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Photocrowd member spotlight: Interview with Bogdan Zarkowski

Top 1000 photographer and Photocrowd favourite Bogdan Zarkowski puts some time aside to talk to us about his artistic beginnings as a designer, his most-used techniques and some of his all time favourite photography role models.

How did you first get into photography?

My introduction to photography was through art college. Part of my college course included photography with emphasis on darkroom techniques - the precursor to today's digital photo processing. Like most people, I started using the camera to take family and holiday snaps, albeit with a slightly more creative approach thanks to my art college training! I first took up photography seriously when, as a graphic designer, I began taking photos of textures and torn posters to incorporate into my design work.

Part of my job as a designer has been to work closely with photographers. A remit of mine has been to brief photographers and direct photo sessions for my clientele. Throughout my design career I've worked with thousands of images by the world's top photographer's combining their photos with my typography, illustrations and graphics.

My collaborations with great photographers has helped me appreciate what good photography is and how best to achieve it. I've used this knowledge to hone my personal style resulting in some success by having had my photos published in magazines such as Outdoor Photography, Digital Camera, PhotoPlus, Digital Photo and Surrey Life. I’ve also been shortlisted for the ‘Take a View - 2016 Landscape Photographer of the Year - Home of Amazing Moments’ special award and in Digital Photo magazine’s ‘2015 Photographer of the Year award - Macro category.

In your profile you say you have passions for "landscape, urban and torn poster photography". What is it about these subjects that appeal to you?

All three subjects have one thing in common - walking. Most of my photographs are taken on the hoof, when my wife and I are on our travels at home and abroad. We climb mountains, walk coastal paths and tread the pavements of villages, towns and cities. I always have my camera to hand so I'm ready, in an instant, to photograph ensuing landscapes, react to street scenes or to zoom in on torn poster billboards.

Of course, there are times when I plan my photographic trips. These times are reserved for my landscapes when the sky is at its most captivating during sunrises, sunsets and on clear starry nights. This is when I bring out my tripod and enjoy the luxury of taking my time choosing my camera settings, lens and filters. These are the relaxing periods of the day when there's nobody about and I'm at one with nature's innate beauty.

For my urban photography I try to capture fleeting moments. I look for amusing, quirky and unusual scenes. I record what others might find too irrelevant or mundane to photograph. Sometimes I'll click in anticipation of a situation - although it's a bit hit and miss, it often pays off with unexpected results. It’s quite challenging because I like getting up really close to people. I shoot from the hip with my wide angle lens. This gives the photo a slightly distorted look but that helps to enhance the impact.

I have amassed a huge collection of my torn poster photos taken from around the world. I'm intrigued by the abstract beauty found in sections of neglected billboards. When people stop to ask me why I'm photographing what they perceive as an eye-sore I tell them to imagine the tattered poster framed and displayed in the Tate Modern. To promote the art of expired posters I go out each month and fly post large, limited edition prints of my photos in the street for members of the public to find and keep. I enjoy the irony of hanging my free art in the street, as I see it as returning to the street what I'd taken from it.

Your portraits capture the emotions and eccentricities of the subject. What's your approach to photographing people. Do you tend to speak to them before you take the shot?

I'd never considered myself a portrait photographer. It was only after you posed this question that I revisited my photos and found there is a sizeable portrait portfolio amongst my eclectic mix of photographs. My portraits aren't shot in the classic style of studio portraiture but are the results of hastily grabbed street shots of unsuspecting strangers.

If the emotions and eccentricity of the person comes through then its simply because I like to capture my subjects unawares. I purposely look out for eccentric behaviour by eccentric characters and take the shot before they realise they're being photographed. That way I stand a chance of capturing the true emotion of the individual.

If, on occasion, I see the possibility of an interesting shot I sometimes hang around and wait for the right person to appear to complete my envisaged scenario. I have occasionally asked passers by to pose for me as part of my compositions - luckily enough everyone (so far) has been happy to oblige.

Is there part of your photo equipment that you consider essential?

Apart from my Canon EOS 5D camera and assorted Canon/Sigma lenses, I wouldn't be without my iPad while I'm away. It's invaluable to view the photos I've taken on a screen that's larger than the one on the back of the camera. It helps me to select which photos to keep and which ones to bin.

I shoot all my photos in raw so post-production is very important to me. I will fine-tune layers in Silver Efex Pro and tweak them in Photoshop to get the desired effect. I occasionally use the Sony RX100, a discreet pocket camera, for some of my street photography where situations are tight and I don't want to be noticed brandishing a huge camera.

Are there any particular photographers or visual artists who you take inspiration from?

I like Charlie Waite's carefully constructed landscapes, the simplicity of Franco Fontana's minimalist compositions, Martin Parr's humorous street observations and the torn poster montage art of Jacques Villeglé. Compositionally I've learned a lot by studying the great Renaissance artists such as Botticelli, Da Vinci and Michaelangelo.

I love the fun and irrelevance of the Dada movement and their influence on today's photography, especially in advertising. I appreciate the freedom that Jackson Pollock's art gave us to experiment with abstract photography without us being derided. I like the repetitiveness of pop art exemplified by Andy Warhol's silkscreen prints and I love the Impressionist art we're emulating by experimenting with intentional camera movement photography.

I also take inspiration from Photocrowd members. Although time consuming, I try to rate every photo entered into every competition. I enjoy comparing my choices with the judge's/member's choices. I wait to see which photos are the eventual winners but also take note which type of photo the judges/members tend to dismiss - this has helped me to refine my own Photocrowd competition selections.

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