He moves close to his subjects, shows bravery, creating work that is both candid and intriguing. His is a curious glance at a fast-moving world. A world shifting continually on its evolutionary trajectory. Meanwhile, armed with his camera he is out there trying to capture its story. Damian Milczarek is among us, up close, intriguing, learning, gaining knowledge.
“I walk around Warsaw almost everyday with my camera,” The Polish street photographer reveals. “ I search for emotions and unusual interactions between people, it consumes me completely. Ideally, except for funny scenes or the play of light and shadow or the geometry of buildings, I manage to capture the story behind the heroes of the photos. This is the most difficult challenge in street photography, something I am still trying to learn.”
One suspects that the young Milczarek is being a bit too humble, because he undoubtedly has an eye for the work. His portfolio evidence of his ability.
© Damian Milczarek
A young girl appears to be breathing pink smoke as if she were a friendly dragon. Milczarek has caught her locked in another world as she chomps happily on her confectionery.
“It was a national holiday in Norway, and a national holiday in Oslo,” He explained the photograph. “I spent many hours looking for interesting shots. By the end of the day I saw this girl in folk costume who was holding a huge cotton candy. I turned around and took one photograph of her. I worried if it would be sharp, but luckily it came out okay.”
It depends which way you look at it, I counter his modesty. You either got lucky, or you, actually, worked very hard for the shot?
Milczarek remains circumspect, he has a long way to go in his life as a street photographer, and doesn’t want to take anything for granted at this stage. I have to admit, it is a good, level-headed way of going about the art he loves.
“I am still working on the story standing behind my pictures,” Damian tells me. “I would like more of my photos to convey ‘something’ more than just playing with form and a decisive moment. I spend a lot of time and energy on training, reading master biographies, watching and analysing their photographs. I am still learning.”
© Damian Milczarek
In another beautifully shot photograph, a tall sophisticated woman, with a strong, rugged face and wearing a red, blue and white rosette stares into the middle distance. The shot is nicely angled by Milczarek, and he is close enough to capture the woman’s determinedly strong and serene demeanour.
“This is one of my favourite photographs,” He admits. “An elegant woman was watching the parade. When I saw her standing with a background of colourful balloons, I had extraordinary pictures of Martin Parr in my head.”
Now he is name-dropping, Martin Parr indeed! But, he has a point, It is a powerful shot.
Having started his photographic career in 2009 with, he tells me, an Olympus E-510, it took him seven years to find street photography.
“The breakthrough came in 2016, when my sister left Poland for Oslo, Norway, and a friend moved to London, UK,” He told me of how he first got into street photography. “Visiting them I got hooked on street photography. I want to tell the story of the city and its inhabitants with only a split second to capture the moment. It is a challenge that engages, entices and (in the end) mesmerises. Street photography is both a challenge for the eye and the mind to simultaneously control the space, different planes and people in motion. Crossing the streets I turn off my thinking, put on my headphones and listen to my favourite albums : Queen, Guns ‘N Roses. I am in a trance and I try to feel the moment, (and) when it is worth stopping and capturing the moment.”
His method may be unorthodox, but it creates great results, and speaks of his resolve and the time and effort he puts into his art. He makes the connection with music, as many street photographers do. He has the soundtrack to the street ballet being performed in front of him and all around him. All the moods and motion that can be covered in a song or piece of music. But he himself, is insistent, he is not yet the finished article.
“I am still learning the selection of photography with my great teacher Joanna, and expanding the group of inspiring people I surround myself with,” He explained, before confessing. “I still dream of going to southeast Asia, I love photographers from Vietnam and Thailand (Chu Việt Hà and Tavepong Pratoomwong are great). In the near future I am getting ready to visit, London, Oslo and Berlin in search of good light and successful frames.”
His openness to his art is endearing, and all the hard work is paying off. There is a naturalness to his work, as if he were just placed in the right position at the right time. We all know that has to be worked at and Milczarek is prepared to put in the legwork to get the results.
His photographs are full of, somehow, understated drama, like the moment before something extraordinary happens. It creates an expectancy in the viewer.
© Damian Milczarek
Two waiters rest on a shop window ledge for a cigarette break. Boldly, Milczarek gets in close and shoots them. He remembers the one on the left as we look at them calling over:
“What the hell?!”