We recently had the chance to attend Photo London 2015 at Somerset House, London’s first international photography fair showcasing incredible collections by a host of innumerable talented photographers.
One of the artists the People Tree team were most excited to see was the 2013 Syngenta Photography award winner, Polish born Jan Brykczyński. Jan set out to tackle the monumental task of assembling a cohesive collection spanning 4 different international locations; travelling to Nairobi, Warsaw, Yerevan and New York, capturing a host of incredible images in the process. ‘The Gardener’ is Jan’s most recent publication, a stark testimony to the incongruities of man versus nature in an environment that does not lend itself well to the organic.
Looking solely at contemporary agricultural practice in urban environments, Jan’s endearing assortment of ‘back yard’ reportage finds itself nestled comfortably on the fence between documentary and landscape. Displaying proud horticulturists amongst their cultivated patches of land (without labelling each specific location). It is an international exploration refusing to categorise based on region.
Portraits of creators and their Eden’s or a glimpse into the dystopian future of urban living? ‘The Gardener’ promises an enchanting foray into the modern ‘working garden’. We had a chance to sit down with Jan and ask him a few questions regarding his creative process, this project and where he saw his keen eye heading next.
“I feel my work is anthropological, I studied anthropology myself so it makes sense that this is what shows through my work.”
So how did you get the idea?
My whole idea came from my previous work. Looking exclusively at life in a village in Ukraine, I live in Warsaw and feel quite disconnected from nature, a feeling I feel a lot of city dwellers can relate to. If I approached this as a personal project I wouldn’t have the financial means to travel so extensively, I would have had to pursue this locally…but I feel you can find urban farms in every city.
You’ve shot a book before but are you used to commissions?
Yes, I’m part of a collective that applies for grants and has to work in a certain time frame, this project was hard because there was a lot of travelling between each of the locations. I only had a year to complete it, originally there wasn’t even going to be a book. This has all been a pleasant surprise.
“I think I’m always looking in similar places to find images.”
What were the difficulties in completing a project of this scale?
Well its a lot easier to produce a consistent body of work by reducing the amount of locations you shoot in, that’s one aspect which made this project very challenging. By choosing not to include each location the project definitely adopted more of a single universal tone. I also made note of always shooting at similar times of day ensuring the sky was overcast so that the colours wouldn’t look noticeably different from photo to photo
So not labelling each location was a concious decision from the beginning of the project?
I was interested in showing gardening globally, how they exercise that need. I didn’t want to segregate the book to highlight differences between the ways different countries garden; there are some visual clues though. Something interesting I found is the difference in materials used; Americans would tend to use more plastics in their gardens whereas, in Nairobi they would use a lot of wood and fabric; Yerevan and Warsaw would instead opt for recycled metals like bed frames, that sort of thing.
“Photography is all about showing your interpretations, it’s about who I am and what I’m seeing.”
How did you initially get into Photography?
I studied Sociology and Anthropology, I come from quite a closed social circle in Poland so I found it to be a great opportunity to meet people of different backgrounds.
You’ve focused on the proactive ways people deal with low income, was that intentional?
I was really interested in how people create the space in which they grow, this is one of my favourite images (points to man with trees in garage). Here you have someone who’s had to remove the tarmac and concrete himself to get to the soil underneath, its really impressive and you can see how proud he is of the garden he’s created.
“There are projects where the outcome is the most important and then projects like this where it’s all about the process.”
Did you find the residents to be quite receptive of you as an outsider?
I think they were a little wary at first, these gardens are delicate places. There is something very partisan and temporary about them. People are afraid of others coming to the areas and buying over their land. There are also associations with gentrification, these poor areas usually have high crime rates and are inhabited by drug addicts, the residents who garden wish to live in a nicer environment. Unfortunately developers then come and build property because land is cheap.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m now working on a project which should be finished in 2016 about the collapse of the Soviet Union, hopefully culminating in a book and travelling exhibition.
All Photographs by Jan Brykczyński. Courtesy the artist and Syngenta Photography Award
Words: Jordan Troy