Photographer based in Helsinki, Finland
Alexander Komenda, Portrait by Alexandra Jonsdottir
Tell us about yourself, what's your background?
I am born and raised in Ottawa, Canada. I attended a French speaking school and was brought up by my parents and grandparents who are Polish. So I am a dual-citizen. I wanted to become a photographer when I first moved to Russia for one year in 2013. There, I started taking street photos in black and white on 35mm, and for some reason I got this feeling inside me telling me this was what I wanted to do, I really wanted to give it my all. That's the conscious end that remembers faintly, then also working other jobs knowing how horrible and painful it can be to simply work to make a living and completly lacking a sense of purpose. Photography, over the years, became that medium that combined all my favourite themes, whether it be history, compostion, colour, mood, stories, mystery, spirituality, whatever it is, was or will be, photography is that boat that will always welcome them all.
"The real world is everything. The real world is where the best ideas tend to linger."
What are you currently working on and where did the inspiration for it come from?
I am currently in the research stages of a new project which looks at several stories told through everyday life in the Fergana Valley in Central Asia, with the initial trip and shooting taking place in Kyrgyzstan. I'll be following up with friends and acquaintances that I have connected with on different trips between 2016 and 2019. The history of interethnic conflict, resource disputes and wider geopolitical questions in the region will serve as some of the thematic backdrops for the work. The inspiration comes in large part from my father who works as a Senior Human Rights Advisor for the UN in the region. We share a special intellectual relationship in addition to the father-son bond, which manifests as this ongoing and podcast-like form of discussions and idea-building. This dialogue helps me in bridging how contemporary documentary practice fits into the wider humanitarian world and ultimately understanding how history functions in relation to representation.
Untitled (8), January/February 2020, 6x6 Portra 160 Color Negativein. 2021 Inkjet Print
Untitled (4), January/February 2020, 6x6 Portra 160 Color Negative
Innovation does not only happen in the field of technology — it occurs everyday in an artist's practice. What do you do for inspiration?
I speak with like-minded individuals. I believe that I get most inspired by speaking with people, this is the true spark that allows me to proceed to further research methods. Music is also a great catalyst, in a emotional sense, specifically hip-hop for me. This vernacular form of storytelling combined with sample-based beats also draws an interesting parallel to photographic practice, where the photographic act takes a small chunk of reality that can be looked at over and over again; a bit like a looped beat. As cliche as it may sound, true inspiration is a magical experience, and its usually triggered by the most unlikely and unique circumstances. However, when in doubt, find a deep well of knowledge and experience within a conversation.
Untitled (7), January/February 2020, 6x6 Portra 160 Color Negative.
Untitled (5), January/February 2020, 6x6 Portra 160 Color Negative.
Untitled (9), January/February 2020, 6x6 Portra 160 Color Negative.
Describe your practice and process. Where do ideas start for you? In the studio or being in the world?
The real world is everything. The real world is where the best ideas tend to linger. However a story, object, book, image, mood or looking at something again after many years can all lead to a great idea. An idea is only as good as the person who makes it a reality. It is in doing where ideas become complete, and that certain magic always occurs which in my practice is always in the real world.
Untitled (2), January/February 2020, 6x6 Portra 160 Color Negative.
How do you make your work, does it start with a sketch? Can you tell us about your style? How did you arrive at it?
Every project has a different beginning. Shot lists have gotten me a long way in recent years. You can just sit at home and imagine some photographs and eventually re-create them in some form, then at other times you will come across something so unique that the urge to document it will eventually manifest itself.
Sequence selection and edit process of the Rover Way project which takes an intimate look into the life of the Probert family who are Irish Travellers living in Cardiff, Wales.
Some key books from my shelf.
Many artists live by their creative routines, do you have your own studio ritual? What does that look like for you?
The studio ritual mostly revolves around scanning negatives, and the slow, meditative process that it is. Much of the time it involves looking for new hip-hip music, or listening to a podcast whilst the machine is working.
Who are your biggest influences?
My family, my partner and friends are the biggest ones most certainly. Then some names I really look up to would include Lars Tunbjork, Weegee, Pieter Brughel the Elder, Charles Bukowski, Lao Tzu, Andrei Tarkovsky, Stanley Kubrick, Marlon Brando, Georges Seurat and Ol' Dirty Bastard.
A memorable chapter from Weegee's Naked City
What books or films are an important source of inspiration?
Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching is a book that I dip into a few times a year. I gravitate towards the philosophical debates presented in Krzysztof Kieslowski's films, also others such as Roman Polanski's Chinatown or a Woody Allen film to remind how far good writing can really make a story that much more entertaining without comprimising intellect. Photobooks are also an important source of inspiration, such as Paul Graham's Empty Heaven or Lars Tunbjork's Office. Pausing at different pages, it is fascinating to ponder how such moments are even caputurable, and revelling in their irreproducable qualities that will never occur again.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
To wait 10 years before trying a different profession. It really stuck. It wasn't really presented to me as advice, it was just a photographer telling me it took him 10 years before he could live from his practice, and then I thought all right, some people study that long to become doctors, for others they become artists and photographers.
What is the best advice you would give to other artists?
To never, ever, give up.