, zines, newspapers or postcards. If a particular way of presenting compliments the concept, I feel the project is more complete. That’s where some of my dreams of future collaborations with graphic designers and printers come from!