He is young and talented; he has held art exhibitions in different parts of the world. People are the subject of his unfailing interest. In his art works they can fly. Martin Stranka is one of the greatest young photographers in the Czech Republic. His works embellish many books and exhibition centres around the world. And today he is going to disclose the secrets of his talent to you.
Most of your works depict men rather than women. This is quite unusual. How did it happen?
Must you start off with such personal questions? (Laughs) It happened because when I began taking my first steps in photography I had my partner pose for me, with whom I was able to “try many things”. And only over the course of time did I realize that it is possible to find plenty of similar contrasts among women as well. They provide a different perception of photo and space for photographic work. They reveal a special feminine element which my work has been lacking – fragility. Nevertheless, I’m a man and, above all else, I identify myself with a male body type. And it is not associated with any sexual plane. (Laughs)
I know that you’ve heard this question a hundred times, but I’m still going to ask it: is there any special message in your creative work? What would you like to tell people and the world through your works?
I don’t know whether you have seen my previous interviews. In some of them I’ve mentioned how I developed my passion for photography and why I’ve immersed myself in the world of art much more deeply than in the things I’ve been taught.
When I started, it was a reaction to my experiences in life. Back then I had lost a very dear person and sought comfort for my state of mind. My creative work is like my diary. It is where I search for my personal space, and a balance for my way of thinking, and my own path through life. Initially, I didn’t try to give something to others or allow them to find something for themselves in my works. On the contrary, I still rejoice in hiding my true character, my inner world in my work. I saw people shedding tears in front of my photographs, but I just stood and gazed at them. It gave me a clear message – it is no matter how different we are, it’s all about feelings and emotions, and they are the same in all of us.
You tend to use colors that are rather dark and melancholic. What kind of positive gift can be colored in such tones?
Basically, in photography, in art, it is possible to make everything visually compelling…I have a passion for working with “negative space”. It is always a huge empty area. Sometimes it serves as a background, sometimes not. For instance, (he shows a photo) this was envisaged as a landscape, here is the sky, and here you can see the largest negative space. One could say that it is a negative, but for me it is the air, the space that gives freedom, liberty which represents a positive feeling. It is a true balance for me, therefore the figures are calm, they don’t have to create heaven only knows what.
What makes you stand out as a personality among other photographers? How are you different from them?
Photos always express some emotions which are, in fact, the same. However, each of us creates some kind of surrounding reality that is unique to us. If a person finds his own style, he will always be different from other people. You can walk in a crowd like a lamb. You will be told to do one thing or another, and you will do as you were told. However, if you do not endow your act with something entirely personal, you won’t get any recognition. I think that is the essence of creative work which distinguishes us from others and makes us successful.
What makes you special in terms of sensuality? How do you perceive the world in general? What motivates you?
The motivation that pushes me forward is the state of mind that has to be realized. I have a friend who graduated from the Academy of Arts in Brno. I asked him at the very beginning, “Why are you doing this?” He looked at me and answered, “Do you really want to know the reason why I’m taking photos?! It’s because I have a need to do it, the same as other people have a need to sleep and eat.” So, I’ve never thought that I ought to take a photo now, because the situation is appropriate. The mind won’t leave you just like that. Someone loves to write, ask him why he writes books. He needs to do it, he has to do it.
What is your understanding of space? What is your personality in this space?
I love such subjects as space, and I’m not talking about technical matters. I always say that there is a balance between the developments here and in that high-up place. I am irreligious, nevertheless, I believe in certain energies which are interconnected with this space. Therefore, in my opinion, space is something that is located between heaven and earth; it is a dimension where everything has its cause.
How do you find yourself in this space?
Certainly, as a part of it, although it is so tiny that this integral part is almost insignificant.
So, you don’t feel like it is some “gift of God”?
What is talent? On the one hand, a lot people say that is beautiful, they could never do it themselves, and I respond to that, “Have you ever really tried?” Talent is something that each of us possesses, only you are not aware of it, or simply never tried to discover it.
Why do you take photographs of people? Many photographers take pictures of beautiful houses, sculptures, or nature. Why people?
As I’ve mentioned before, I have to identify myself with photography. Every photo is like a page in my own diary. Just recently I realized that I have only taken two photos which don’t depict a body or a human element. I remember exactly why I took these photos. I was in a classic post separation period. I didn’t want anyone to feature in that photo. It was clear and empty. However, if I think about it in a different way, basically, there are people everywhere. Even if there is a person (shows an example), but at the same time, due to the subject of this picture, he is not there at all. A person is surrounded by some elements of nature – cliff, rock, open and closed space…As for me, this is a kind of projection of human thought on everything that surrounds him. This is some vulnerability…shriveling, it is a body positioning.
It is the imperceptible that turns photos into art.
Do you take photographs only in return for a fee?
What do you mean? My job orders?
Do you perceive it as a business or an art?
Those are two separate worlds. When I was at school, I worked for three years, though later I made my escape. Money is a key to freedom, and you can’t get by without money.
Do you put the same amount of heart into your “job orders” that you do in those that you’ve made as a “volunteer”?
No, I can not. Perhaps, I shouldn’t say that, but it is just not possible. The order is something that you’ve been hired for by your clients, because they like your style and manner, it is what they want. This is what I create, what I invest in my works, my intimate things, though it can’t be necessarily seen at a glance. Such intimacy cannot be exploited in commercial projects. It is as if you had to undress for money. As for me, nudity is such an intimate matter, that there is no way I would do it for a fee. The same goes for the art of photography. I can’t place intimacy in a photo when I’m forced to do it. However, from the technical point of view, my customers get works of the highest attainable quality, the same as they see in my portfolio.
How do you envision your future career? Is it more like a business or you would rather remain attached to the intimacy that you refer to?
I think that I’m very lucky with the regard to…in fact, what is the definition of a career? A career is linked with some kind of success. What is success? In many cases it is reckoned, for example, by your financial situation.
Are you anxious for success at all? Do you want to be recognized, so that people will know you and buy your photos?
It is already happening, and I feel satisfied in this particular area. (Laughs)
What are your values, I mean of a personal kind?
I could start with family values, but as for me, being happy is a kind of principal value that is kept apart from the criticism of others. Some might say that family and decency and so on are his values, but for me those things go without saying. Speaking of creative work, the main value here is to be true to myself, and to avoid falling under the influence of others. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get inspired; it means not limiting yourself or being controlled by other people.
What books do you read?
I don’t read books.
Why don’t you read?
Virtually everyone tries to bring me books which I should read, they show them to me and tell stories, and my response to them is that I might find a sea of inspiration in those books, but I’m a person who needs to observe things in person and not only in a book. When I open a book and start reading, it is a special inspirational feeling, but then I close the book and never get back to it again. I really need to touch it literally, not only read about it.
What message would you like to convey to young people who want to become art-oriented creators?
They should stay true to themselves. On the one hand, this can be perceived as a trite phrase, everyone says so. In my mind, a person has to preserve his identity, which is very strong and capable of creating something.
A quiz given to Martin Stranka:
Pessimism or optimism?
Talent or fame?
Money or people?
Friendship or love?
This is a tough one, they can’t be compared. OK, let’s say love.
Family or independence?
Dear God! Again between those two values, independence.
Nature or city?
This one has lot of aspects, but if I have to choose just one thing it would be nature.
Experience or innocence?
Experience. Even if a person loses his innocence. I’m not an innocent one.
Youth or maturity?