Max Miechowski is a British photographer who focuses on exploring the complex relationships between individuals and their environments. Utilizing traditional analogue methods, he explores themes like community and identity in a poetic manner.
Could you share some insights into your transition from being a musician and music teacher to becoming a photographer?
My journey from music to photography wasn’t really a sudden shift, but more of a gradual process. Starting from the age of 15, I have been completely obsessed with music. I explored different genres, played in bands, recorded, and taught guitar at a college later on. I especially loved improvisation and jazz. I started to get into more experimental types of music that revolved around the guitar. I spent 10 years completely immersed in music.
However, there came a turning point in my life. I decided to leave the city I had been living in behind and move to London. I took off backpacking through Southeast Asia, leaving behind the framework and network of my musical career in my hometown. This transition period was crucial as it opened up a whole new way for me to express my creativity.
Photography offered an opportunity to channel my creativity in a different way. It allowed me to nurture my curiosity about the world, and observe and capture movement within a space in a way I hadn’t before. I found it incredibly exciting to exist within a space, framing it through the lens of a camera, observing the nuances and details, and transforming them into visual stories. This was much like the process of improvisation in music that I had always been drawn to, where I was creating and adapting in the moment.
Even though I transitioned to photography, I still have a deep love for music. I continue to play guitar, though mostly for personal enjoyment. While the mediums are different, both music and photography satisfy my urge to explore, experiment, and express. The same principles that guided me in music – improvisation and exploration – are the ones I bring to my work in photography.
As a self-taught photographer, what did you find most challenging about learning the craft, and how did you overcome it? How long was it before you felt confident in your skills, particularly in analog photography?
In a sense, I am not entirely self-taught. I did the first year of a BA program in photography in Leeds. The program provided me with a basic framework that propelled my self-learning.
One of the challenges I encountered was understanding what constitutes good photography. During this year of the course, the library introduced me to a diverse range of incredible photography. It greatly broadened my perspective on the potential of photography as a medium. This was both an exciting revelation and a vital step in overcoming my initial challenge.
Assisting in commercial studios and lifestyle photographers also contributed greatly to my learning curve. I found that this hands-on approach, coupled with my reading and research, accelerated my understanding and appreciation of the craft. Moving to London and working in different areas of photography, including events and commercial gigs, provided me with practical experience and further enriched my learning.
In terms of confidence in my skills, it built gradually over time. It was through surrounding myself with inspiring people from varying photographic backgrounds that I began to grow more comfortable with my own work. Some of them had successfully balanced commercial assignments with a personal practice, often veering into the documentary space. Their influence and guidance were invaluable. They taught me about composition, engaging with people, sequencing, processing images, and much more. I learned a lot from observing them. I tried understanding their thought processes, and seeing how they approached their work.
The contribution of the people around me in shaping my skills and instilling confidence in me can’t be overstated. They were truly the biggest influence on me. While I did a significant portion of self-learning, the idea that I am completely self-taught is not entirely true. My journey was a mix of structured learning, self-discovery, and mentorship. All of these aspects helped me overcome challenges and develop confidence in my skills as a photographer.
Do you believe your musical background has influenced your photographic style or approach? If so, could you provide some examples?
My musical background, particularly my experience in jazz and improvisation, has heavily influenced my photographic approach. For example, the principles of jazz, like working within the parameters of a standard tune and finding a unique path through it, translate well into my photography. I often start with the parameters of a geographical space, improvising within it and capturing whatever catches my attention. The images, although seemingly random at first, eventually interact and form a narrative, revealing something about the space, similar to how jazz musicians create music within the framework of known tunes.
Moreover, my fascination with harmony in music also reflects in my photography. I have always been attracted to dreamy chord sequences and suspended chords, and I find my photos tend to reflect that atmospheric, dreamy quality. The harmonic structures I used to work with in music – the ways in which different notes came together to form a unique sound – can be paralleled with how my photos come together to form a visual narrative.
So, while the process of capturing a photograph might be different from playing a guitar, the creative energy and atmosphere they evoke seem to exist in the same space for me. I see this similarity as an extension of my personal style across different mediums, a reflection of the same aesthetic principles whether it’s music, photography, or even painting.
How do you typically prepare for a shoot? Is there a certain routine or method you follow in your preparation?
My preparation for a shoot largely depends on the process I am following at that time. One method that I often use is exploring and photographing the area I live in, using my surroundings as a springboard for narratives and stories. It’s about finding beauty and interest in the familiar.
However, my approach has evolved somewhat recently. I now often conduct research into stories, places, or people that intrigue me, even though they might not always culminate in a specific project. This research process sometimes feels frustrating as it seems I’m perpetually searching, reading, and trying to uncover something that sparks my interest. Yet, even if these ideas don’t materialize into a project, they expand my worldview and feed my creativity, eventually leading me to something I hadn’t anticipated.
This research often feels like I’m looking for a framework, for parameters within which I can work. After much exploration, I usually find myself needing just to go out and take some pictures. And it’s surprising how all the background research and ideas seem to blend once I start shooting.
Not every place or idea I explore results in a project or a body of work. There are plenty of false starts where I visit a place thinking it could be promising, only to find I don’t feel inspired. However, when I land in a location that does resonate with me, I feel a strong sense of certainty. I know when I’ve arrived at a place that holds the potential for a project of photographs. It’s a clear feeling of being inspired and knowing that I’m in the right place at the right time.
