London-based photographer Paulina Otylie Surys, creates imagery full of mystery and melancholy using old techniques such as hand painting and vintage camera. Her work has been published in a variety of publications including DROME, WHAT?!, Simone, and VRAG magazine. She recently showed at the AOP awards exhibition 16th May 2012 and her first publication will be released by Paulsen in October 2012 along with an exhibition during Paris Photo in November 2012, that we are eagerly awaiting. Eclectic* catches up with Paulina to talk inspiration, life, and music.
eclectic*: How has your journey been so far?
paulina: Intense! And I have been enjoying every bit of it. There were moments when I thought I would give up but I have persevered; such moments of anxiety and stress are just a natural part of the process of being an aspiring professional photographer and of gaining an identity. Lots of things happened over the last year, exhibitions, publications, a contract for a book. I have also learnt a lot from experimenting with various techniques. Now, however, I want to focus more on the content of my work.
e: What music are you listening to at the moment?
paulina: Meredith Monk, Antony and The Johnsons, Nico (specifically her albums with John Cale). Anything featuring the singer Dagmar Krause (peerless performer of the songs of Brecht and Weill and art rock legend), especially Art Bears and News From Babel. Also, The Transmutations (my boyfriend's neofolk project) and lots of early music; especially William Lawes.
e: What colors, images, people, and themes do you enjoy capturing?
paulina: Well, as a painter and photographer I do not really have any specific color which I favor. The beauty of any particular tonation is truly revealed by composing particular pigments with each other. The choice of the color palette depends on many factors such as the subject of the shoot and the mood and composition of the actual image. If a fashion shoot, I need to take into consideration the original hue of the garments.
In terms of my choice of model, especially for art projects, it is always their personality that will attract my attention, as well as, rather obviously, their physical features. Working on fashion projects has its limitations sadly; I don't have as much freedom as I would do if I was shooting just for myself. Luckily, however, more and more magazines seem to be open to increasingly unusual ideas (as long as the main character is compatible with the subject of the story, photographers can be quite adventurous). The themes in my works are inspired by many different things; it may be a location, it may be some details in a classical paintings which has attracted my attention, literature I've been reading etc. For instance, my last shoot for DROME magazine was based on the Biblical story of Seven Seals and the Riders of the Apocalypse.
e: What do you enjoy communicating through your photos?
paulina: My photographs have multiple meanings but I want them all to embody the character of mystery, albeit in varying forms.
In all my works I try to accord value to the subject and "beautify" it, whether the subject is a beautiful item of clothing or a corpse. I enjoy the contradiction, and attempts of combination, of the aesthetics of Steindl and Witkin, of looking for beauty in taboo. There is something unreal about the extreme ends of both ugliness and beauty which this is one of the things that attracted me to fashion photography (it is an industry that idealises the human form to the extent of creating a separate, unreal world of human perfection). Fashion mostly wants this end of the scale and this is one reason why I have been drifting further and further away from fashion photography; I want to greater explore the whole spectrum, the celestial and the corrupt.
e: What is inspiring you at the moment?
paulina: Recently I have been learning about 19th century photographic techniques and have already begun working in wet plate collodion (ambrotypes and tintypes). It is such a wonderfully inspiring medium that captures the whole spectrum of light normally invisible to the human eye.