FFO: AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL PHOTOGRAPHY INSPIRED BY IDENTITY AND POLITICAL MOTIVES!
Who are you and where are you currently based?
Dom Bartmańska, I’m a Polish photographer based in West Yorkshire.
What’s your practice? What themes does your work explore?
My practice involves Documentary and Fine Art Photography. I focus mainly on themes such as immigration, heritage, and identity. This is represented in my recent photobook of the project ‘Za Granicą // Beyond the Border’, which explores my heritage and emotions of displacement whilst being a Polish immigrant in the UK.
In your opinion, what are the common misconceptions that the British media has when they portray immigrants? As a Polish immigrant yourself, how do you feel displaced within the UK?
Generally, I think immigrants, legal or not, have been portrayed in somewhat of a bad light – based on political views and agendas. The most common misconceptions that parts of the British media have are that immigrants are stealing jobs, taking advantage of the system i.e. benefits, as well as not appropriately integrating within British society. This has been a hot topic over the past few years due to immigration policies, particularly those associated with the Brexit vote.
I have been a resident of the UK for 13 years now, and would definitely consider the UK my home, but I always struggled with the notion of belonging. On one hand, I am a Polish native, yet much of my upbringing has occurred in Britain – subsequently, this has formed a gap between my homeland and myself. I grew up and went to school in an area which didn’t have a lot of diversity, subconsciously this is what has always made me feel like somewhat of an outsider.
What did you hope to achieve with your photobook and series ‘Za Granicą // Beyond the Border’?
The series and accompanying photobook aimed to alter any of the viewer’s preconceptions of the immigrant cultures now habiting in the UK, specifically the Eastern European culture or nationalities. I did this by shedding light on the impact immigration has on individuals who come to the realisation that leaving their homeland is the best decision for their families. The documentation of three generations of my family and their experiences that lead to our departure of Poland helped establish the connection I still have to Poland, but the feeling of being an outsider remains to some extent. I wanted to illustrate this, with the hope it will be viewed by individuals in a similar position to myself, who may benefit from reassurance that it is okay to somewhat float between their different cultural identities.
What got you interested in your artistic practice?
I have always had an interest in expressing my creativity through different mediums. I did Fine Art and Graphic Design in school, which then led to an Art & Design course in college – this enabled me to focus on Photography and Illustration in my second year. I think that’s when I began thinking about photography as a career.
What about Photography and its capabilities stood out to you as an art form, in comparison to the other art forms you listed above?
Photographs have always had a bigger impact on me than any other art form, even from a young age. I remember looking through my family’s photo albums, which documented our family holidays, outings and celebrations. When we were in the process of moving, there were limitations on how many items we could bring with us and therefore the albums were not seen as necessitates. Throughout the years, I had thought about those photographs and partially due to the lack of them I felt disconnected from my past. Without the image, it is substantially difficult to recollect specific memories.
Photographs aren’t only an important medium for families but to us all as a species – they are a key component of documenting our past. This made photography the perfect medium to continue working in, as it gave me a sense of freedom in the potential subject matter I wished to explore – especially when it comes to sociological issues within a culture. Sometimes artwork needs to have a sense of realism for us to be able to connect with it and open up a dialogue about the content which it is depicting.
Another factor in choosing photography as a career over other creative subjects was the job prospects post-university. Photography is so widely used within numerous industries. Compared to Graphic Design and Fine Art, it also allows me as an artist to view my work pretty much instantly, as I predominantly worked digitally up until this year.
Who are you inspired by?
My mother. Might sound cheesy but she’s an extremely clever and creative person. Looking through the photographs she took in our family albums has always been my favourite past time. Photographer-wise, my main influences are Chris Nunn and Mahtab Hussain. I am drawn to work that challenges the viewer’s perception, particularly when it comes to globalization and the way people live in different cultures.
What are your future aspirations?
For the time being – to successfully finish education, as I am currently studying my Masters. I am also hoping to carry on curating exhibitions, as myself and my friend Reade recently exhibited the work of 9 photographic artists from surrounding universities. More long-term, I would love to have a career in the photobook production process, whilst carrying on with my own projects and curating exhibitions.
What are you hoping to achieve with your Master’s degree?
Currently I’m working on a project that stems and expands from my undergraduate research. This will be an exploration of what ‘home’ is to individuals who leave their homeland and begin a new life here in the UK. Each person’s experience of beginning a new life elsewhere is different, so I’m trying to determine whether there are connecting factors between my experience and others’. Like with my previous project, I am hoping to create a further dialogue for the viewer about the issues of immigration and the impacts it has on the individual.
How did you get into curating exhibitions?
It was something that I wanted to get into for a while since I love going to different exhibitions, but it started to become a reality once I had finished my deadlines and installed my work at my graduate exhibition.
We wanted to create an exhibition of our own, consisting of work that complimented each other. I think curating our NxNW exhibition was a good, pain and stress-free experience since we knew where to look for the exhibition space and the artists. Where there is a will there is a way, I think the most important part of it was collaborating with likeminded and passionate artists to reach an ultimate goal.
What’s your favourite photobook?
Mother of All Journeys, a photobook by Dinu Li. It was one of the photobooks which inspired my project last year, particularly the way he combined archival imagery with his own. A very close second would be ‘You Get Me?’ by Mahtab Hussain – the design of the book is incredible.
What advice would you recommend to young creatives today?
Don’t give up, and just do you. Throughout life, we’re told what we’re meant to be as practitioners, but it’s subjective. For each person that may doubt your abilities, there will be plenty more believing in you. Everyone gets stuck at some points too and I think it’s important to carry on researching or creating work because you’re bound to stumble upon something!
You can also buy her photobook Za Granicą // Beyond the Border here via her shop!