Interview with Jan Cieslikiewicz
Well, I think I’m still figuring this out. I am a 37 years old Polish guy based in New York. Currently, I split most of my time between various entrepreneurial business projects and my photography practice. Growing up, I dreamt of being an Olympic swimmer, and there was a time when it looked like maybe I would have a shot at fulfilling my ambition. I came to USA to swim and study at Harvard, majoring in Applied Math. After, I took the default route for someone with my background at the time, and spent 6 years working as an options trader on Wall Street. When I left that world, I fully embraced photography and completed a full time one-year program at International Center of Photography here in New York. I came very close to thinking of myself as an artist then. Now I think of myself as a wanderer.
When I first got seriously interested in photography, I had my camera with me everywhere I went. The photographs shown here are from that period. Many of them are from New York. I am not shooting like that at the moment. Now I mostly only photograph when I go away on longer trips. I like travelling and do it a lot. Some of these trips are dedicated photography trips, where I typically choose a remote or intriguing location and just go searching for images, often by myself. But many of the trips are related to other things that I am doing. For example, I am involved in the production of an art-documentary film and we went to Siberia and Ethiopia for it. I was able to take quite a few pictures for my own photo projects while there. I’m also quite a dedicated kitesurfer and snowboarder and those sports often take me off the beaten path.
There are no rules for when. Once I get into photo mode, it can last for days and I will be photographing non-stop the entire time. Nowadays I choose when to go into this type of mode, but when I first started I wasn’t able to set boundaries. As much as I loved having my camera with me everywhere and really enjoyed this, looking back I think I was going a little crazy. I shoot mostly digitally, so you literally can take a hundred versions of the same photograph, and I would occasionally do that. At some point I realized the camera started weighing me down a little bit in normal life. I was constantly hunting for images. I look at and interact with the world differently when I photograph, and although I learn a lot from it and need it, it’s not the only way I want to look at things around me. Sometimes it’s nice to just observe or participate, and not try to capture anything. Other times I like to get lost in my own thoughts and not be present. I can’t do that when the camera is around my neck.
Mostly the mystery, and the absurd. Ideally some combination of the two. I will make a bold statement; the world and life make absolutely no sense. If someone wants to disagree with me on this, I will gladly get into a heated debate on this topic. That belief underlies all of my work. The way it manifests itself varies from picture to picture, or edit to edit, but it’s always present. Sometimes I want to expose it, or enjoy and embrace it. Sometimes it’s more about “ignoring” or coming to terms with it.
So I can get into exhibitions, have my work published and be celebrated. Just joking. But I have spent a large part of my life in very accomplishment-driven, and quantifiable environments. I came to art largely to escape that type of mentality. Turns out it’s not so easy. It’s the nature of photography that one needs an audience, and of course I want my work to be received well. Because of this, I constantly have to remind myself what my real motivation for doing this is. I have mostly stopped posting on social media, as it was bringing out the wrong instincts in me. In the end, I feel for me photography is a sort of a unique tool to find more meaning, and to learn about and engage with the world and myself.