Fir­ing the kiln

Pho­tog­ra­pher Tomek Friedrich dis­cusses the many lay­ers em­bed­ded in his project to cap­ture pot­ter Michael O’Don­nell at work

The Photographer's Mail - - Personal -

Pot­tery re­quires pa­tience. Not only does the for­ma­tion of the cre­ation take some time to per­fect, but the ac­tual fir­ing and set­ting of the art­work can also take hours, fol­lowed by days for cool­ing. But pa­tience is some­thing that seems to be found in abun­dance in both pho­tog­ra­pher Tomek Friedrich and pot­ter Michael O’Don­nell.

The pho­tog­ra­pher and the pot­ter first met around 20 years ago. O’Don­nell and Friedrich lived one street away from each other — they still do — and it was dur­ing a stu­dent project of Friedrich’s that their paths crossed.

Friedrich had de­cided he wanted to shoot photos of pot­tery, so the pair got talk­ing about what O’Don­nell did, and Friedrich was in­vited to his work­shop. “He opened his place and told me to come along when­ever I felt like — he al­ways lets me know when he is fir­ing. Grad­u­ally, I be­came more in­volved and cu­ri­ous about his work,” says the pho­tog­ra­pher.

O’Don­nell in­tro­duces themes of en­vi­ron­ment and men­tal health in his work, ideas that Friedrich was in­ter­ested in por­tray­ing in a pho­tog­ra­phy project he worked on for an en­tire year, start­ing in 2014 and com­plet­ing it in Oc­to­ber of 2015.

He ex­plains, “[O’Don­nell] does ex­hi­bi­tions in New Zealand, and some­times mul­ti­me­dia projects fea­tur­ing danc­ing and singing, which aim to raise aware­ness around the en­vi­ron­ment and men­tal health. It’s proven that when peo­ple live away from na­ture, they’re more likely to

suf­fer de­pres­sion. Our world is get­ting worse in terms of pol­lu­tion and mov­ing away from na­ture, and when we move away from na­ture, we move away from our­selves.”

To por­tray this tran­si­tion in the men­tal­health spec­trum, Friedrich has ideas sur­round­ing the vis­ual de­pic­tion of the change from dark to light (or from de­pres­sion to com­ing out the other side).

“I had some idea that when I put every­thing to­gether — I was think­ing per­haps in a small book — the pho­to­graphs would be or­dered from black-and-white images to colour in or­der to rep­re­sent the emerg­ing from a dark de­pres­sion to a big colour pool. I was hop­ing to also have an ar­ti­cle pub­lished about my project — but I’m not a good writer,” Friedrich says, with a laugh.

Look­ing at Friedrich’s pho­to­graphs, the documentary el­e­ment of the se­ries shines through. The images are ap­proach­able and in­trigu­ing, some­times mak­ing you do a dou­ble­take as you see more in a pho­to­graph, some­thing you hadn’t no­ticed dur­ing your first view­ing. Per­haps that comes about be­cause Friedrich was try­ing to cap­ture more than just a per­fect im­age.

“A lot of pho­to­graphs aim to cap­ture per­fec­tion. I was hop­ing to cap­ture a bit of both the feel­ing and the at­mos­phere — I wanted to cap­ture the essence of it. You have to look be­yond a lit­tle bit and look at what’s in­side — I was aim­ing to present the di­vine. It’s not easy, but if the viewer gets re­minded of [the] di­vine in them­selves, then that’s great,” Friedrich says.

He has pre­sented O’Don­nell with the images, and the pot­ter wants to in­cor­po­rate the pho­to­graphs into one of his mul­ti­me­dia shows, which is still at the plan­ning stage.

Now that this project has come to an end, Friedrich is mov­ing on to new plans for his per­sonal work, which he hopes will see him travel the length and breadth of New Zealand ex­plor­ing our beau­ti­ful land­scapes, with the goal be­ing a book show­cas­ing the pho­to­graphs cap­tured on his trav­els.

“I want to show the sa­cred places of New Zealand and the depth and essence of those places. I think I’m look­ing at a three- to four-year project. So far, I’ve been to Taranaki, Ton­gariro, and Ruapehu. I’ve been up the North Is­land and down the South Is­land, but I want to ex­plore more and do more re­search and ask the iwi of each area their take on it,” he says.

You can see more of Friedrich’s work and fol­low his land­scape-pho­tog­ra­phy jour­ney at artzen­tao.co.nz.

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