I will never forget that one photo shoot. I was standing in front of him, I knew I had to pose, to lie with my body like we use to in the fashion industry, but this time it was something different I exposed. Suddenly I started to cry with no apparent reason but, how strange it was, I couldn’t stop. I was sincere, direct, real and relieving. Never before and again I felt so strong and fragile at same time. Never again I felt so true. I’m back to Karol after two years to ask him what happened that day, it’s time to make a serious interaction again!
Let’s start with this specific subject. Watching your photos it seems that you have a very clear idea about the concept you want to evolve, but I’m pretty sure you let the model express herself the best. Why don’t you tell me about the way it happens, the process? How do you interact with your models before and during the shoot to create what comes into you mind?
I’m happy to hear a concept can be seen behind my work. I’d say I try to achieve a certain atmosphere to be seen or felt especially in my recent works (2011-2012). My concept now is wrapped in the veil of subtle insinuations. I used to make things too complicated for both me and the person I was photographing to be able to express ourselves freely. Now I want things as simple as possible. I don’t work with anyone else except for the person I am photographing. I don’t want any make-up artists, stylists or designers around to distort the result. I want to witness something unique meant to be seen and captured only by me. I got selfish because of the awareness of what I want to achieve. I am very defined if it comes to my personal work and no longer interested in fashion and beauty like clichés. I still do commercial photography from time to time but it is of little importance to me in the end of a day. I am now fully concentrated on one person, a real person, one who is not influenced by colorful magazines, industry or market expectations. A connection between me and the person (I will avoid term ‘model’ as much as I only can here) is a crucial part of every photo shoot I do and to achieve the most desirable result few factors have to be met. A spark of mutual attraction. Not personal attraction but that of creative value. We both have to be aware of what and how things are to be achieved. A person has to understand my approach and I have to understand her position. I used to be concentrated on a path (directing) and destination (how the final image will look like), not knowing where the beginning of the journey was. And that point is always a person, her psyche, sexuality and emotions. I do not want to plan things anymore. I want to witness. Through my images I try to understand the beauty of dissimilarity of a woman psyche and by applying my personal touch in the editing process I try to tell a story of what was witnessed. I use colours to underline emotions or black and white (recently) to accent my neutrality. I came up with few ideas I use while shooting. I explain things. I want to be understood and agreed. I use a simple stage limited to a naked wall to produce a credible atmosphere where viewer can focus on main subject – a person. Nudity is used as a tool of expression, naked bodies are more exposed and naturally they speak lauder, they confess what is hidden. A free hand is given to a person to stage herself, ideas are discussed and the whole process of transformation of the ideas into the final image begins. The trick is how to get close enough so that story can actually be re-told not simply arranged. If all goes well the reward is exceptional – a world of desires, fears, dreams to be explored. There is no big statement that follows. I just want to discover. I do not think about the concept anymore, the act of exploration is what thrills me. There is no destination also as I have given up on looking for one. This is all about the moment, tension and the act of creation. I am there; the person is there, things are happening.
You are talking about “nudity” as a tool of expression. Can you tell me more about this concept?
I used to work for one famous theatrical institute and was very close to actors and stage on rehearsals and it’s there that I’ve learnt about human body as a great tool of expression. Nudity in theater is often used to underline drama or emotive aspects of a character. It is also a sort of a barrier that actors often have to cross to release themselves from cultural, psychological and sociological influences. I find this act purifying for both the actor and the audience. This symbiosis amazed me. It had nothing to do with the need of physical acceptance nor will of admiration. I witnessed and understood a brave act of aware purification in front of a crowd. Nudity on the scene does not shock, nor it surprises anyone anymore. Why would it shock in photography if used in a directed and sincere way? I was stunned by this obvious discovery but wanted to push it a step further. What if there was no director at all? What if a director was the audience, a spectator, a witness to capture what is decided to be shown? I needed a stage and I decided to use a cracked wall as background, being limited to only this I can fully focus on a person and “performance”. I called this act the essence’s extraction. The less I interrupt the more of a pure essence is to be extracted. To me nudity is more of a confession to be heard, contemplated and retold in indirect way, in a sincere way. I’ve learnt to accept nudity as a form itself and I am still learning how to distance my personal approach to nudity and body from commercial trends. We are exposed to nudity in everyday life, commercials, movies, art and entertainment industry, but I feel like that landscape depends mainly on current trends and there is simply no room left for personal reflection. I am desperately trying to fill that gap in with my explorations and this is my main field of expertise. I am interested what really influence our behavior in front of a camera.
