Photographer of the Month – Eric Kruszewski
This month I’d like to introduce you to Eric Kruszewski, an up and coming photographer from the Pacific Northwest. His work was most recently recognized by PX3 (Prix de la Photographie Paris) where he was awarded a Gold Medal for “Cowboys’ Rodeo” and a Silver Medal for “Haitian Despair”.
Darwin: Eric, from your bio it appears that you just started photographing in 2008, yet your portfolio has a richness to it that suggests someone with much more experience. Why do you think you have made such progress in developing your craft and your art when others stuggle for much longer before seeing the returns you enjoy?
Eric: While living overseas in Former Soviet Union countries and traveling to other distant places, I wanted to capture what I was so fortunate to witness and share it with family and friends in my homeland. So in late 2008, I decided that I wanted to learn how to capture profound imagery; to do so, I participated in a hands-on photography expedition through India with three amazing professional photographers. After soaking up information and practicing photography for the 18-day journey, I became hooked with the camera.
After returning from India, photography became an integral part of my life. Everyday I devoted as much time as I could to some aspect of the craft – shooting, editing, reading, attending exhibitions, surrounding myself with other photographers and people who respect what I did, studying others’ work, etc. I literally left my camera hanging on the doorknob so I could grab it as I left home. I certainly do not know what the “normal” or “average” timeframe is for developing, and no longer struggling in the field. Seeing progress in photography, just like with anything, comes down to working hard, having a vision, having the passion for it, embracing the received “no” and striving for the desired “yes.” As an artist, I will always challenge myself; that, combined with dedication and hard work, motivates me to develop and hone my vision as a photographer.
Darwin: How has your “New Talent “win in the prestigious TPOTY contest affected your audience and opportunities for new ventures in photography?
Eric: The Travel Photographer of the Year “New Talent” Award was an amazing surprise for me – not only winning the award, but also communicating with the contest’s creators / organizers, fellow winning photographers and experienced judges. Fortunately, I was able to attend the ceremony and exhibition opening in London, where so many lovers of travel and photography came together. The contest truly was about the imagery, the story behind the pictures and the artist behind the camera. The organizers went to great lengths in creating a top-notch website, a wonderful exhibition experience with such a high profile and reputable gallery and showcasing the images for industry personnel, the public and the press to enjoy.
Since the Travel Photographer of the Year contest was open to all international photographers, it brought together imagery and followers from all over the world. Therefore, after winning the “New Talent” Award, there was definitely more interest in my photography and how I have developed.
Darwin: How did you manage to get access to the street people depicted in your Blocks Apart, Worlds Apart portfolio?
Eric: A photographer or passerby could come across the imagery and street people seen in my Blocks Apart, Worlds Apart story by walking down the streets and alleyways of Downtown Eastside. One of the amazing things about “Ground Zero” in Vancouver, BC is that drug use, drug deals, prostitution and sex are practiced so openly and commonly on the streets, and they are all concentrated within several square city blocks. Access, and getting close to the people, was accomplished by asking their permission to observe them, learn what they do and respect their practices. I let them do their thing and they let me do mine. Of course, there are plenty of bystanders in the streets that warn a wandering photojournalist of potential trouble while in their territory. Fortunately I did not encounter anything serious while developing the story.
Darwin: You seem to travel extensively, how do you finance your travel photography?
Eric: I am an engineer by degree and a photographer by heart. Since graduating from university about 10 years ago, I have been working as a mechanical engineer for an international engineering-construction company. It was this engineering work that took me overseas to the Former Soviet Union, allowed me to travel internationally at a relatively young age and eventually drove me to begin photographing the cultures and societies in which I was immersed.
Currently, I still perform the 40-hour-a-week engineering job and spend all my free time and vacation time photographing and developing stories that motivate me. Most times it feels as if I have two full-time jobs, and all of my family and friends support my endeavors as I continue to strive in pursuit of making the transition to full-time professional photographer.
Darwin: You are in the ‘thick of things’ with your images, making it feel as if we, the viewer, are right there on the street with the subjects you photograph. How do you achieve this narrative point-of-view?
Eric: Being around people, capturing their stories and sharing those stories captivate and motivate me as a photographer and storyteller. In order to do this effectively, I feel that being close and intimate with the subjects is necessary; it allows me to communicate openly with them, build a rapport, truly learn the subjects and then relay their story and voice in imagery. However, it takes trust on the subjects’ part to allow a camera into their lives and it takes trust on my part that I will be received openly, thus being able to tell the story correctly and accurately.
For most of my work, I use a lens with a short focal length. It forces me to approach people, to concentrate on and work with main subjects that are practically within arms reach and to not worry about what is happening a mile away; I can always move and get closer. This “in the thick of things” approach allows the viewer to feel as if they are a part of the scene and immersed in the same story that I had the privilege of witnessing.