Krzysztof is a humanitarian photographer from Poland who uses photography to give a voice to the poor and underprivileged. He has traveled to some of the most gritty places in Cambodia to highlight not just the poverty of the people, but their dignity and will to survive.
Hey Kristoff! How did you get into photography?
My journey started when I was 13 and I attended photography activities in my school. I learnt how to look at the world from the eyes of a photographer and rediscovered my city as a fantastic, even magical place. It was full of contrasts - splendidly located in the mountains but in deep crisis after the closing of the coal mines. Picturesque old streets were full of sad people with no hope for a better future; at least, that was how I saw it as a 13-year-old kid. It’s difficult to describe, but for me Walbrzych was the source of a particular visual sensibility that stuck to me for good.
For many years, I treated photography as a hobby. Then in 2012, I took part in a workshop led by Zoriah Miller, the great war photographer.
What is your approach to street photography?
I usually spend too little time at one place to make friends with my subjects, so I try to go unnoticed instead. I use a small camera to be less visible; people who are not aware of being photographed are obviously more natural and real.
This particular image is very striking to me - a man walking down a street holding a handgun. What is the story behind it?
That picture was taken in the streets of Saigon. I like it because it forces the viewer to stop and think, what is going on here? Is that a young criminal just before a robbery? Or a kid handling a plastic toy-gun? What is real in this picture? I like that ambiguity so forgive me but I’m not going to tell a story behind that picture.
I like to think of Saigon as a place where the truth mixes with fiction; where nothing is clear and chaos and uncertainty reigns. That’s how I remember that city with 2 names. Looking at the whole series, “Streets of Saigon”, the people are like ghosts or angels or demons. Perhaps, only the scared rat which was hiding in a hole in the pavement was real.
You worked on a project called “Life and Work at Dump”, where you documented the lives of some of the 2000 people living in a waste dump in Cambodia. What is the motivation behind it?
I worked on that project during Zoriah’s workshop. My personal motivation was to learn how to photograph in difficult situations and approach difficult subjects; for example, people living in extreme poverty in the slums.
Of course, photojournalists don’t go to places like the slums for the pleasure of taking photos. Perhaps it sounds too noble or naive, but the main motivation for doing a project like this is my deep belief that what is happening there should be shown to the public.
These pictures are the voice of the people. Sometimes, that voice reaches somebody and pushes him or her to think and maybe even to act.
What do you want to achieve with your photography?
I believe my series “Life and Work at Dump”, and others like “Cambodian Workers” and “Cambodian Family Portraits”, show something more than poverty in the Third World. They show dignity. It’s amazing how proud these people are, when they often have nothing except themselves and their will to survive.
After publishing my pictures of Cambodia, I received an e-mail from a music teacher in England. He wrote, “(…)I just wanted to say, I found your work amazing, gritty, truthful and at times uncomfortable and humbling. But what you are saying needs to be said, there is so much injustice in the world.(…)”
Saying what needs to be said - this is my motivation not only for this project, but for humanitarian photography in general.
And if I photograph to say what should be said, then I would like to take pictures good enough to make people listen.
View Kristoff’s profile: Ubersnap | Website
Sometimes, reaching out and taking someone’s hand is the beginning of a journey.
(by Armin Radford)