Wojtek Stark is a German-based photographer specialized in street and portrait photography with a very unique approach. His first visit to India back in 2014 was his inspiration to start street photography. Portraits of Tribute to Humanity are amazing stories from his blog about India and his trip there. In his photographs, you see and feel that special connection he makes with every person he photographs.
We are happy to introduce his works to our readers.
Your interest in street photography came from a visit to India in 2014. What is special about India? Are people more open, is it easier to connect with them?
In my opinion, India is by far the most interesting country for passionate photographers. India is very big, has very different climatic zones and diverse flora and fauna, it is ethnically very interesting because of the many different ethnic groups and tribes, it offers the greatest range of contrasts worldwide, it has a very independent culture and much more. A visit to India and you somehow feel magic, you have to experience it, it cannot be put into words. For me, openness to foreign tourists is very relevant. In no other country have I received so much encouragement when I had a camera in hand.
What is your motivation? How do you feel when you are taking photos of people?
I enjoy portrait and street photography, that's what drives me. I am very interested in people, their diversity, and their intellectual wealth in general. I want to express exactly that with my pictures and share it with the world. The connectivity to the depicted person is very different, due to the very different people I meet. From my side, I feel connected to every single person I depict at the moment because ultimately I want to achieve the best possible result and present people as objectively as possible.
For a good portrait, communication and people skills are important, is it always easy for you to approach someone, did you have any bad experiences?
Unless it is a self-portrait, a portrait is always the image of another person. It always shows the depicted person from the perspective of the creator. However, several portraits of an artist are necessary to recognize his potential. Since this type of photography involves people, a certain knowledge of people and experience in dealing with people is very essential. It is often difficult to convince a stranger on the street, it often fails, but it shouldn't prevent a passionate portrait photographer from continuing his work. I haven't had any bad experiences in India because I can assess people well and can always achieve my goals. Now and then you meet passers-by who think they must intrigue themselves, but that's not a problem.
Tribute to Humanity is a huge project, how long did it take and how many photographs and stories were you able to do up to today?
I can't give you an exact number. I have already created an entire illustrated book that includes 77 stories. I'm working on another one. I don't see my entire work of portraits as a project, it is ongoing and unfortunately, the period in question cannot be defined in this way.
Is there something in the human's face that intrigued you to start doing portraits?
I've been very interested in faces for as long as I can remember. I drew them, painted them, and also created various busts (sculptures) until I switched to portrait photography. I find nothing more exciting than trying to read and interpret human faces because a face says a lot.
You love natural light, is that what gives a special mood/tone to your portraits?
Natural light is a technical component of portrait photography. Since I want to depict as realistic as possible, I hardly use any artificial light or reflectors. I like to look for settings that are playful with light because you can move a lot with light and shadow. I see natural light as a component of my photographic work and don't necessarily judge it to be decisive for my style.
I love the photo called a girl with the blue eyes (I'm not sure if that was the exact title), it portraits a girl with a rare genetic disorder-story below the photo is beautiful. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
I always look at the train stations when I'm in a city, including Churu, Rajasthan, where the photo was taken. There I saw a waiting family from which this child with the intensely blue-colored eyes stood out very much. I then approached the parents and asked if I could take a portrait of the child. They allowed me to do so immediately, so I turned to the child to get his positive attention. Since the whole family had been waiting a long time for a train in the midday heat and there was visible tiredness on their faces, I only took a snapshot so as not to put additional stress on the child. I know that this face could be photographed much better, but unfortunately, the circumstances weren't there at the time. I very much regret it, just as I regret not having given me the parents' phone number so that I could photograph the child in their hometown.
Freedom to stop wherever you want and stay as long as you like is something that not everyone can afford, please share some anecdote from your journey with a motorcycle.
