Once every now and then, we meet persons we have a distinct feeling will impact our lives in some way or another. This happened four years ago, when I first met Witold Flak. I was then a very green, keen photographer with a will to do something more than photography and no idea where to start. I had just failed my second qualification attempt and understandably wasn't in the best of moods. I had almost given up in my quest, resigned to the fact that photographers are just photographers, and they will never realise what a vast and beautiful world exists beyond it. Then Witold took the stand and started showing me the kind of pictures I thought I would never see. Images that didn't care about sharpness or technique, but that only cared about emotion. Witold's images are perfect in their beautiful imperfection - they portray life as it is, not as we see it in photographs. They are those kind of images that you get lost in, not caring about the details, because details are irrelevant - emotion is relevant. Witold Flak was one of those key persons who unknowingly gave me the will to persist.
When I got to know that Witold would be visiting the island once again this year, it was great news. I was curious to know how he had evolved, whether we would still see things similarly, or whether the world had changed him. What I discovered was a person that has evolved, but not changed. His work is slightly more controlled – quite probably the result of a more confident person behind the camera – but not lacking the emotion and mood that is his signature.
What I was even more curious about was a new name that would also be visiting the seminar. I saw Chiara Fersini's work on her website, but nothing prepared me for the actual encounter. Chiara started off as a painter, but, very much like Cindy Sherman, found the process to be too long - long enough to not be true to the original mood that engulfed her when she dreamt of the image. She moved to photography because it was the ideal medium for her - it would allow her to focus on the dream, rather than the process. Very much like Cindy Sherman, she is the protagonist of the majority of her work - how can I expect a model to express genuinely the mood and emotion that I am feeling? she would say. Her work is autobiographical, and that is where she differs greatly from Sherman, who portrays characters that are invented, that are not her. Chiara's work is not invented, it is dreamt.
Creating the photograph is for her the only way to get rid of the dream. Like a true artist, every piece of art is a piece of her – and it shows, or rather, it feels. Images are ripe with emotion, often something verging on the dark and sad, a sign that she is at her best when she needs to get rid of something – a common trait amongst artists. But in the sadness, we can see hope – a focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. In every artist there is an internal battle between the true self and the ideal, and the situation is quite ironic in itself. The artist will continuously search for that unification of self, where the truth is merged with the ideal, but the moment that happens there is no more need for art, and so the artist, given the choice, must choose between art or internal peace. This internal battle is one of the recurrent themes in Chiara’s work – something she is strongly aware of; a key driver of her art.
Putting Chiara and Witold in the same room, speaking after each other in alternation was a stroke of genius. Their styles are different, their characters are different, but somehow, somewhere in the ubiquity of art, they meet, they merge and agree. In their own ways, they are both artists. For them the camera is nothing more than a tool - it just happens to be the right tool for them. For them, photography - art - is a means of escape. It is a drug that hooks you because whenever you create a photograph you get that high that keeps you going, and as soon as you stop you're back to the place you need to escape from, and the only way is to create again.
Chiara and Witold are artists, although they might not readily admit it. They are the kind of artists we rarely see, because there just aren't that many of them around. They are two persons whom I know will impact my life, because they already have.
This article refers to an annual free seminar organised by the Malta Institute of Professional Photography in celebration of world photography day.