As part of our Sherlock Holmes season at the Museum of London, we commissioned London-based photographer Kasia Wozniak to create a new fashion photography series inspired by the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle. We caught up with her at her studio in South London and asked her a few questions ahead of her exhibition opening…
Can you remember when you first saw a camera or a photograph?
My dad was a photographer. He bought me a camera when I was really small. I didn’t take a lot of pictures with it because we didn’t have much money to buy film. But I would still have it with me all the time. My relationship with my camera was almost like fighting solitude – a companion thing.
Did you come to London to study photography?
I came here to go to a language school and then decided to enrol in university. I did a foundation at London College of Communication for a year and then I studied photography – I received a BA in Fashion Photography and then got a scholarship to do an MA.
How does London influence your work, and what sort of art inspires you?
Probably in that I’m using a Victorian camera to photograph and the fact that I’m going back to a very traditional process must have a lot to do with London. As for inspiration, I used to really like the Pre-Raphaelites but I’m moving away from this now – I really like Dutch painting and still life, playing with light. I never used to like abstract art but the more I see and read about it, I just find it fascinating. I also really love icons and religious art.
If you had your portrait taken by another photographer, who would you ask?
I would like Irving Penn to take my portrait, he would be very interesting to be in the studio with. I love Penn’s photograph of Truman Capote where he’s holding a pair of glasses. Penn uses a wide angle lens, it is remarkable. He has such an incredible relationship with his subject and when you look at his portraits you can tell that an enormous amount of work that has gone into them. Even his still life images are beautiful.
You have done a lot of fashion photography. Is that something that particularly interests you?
You can play out fantasies when you photograph fashion stories, and it has to be quick and recent. I like that a lot. I also like the interaction you can have with the subject, the model. How much can you get from someone who is still for 30 seconds. That’s quite important to my work. It’s quite difficult to challenge the time, to get the right expression or if you want to say something through the portrait that you are taking. Although it is a fashion image – it becomes a portrait of someone, too.
What do you want people to see in your photographs?
I would like people to have pleasure from what they see. I want them to look at one of my photographs and remember it. I’m still finding out who I am and what my work is about, I can see it changing so much and I love it. Some people look at my images and are not aware of what went on behind the scenes, they don’t realise that my model was standing there for 40 seconds while I captured them.
What are your feelings towards digital photography?
I do it every now and then but I just don’t feel the same connection. I love being in the dark room and that I can mix my own chemistry, and that I can make mistakes. The fact that there is a new mark on my photograph and that I can develop it and learn to take control over what I create. It ends up being not only about the image, but also about the process, that you can do everything from scratch. That’s what really fascinates me about wet collodion photography, I can go and buy my ingredients and “make my cake”, there’s some real alchemy in there.
Can you take us through the photographic process?
You start off with a glass or aluminium plate. You have to clean and polish the glass to make sure there are no loose particles, as this could contaminate your silver nitrate bath – the biggest trouble for wet plate collodion photographers! Metal is easier, as you just peel off the cover. Once the plate is clean and smudge-free, you pour the collodion on one side of the plate, it smells quite pungent. The consistency is a little thicker than water and it goes solid when poured onto the glass and dries. The glass surface needs to be completely covered with the solution. That’s the messy part! Then you put the plate into a silver nitrate bath, after it has soaked there for a few moments you put it into your camera back; expose; take the photograph; run back and fix the image. Once it’s finished, you should varnish the photograph – unvarnished, the finish is quite scratchy and because of the silver within the solution, it will tarnish. In the past people would have their portrait taken and keep it hidden away in a little box, rarely exposed to light.
Which wet plate collodion photographers of the past have you looked to for inspiration?
I really like Gustave Le Gray – an incredible landscape photographer. There’s also Julia Margaret Cameron and Carleton E. Watkins. I also love Ansel Adams. I admire a lot of different styles of photography and photographers and when I started doing this I was going through a lot of archives held at various museums and galleries. I just wanted to see what things looked like, so I knew what I was supposed to be doing. It’s easier to see that from the plate, rather than the print, as the print is manipulated.
What are you are hoping to achieve for the Museum of London commission?
I would like to use current menswear designers and using the Sherlock text, reflect what is happening in menswear now to create a connection between the time that Conan Doyle was writing the Sherlock stories and today. Creating a new man. From the way the model will be dressed, you will see that connection, but it won’t be too literal.
Had you ever read the Sherlock stories before working with the museum?
I read the collection of stories when I was younger – I have it on my bookshelf. I also went to Baker Street when I first arrived in London! Sherlock is a fascinating character.
‘…he wasn’t an easy gentleman to describe’ is a free photography exhibition at the Museum of London between 15 October 2014 – 1 March 2015.