Erna, Helena, Ania © Tomasz Laczny

Tomasz Laczny’s portfolio, Erna, Helena, Ania was selected by Christopher James for Outstanding Work in the 2020 Denis Roussel Award.

“I am very much taken by the organic and graphic power of this work dealing with the notion of loss and absence, ghosts and traces of reality. I would love to see your aesthetic, and this project, rendered with gum-oil, gum bichromate, photopolymer gravure or lithography. The surface is incredible and deserves to leave the careful substrate of photographic paper to celebrate its crazy texture. Nice work!”

Christopher James

Would you please tell us about yourself?

My name is Tomasz Laczny. I am a visual artist, researcher, and educator. The core of my practice is storytelling and this is where I start to think about something as a project. I use a variety of mediums however, I mainly concentrate on photography and drawing. I am also a bookmaker. I’ve made a few self-published handmade books which so far have been the best medium for me to carry out the stories I am interested in in my projects. I work and live in London, UK.

Where did you get your photographic training?

I am a self-taught photographer. I started photography when I was a teenager. I graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts where I studied art and design. For many years I was working as a commercial artist but around six years ago I started to work on personal projects. I’ve done some workshops with photographers. The most memorable and significant was one with Antoine de Agata and Anders Petersen. But it was mostly learning about myself rather than photography.

Who has had an influence on your creative process?

I believe it was my father. He is not an artist or even interested in art. He was a teacher. He used to run a sailing school for young kids. Part of his work was to write chronicles. I remember my fascination when I saw him gluing photographs and maps to hand made large books and then calligraphing texts registering important events and dates. And this is what I am left with. The main part of my artistic practice is creating art books. That includes image-making like drawing or photography. But the most important thing is the story. The big part of my practice is also sharing my knowledge with others. I organize workshops and seminars about hand made photobooks. I believe that being a teacher is in a way a work of art. But all these things I inherited from my father.

Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.

It’s the sequence from the movie of Andrei Tarkovsky “Mirror”. It was one long continuous take of a cup of tea removed from the desk which left a steam mark. The camera concentrated on that mark. The mark started to evaporate slowly and disappear until was completely gone. There was nothing left. It was very beautiful and sad at the same time. Beautifull, metaphorical image of temporality.  Nothing lasts. Nothing is forever.

What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson.

It was in a refugee camp in Africa. I was wandering with a group of local kids. They were showing me their secret passages in the village. Suddenly we spotted a local guy who started to skin a dead goat which was hanging on the rope suspended from the roof. The kids surrounded him. The guy didn’t stop nor even look at the kids. The kids were fascinated. They were staring hypnotized with their eyes wide open. They were watching the guy removing slowly skin and then all internal organs: lungs, heart, liver, stomach, testicles, everything. In the end, there was nothing left but only an open rib cage. It was like an open book for these kids. They didn’t show fear disgust nor any of the feelings we associate with an open dead body in our culture. They were simply curious. I wanted to photograph the expression of the kids but instead, I pointed the camera to this open chest. These kids taught me what was most important that day and where I should look.

Erna, Helena, Ania © Tomasz Laczny
Erna, Helena, Ania © Tomasz Laczny

Please tell us about the work you submitted to The Denis Roussel Award.

It is a part of a book titled “Erna Helena Ania” about my grandmother which soon will be published. The story goes as follows: My grandmother lived during the second world war in Poland, which was occupied by Germans. She fell in love with a Polish guy, it was forbidden, you couldn’t have a relationship like that. She had to hide it. She got pregnant, and also had to hide it for a few months. And then the war ended and by the decision of a few key political figures borders around central Europe shifted. My grandmother was put into a camp for Germans because all Germans were ordered to leave the Polish territory. (it’s one of the largest forced migration in world history).

She gave birth to my mum in the camp and because of the conditions, she was not able to raise her. To save her life she decided to give her away.  And then she had to choose if she wanted to stay in Poland or to migrate to Germany. Hoping that she will be reunited with her daughter she decided to stay. She was able to stay in Poland because she was bilingual, but to stay she had to change her name and give up her German nationality. She became Polish, of course, life for her as an ex-German was very difficult she lived in a shadow of the guilt of what happened during the WW II in Poland. On top of that, it took her many years to be reunited with my mom.

The book is about my grandmother, and I ask the question about who we are when we lose our name, our country, and our family. My grandmother was known under three names. I used these names as a title. 

What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding? 

I find any part of image-making both important and fascinating. First the stories around when the image was shot. And the stories which gave birth to the images. Part of my practice is research for my stories. Based on that I daydream about images I want to shoot and stories. I like this part a lot. Then the technical aspect.

Recently I almost only shot analog, testing different ancient photographic techniques. I love the chemical aspect of image-making and everything around it: the magic, the smell, the physicality. Also, very important for me is making prints. The way how photographs are printed can completely change the image itself. And I like to think about images as physical objects. What I see on the screen on my computer is not really important. I need to see a physical object.

How do you work through times when nothing seems to work?

I try to keep working all the time. Most of my images come from work rather than inspiration. Also, I try to incorporate mistakes and chance to my practice.

What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?

I try to make my own tools and my own procedures.  In case if I cannot (I am not able to ) make my own tools I try to modify the tools (procedures) I got. I believe that tools are very important as they leave the mark on our work. But on the other hand, we are limited to the way these tools leave the mark. Therefore by inventing our own tools we are able to extend the way we express ourselves.  If we use the same tools as others we are limited to the same language. By inventing new tools we are able to extend this language. At the moment I am experimenting with 100 years old camera modified for wet plate collodion process.

Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?

A very important part of my practice is drawing. I want to blur the border between photography and drawing and make it one coherent thing in the future.

 How does your art affect the way you see the world?

I think in my case it works in reverse. The way I see the world affects my art. And the way I see the world constantly changes. It is influenced by many factors but mostly I think by the process of aging. I much more prefer myself now (rather than earlier myself) with all my experiences of life. That gives me the possibility of looking at things from different perspectives. And I am more confident. I believe more and more that everything can be done. It is just a matter of determination and persistence. The tools are important, the resources are important but what really counts the most is the will. The desire to do something. Without this things are not really possible. And this shapes how I see the world.

How has the pandemic influenced your work methods? Or has it?

My practice didn’t change that much during the pandemic. I spent most of my time working and I experimented with techniques I never tried before. I also shot a lot of self-portraits as a response to self-isolation. I want to explore this subject more in the future.

To learn more about the work of Tomasz Laczny please visit his site at Tomasz Laczny.


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