“reFramed” is a feature showcasing fine art photography and vision-forward photojournalism. It is curated by Los Angeles Times staff photographer Barbara Davidson. twitter@photospice
Tomasz Lazar, born in 1985 in Szczecin, Poland, is a graduate of the West Pomeranian University of Technology. He has won photography contests in Poland and abroad, including the Sony World Photography Award, the International Photography Award, and the Lumix Festival for Young Journalism. He took second place in the World Press Photo 2012 contest in the “People in the News” category and received Picture of the Year at BZ BWK Press Photo 2012. Lazar has attended many workshops, including the Tomasz Tomaszewski and Eddie Adams events. Images from his project “Theater of Life” were published in “Mono,” a book of black-and-white photographs. Since 2011, he has been a member of the Un-posed photography group, which focuses on street photography.
Q: How did you get into photography?
A: It happened during my IT studies. In 2006 I was a planning a trip with my girlfriend to Spain and I didn’t have a camera. I got one from my parents. That’s how it started. After coming back from Spain I wanted to learn more about photography. I read books, watched photo albums, talked to people about it. I still remember my first album I bought. It was Jeanloup Sieff`s album. I felt that photography was what I love and what I would like to do in the future. I’ve always liked to talk to people, listen to their stories. Photography also enabled me to capture their stories in pictures.
Q: What was the inspiration for your essay “Theater of Life”?
A: I like to watch movies, listen to music, read books. I’m also interested in psychology and philosophy. Each of these things in some way stimulates me and gives me inspiration to create new photo works and essays.
My first photo that inspired me to create this project was a photo of a girl standing on the breakwater before the storm in Niechorze (Poland). I took it in 2008. This picture showed me what I was looking for in black-and-white photography, in which direction I wanted to follow. For a long time I was also interested in the subject of manipulation of the mind. This topic was raised several times in philosophy and psychology books. Films such as David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” and “eXistenZ” or Josef Rusnak`s “The Thirteenth Floor” show how the use of technology and media can blur the boundaries between what is real and what is fake. All these factors resulted in creating the essay “Theater of Life.” The name of it was taken from Plato’s concept of theatrum mundi. William Shakespeare also raised the issue in 17th century.
Q: What are you trying to say and show with this work?
A: It seems to me, after looking at a number of projects, that there are two kinds of works. One of them gives answers to some questions but there are some whose aim is more to force the viewer to think and questionwhat’s next. “Theater of Life” is such a project. Its point is to raise questions and make the viewers consider what to do next, what impact on our lives technological development and the media have.
As a result of fast technological development, it seems to me that people are becoming more and more confused. Modern technology and the media begin to form a kind of “illusion” of reality. Simultaneously, there are two worlds: the real and the illusory one – a world created by media and technology. They are next to each other, and people are on their border. On a kind of line dream line. What I’m trying to show in my works is the loss of the individual in everyday life, as they sometimes try to seek refuge in an unreal world. Here are blending images of normal everyday life situations with images showing strange situations — unusual, as if torn from a fairy tale. It may cause the viewer dissonance, which also raises the sense of unreality when watching the “Theater of Life.”
Q: The lighting is very theatrical in these images and leaves the impression that the subjects are on a stage of some sort. Tell me about how you experiment (with light composition and B/W) when you are making pictures for this essay. Why this approach?
A: As you mentioned, setting the mood that everything is done on a kind of stage is achieved through the use of light, composition, capturing appropriate people’s emotions and situations that are happening. Quivering or blur gives a kind of tension. This black-and-white style in which they are made gives the images a dark and mysterious perception. Natural light mixed with a flashlight. An example of a person who has inspired me to use light and composition so as to build extraordinary tension, also to support perception, is director David Lynch. I should also mention the following photographers: Weegee, Diane Arbus, Bruce Gilden, Trent Parke, Philip-Lorca diCorcia. Beautiful light was used by Bruce Davidson in his work “Subway.” This approach gives me the opportunity to have even greater impact on the recipient, introduce them to the world that I want to show. It helps me build suitable voltage and present them with the “Theater of Life” — leaving the recipient in a kind of tension after seeing it. However, the composition, the light, and treatment of black and white is for me nothing more than the technical tools, which, if used appropriately, give the desired effect. Out on the streets I try not to think about the technique because it blocks the mind. I try to experience the senses of what is happening all the way around me, and record what I consider the most important.
Q: What are your goals for this piece? Do you want to expand to more countries?
A: In the beginning, the “Theater of Life” was a project that I was making while working on other projects or in the breaks between them. I tried to search for situations, places that were most suited to it. The more pictures I took for the project, the more it crystallized and became real. Currently I’m looking for grants, scholarships, which would allow me to continue “Theater of Life.” At this point I have images from Berlin, Venice, Szczecin [Poland], Warsaw and New York. I would like to expand this project to the cities that are the most technologically advanced, such as Tokyo, Las Vegas, Shanghai, Sydney, Hong Kong and others. In the present situation it’s hard to say how long it will take me to the finish the “Theater of Life.” However, at the end of it I would like to make an album and create a large photo exhibition that I could present in many places.
Q: Why are you drawn to long-form story-telling?
A: When I took up photography I tried to take pictures in different forms, because it seems to me that the photographer should be like a humanist, trying different forms because each of them enriched your experience and consciousness. It can be useful in different situations. However, over time, I noticed that what most interests me are long-term projects. Works such as Larry Towell’s “Mennonites,” Joachim Ladefoged’s “Albanians,” Parke’s “Minutes to Midnight,” [and] “East 100th Street” and “Subway” made by Bruce Davidson have shown me how beautiful they can be, but they also are very time-consuming. They teach you patience and creating a different way of thinking, more global, not so narrow. What you also learn from such projects is trying to perceive the subject from different angles. I could say that such works are like wine: the longer they ripen the better they are.
Q: Who are some of your favorite photographers and why?
A: Nowadays we have a lot of photographs everywhere. However, only those that show something more will remain in our minds. My favorite photographers are photographers who I would say can “enchant reality” — show what is obvious in the non-obvious way. Those who are able to create such pictures which, after having seen them, will remain in your memory for a long time but you will not be able to describe them. This is the beauty of photography. Ernst Haas described photographs in the following way: “the less information, the more allusion; the less prose, the more poetry,” which works to “stimulate the imagination.” Among those photographers who have remained in my memory, are, for instance, Trent Parke, Joachim Ladefoged, Ernst Haas, Bruce Davidson, Christopher Anderson and Philip-Lorca diCorciano. Looking at Trent’s pictures you start to wonder whether you are still in the real world or you’re somewhere unreal. He captures a lot of emotions in his photographs. I would say that his black-and-white photography is mystical.
Links for Tomasz Lazar: Website Blog Clair Gallery