Your subjects are so different to one another. In your portfolio the viewer can discover any type of model! So it’s really difficult to figure out your photographic taste in beauty. Is there a specific one?
I choose people by both intention and coincidence. I invite people to the place, but am always more thrilled when a person discovers my work and asks to be photographed. This means there is already a tension, that little first step taken, between her and my work and this token of affection can result in unpredictable output. I realised that my preferences are of another value now then just physical appearance and depend heavily on person’s approach to being photographed. I prefer to photograph woman with no experience in fashion or modeling industry. I prefer natural beauty. Has she ever been in front of a camera naked? Is she shy? What inspires her? Why does she like to be photographed? I like to have those little questions answered before we’re off creating. My personal taste does not really matter. Women from my photographs are as different as they are in real life and they all have different ‘stories’ to tell. I am always amazed with them and grateful to ‘listen’. If I’m pushed to answer what my personal definition of beauty was I’d go for all those nuances and small things that make us beautiful: a skin texture, freckles, asymmetry, little marks, scars, differentia and naturalness. I only have one strict rule now to follow: no make ups, no hairstyle. I hate make up.
Even your fashion shots are quite particular. Is it difficult to work in the fashion industry with a different point of view? I often find obstacles because I prefer something experimental to always the same. I’m sure people who try other ways like we do, are really curious about your opinion.
Hard to tell, as I don’t really work in fashion industry… I committed few commercial assignments, calendar shots, contests works, and was published in commercial press, but willingly declined to follow that path. I never really got into it. On the other hand, I think it’s easier for most young photographers to start and experiment with fashion-beauty photography in the beginning, mainly because it is easier to stage and maybe easier to find people to participate. I still do commercial shots from time to time, but not considering myself a commercial photographer anymore. To be extremely honest, I am tired with all those fashion clichés, poses and photographs that repeat the same themes over and over again. “Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy” to quote the unnamed narrator of ‘Fight Club’. Don’t get me wrong – fashion photography can still be very creative and inspirational and there are some great names out there to contemplate and compete, but it’s also heavily overpopulated by fashion wannabes and hobbyists I sometimes feel like there is no room left for uniqueness.. and that just doesn’t go well with the path I’ve taken.
You once told me that captions are really important to you! I feel the same way about my photos. Would you define to me why is that for you? When is the moment you find the title for your pictures? During, before or after the photo session?
Titles are to my photographs what a title to a poem would be. I don’t like to explain my images, instead I like to give a viewer a subtle hint on the subject or play with words and conventions. They are often in close relation to the emotional state I am in when editing, this is the part where I can add a little mark from myself. I usually come up with titles during or after the editing. Sometimes I come back to an image after a while to add a title. There are no clear rules in here and some images remain untitled.
If you had to take a self-portrait, how would it be?
I don’t know, really, I tried to do self-portraits but ended up not liking them at all.. I’d rather let others do it. But that wouldn’t be a self-portrait anymore (smiling).
Before leaving tell me, would you pose for Karol Liver if you were a woman? How do you think you would feel?
Of course I would! (laughing) But seriously, I guess this question should be asked to your audience. I’d really like to hear what they think about my approach and if anyone here would actually be tempted to pose for me. Thanks for a chat!
Karol Liver (b. 1981) is a Dublin-based studio photographer.
Having worked as theatrical photographer for The Grotowski Institute, the most famous polish theatrical institute, he had an unique opportunity to be a part of numerous international festivals (including the acclaimed Premio Europa Per il Teatro), spectacles and grand premiers from World’s top directors. Liver’s theatrical photographs have been widely published in various magazines and journals including the New York based “The Drama Review” and other theatre-themed journals in France, Italy, Poland and Slovakia. His personal work has also been awarded prizes and commendations in both commercial press (Playboy’s Fotoerotica 2011) and independent contests (AGFA Geavert Throphy 2010). In 2011 he has established prism Contemporary Photography Magazine.
His personal studio work explores the nature of human body, its sexuality and identity throughout conceptual portraiture and fine art nude. His main field of interest is body language and how it is used as a tool of expression and emotional release.
Liver works in Dublin, Ireland, where he organises various photographic exhibitions and photography workshops. He is currently represented by The Copper House Gallery Dublin alongside established names from Irish contemporary visual art scene.
Interview and Text by Nina Sever