I will never forget my first overnight stay in Manipur. I passed the state border in the late afternoon. Since I would be reluctant to drive at night on the poor roads, I was looking for accommodation. There are hardly any on this route and if so, they are hardly distinguishable from other huts. They are used exclusively by local travelers and they know exactly where they can find it. Luckily google had Hotel Galaxy on the track in Sinzawl and I chose it as the destination. I reached the place after about an hour's drive in the light of day and I was sure happy about it. But that should change soon. At first I was quartered in a kind of barn, with a view of a pigsty and a toilet house, and asked for 0,70 Euro. The extremely cheap tariff did not surprise or delight me. I already suspected that staying in this place would not be fun, but I also knew that I had no choice but to stay one night, as I would not drive into the passing night and through a wasteland. After removing my most basic personal belongings, including the charger for my cell phone, I realized that this room had no power connection at all. It was a very frustrating experience, especially since my power bank was empty and I had to rely on my mobile phone for the onward journey. What to do? I decided to share my concerns with a small group of unfriendly people who were in the largest room, which was their living room, bedroom, and kitchen at the same time. So I figured out that I appeal to those responsible and not guests. It was like that. The nicest-looking man in the group apparently understood my simplified English and immediately went outside, talking about something I did not understand. I decided to follow him and watched him rummaging in a big wooden chest outside. As he did so, he kept talking without looking at me. After a short while, I realized that it was a clear attempt to speak English with me, but unfortunately his pronunciation was so unclear and most of the words more of a fantasy than a given. But since I was dependent on his help, I tried desperately to hear what he wants to convey to me as a consensus. As much as I struggled, I did not understand anything. But then suddenly the solution came to light as he pulled a sizeable roll of insulated wire out of the box and held it in front of my nose, smiling. Then he repeatedly said something I did not understand, ran off and disappeared around the corner. I did not feel that it would make any sense to follow him, so I went back to my room and stared at the three free beds, which were somehow cobbled together, same as mine, causing me back pain just because I looked at them. At the same time I thought of the wire role and what happened with it. I quite rhymed that the coil of wire should bring light into the gloomy room. I opened the window hatch when I heard the voice of the same man outside who spoke to me earlier. He talked gibberish again, but looked at me this time. His arm was stretched out in my direction and in his hand was a wire end, which he pressed into my hand and probably instructed me to hold on to it, but I only interpreted that. True, because when I had the future socket in my hand, he ran again, with the other end of the wire in his hand and began to attach it to the toilet house. Obviously, there was the next source of electricity. However, I had great concerns that this project would be successful because the toilet house was located about 50 meters from the shack in which I resided. But lo and behold, it worked flawlessly at the end, after the good man had connected the free-swinging line over 50 meters in length in my room as well. The way of connecting in the room itself was a lethal affair but you do not have to touch that, quite simply. After all, I had electricity available and that made my heart beat faster. Unfortunately not for long. Another man entered the room a moment later, without first noticing in any way. I found it very rude, but did not tell him. He immediately sat down on one of the wooden beds. He spoke a reasonably understandable English with a clear Asian accent. I did not like his appearance from the start, and when he ran into me with questioning input, I was a little startled. Why did this man want to know so much about me? I had briefly dismissed him and asked him to leave. He stopped asking questions but did not budge. Instead, he told me harshly that I might even get roommates, because I would have paid only one bed and three others were finally free. However, since I really appreciate a private atmosphere and he probably recognized my disappointment in the face, he quickly asked me if I wanted to book the other three beds as well. I did not want to but I had no choice and it was not really much money and so I agreed and handed him 150 Indian Rupees. As soon as he let the money disappear in his pocket, he said once again unfriendly that probably the whole assembled crew from the kitchen would leave the house for several hours, because there was something to celebrate. So I realized that I should stay alone in the house that evening until they come back, which was no problem for me. Then he went on to say something about evil neighbors and strange people who would probably roam the area. Although I did not get scared of that, but I did not realize what this man would probably say to me and I did not ask further, because I just wanted him to leave. He did so, having the looting money in his pocket and left the dusty room. Shortly thereafter, all other residents of the Hotel Galaxy left the area and I stayed alone. So far so good. After some time, I felt urgency, went out of the room and went through the kitchen to leave the house, because the toilet was outside, about 50 meters away. But when I opened the front door, I realized that it was locked and I was locked up in the house. I did not expect that. However, as I was alone on the whole yard, I decided to use the window hatch for my needs and was watched by grunting pigs. When the hosts returned, I already slept on all four booked beds in turns until the early morning.
Manipur story is from Wojtek’s blog: https://www.wojtekstark.com/post/deep-india-story
You've visited many holy places during your trips, what were the most powerful experiences that touched you deeply and maybe changed something in you?
I have seen many locations in India, but these are not my focus, but people and encounters. However, there are places in India where I've felt very comfortable and which have a special attraction for me. These include the main crematorium (Manikarnika Ghat) in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, Triveni Sangam in Prayagraj (formerly Allahabad), the temple complex at the place of initiation of Buddha, in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, the Mantalai Lake near Kasol, Himachal Pradesh, and a certain stretch of the route Leh - Manali Highway that runs through the middle of the Himalaya Mountains. An experience at the last-mentioned place is described in my blog. I think this was both my biggest challenge so far and a noticeable change in my person.
What are your plans? How can people apply for your workshops? We now live in challenging times, have you consider online workshops or classes?
My plans were completely turned upside down by the global COVID 19 pandemic and so I cannot make any reliable statements as to when and whether I will be offering street photo workshops again. All news about my work will continue to be published in my Instagram feed and on my website. My current plan is to return to Germany in November to continue working intensively on my book, as I still have to edit all of the images. This will take some time as I only want to publish my best pictures in the best possible quality. The viewer should be able to see the fascination of India clearly, and I'll work on that.
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Interview: Lea Kosovac, TAT editorial team