Could you tell us more about your ‘Land Loss’ project?
The ‘Land Loss’ project, which I recently completed has been a work in progress since 2020. The project is based along the British East Coast, a region I am familiar with having grown up in Lincolnshire, located on the eastern side of England. The project will soon be published by Witty Books and there will be a solo exhibition coming up in London, Oct 12-20 at Have A Butchers Gallery in Dalston.
Initially, my work along this coastline concentrated on resort towns and coastal communities. But as I explored these areas, I noticed that on the fringes of these towns were smaller villages and groups of houses that were succumbing to coastal erosion and landslides, gradually disappearing into the sea. My attention then shifted to these places.
What sparked my interest in these spaces was a predictive map I found online which showed timelines for when these places would likely vanish due to erosion – five years, ten years, twenty years. These predictions became my framework for taking photographs, and I initially planned to focus predominantly on the disappearing cliffs, revisiting and rephotographing these spaces over time.
However, as the project evolved, it took on a more comprehensive nature. Driven by curiosity, I started engaging with the people living on these cliffs. As I talked to them, the project became something much deeper than I initially envisioned.
In essence, ‘Land Loss’ became a meditation on loss and impermanence. The constant change and inevitable disappearance of these landscapes served as a metaphor for the transient nature of all things. We often use photography as a tool to stop time, to capture and hold onto a world that’s always changing, always disappearing into the past.
The residents of these eroding coastal regions, confronted daily with the reality of their disappearing homes, seemed to have a unique relationship with time. They couldn’t ignore the impermanence of reality; they were living with it every day as their houses edged closer to the sea. The project, therefore, not only documented the physical landscape but also captured a unique human perspective on the nature of change, loss, and the transient quality of life.
What is it about Britain, its landscapes, its culture, or its people, that inspires you to capture it through your lens?
My interest in capturing Britain through my lens was initially sparked in a period of time when I did not have enough money or free time to travel. It kind of became necessary to make work closer to home. During this time I realised that there was something extremely beautiful about the place I was living in.
Working in Britain, or working locally, naturally brings a sense of introspection. It makes me wonder how I ended up where I am, and how I fit into the environment and community around me.
We’re living in a tumultuous time in British history where traditional concepts of Britain and England as an international superpower are beginning to crumble, and the illusion of these constructs is being dismantled. Yet, I find this to be one of the most exciting places to make work right now due to the metaphorical richness of this turning point. Whether it’s the death of the Queen, the Brexit saga, or the economic downturn, – with all of its problems, it’s complicated history, and uncertain future, it’s certainly not a boring place to make work.
In projects such as ‘A Big Fat Sky’, ‘Burgess Park’, and ‘Newham’, you capture people within their surroundings. What’s your usual approach when interacting with strangers, and what factors do you believe help establish connections with them, allowing them to feel comfortable in front of the camera?
When it comes to interacting with strangers for my projects, honesty and clarity are the main things I rely on. I start by explaining why I want to take their picture. I emphasize that the work is about the space they’re in and the people around them, rather than just focusing specifically on them. In projects like ‘Burgess Park’, I would tell people about how beautiful the park looks and how they are contributing to its charm, as they are relaxing or dancing. When people can see the context in which their picture will be used, they often respond positively. This approach helps to put the subjects at ease as it contextualizes their portraits, making it less intrusive.
Similarly, when I was taking pictures on the cliffs for my coastal erosion project, I would knock on doors and introduce my project as a way to start conversations. After spending some time talking with them, I would express my interest in making their portrait as a potential inclusion in the project. I always make sure to be very clear about the possibility of their images being shown on various platforms such as books, magazines, or online.
Most people surprisingly agree to this. After the shoot, I make sure to engage with them by sending the pictures. All in all my approach to interacting with strangers for my projects relies on being clear about my intentions. I explain the context in which their picture will be used, and maintain an open, honest dialogue. This allows them to feel comfortable and willing to be a part of the project.
Could you describe your post-production process? What proportion of your final work would you say is achieved during the shooting phase versus the editing phase?
The outcome of my work is certainly a combination of shooting and post-production. While I am out shooting, I’m always looking for particular types of light and colours that convey the atmosphere I want to capture in my work. However, my vision for each photograph doesn’t necessarily end when I press the shutter. I see post-production as a natural extension of the process and a great way to carve out the voice and tone of a body of work.
I don’t view photography as a medium strictly for accurate colour reproduction. Instead, I see it as a storytelling tool that’s grounded in reality but doesn’t have to strictly adhere to it. I feel entirely comfortable enhancing my photos slightly in the post-production phase to better convey the story or mood I want them to project.
When I talk about enhancements, these are usually subtle tweaks rather than dramatic alterations. For example, I might warm up the colors slightly, adjust the highlights, or make other minor modifications to bring the image closer to what I envisioned when shooting it. My post-production work does not involve creating composites or making drastic changes in Photoshop. The final product is still rooted in reality. So to answer your question about the proportion of my work that’s achieved during shooting versus editing, it’s hard to quantify because I see them as interrelated stages of a singular process.
Are there any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Currently, I am finalizing the ‘Land Loss’ project, while also working on some long-term projects. Alongside, I am researching new locations to photograph and heavily experimenting with my approach, including equipment and technical facets. This involves using different lenses, camera types, and exploring more possibilities in post-processing.
I feel excited to push my practice in new directions and to continue to experiment with how I make pictures and tell stories. I feel really happy with what I’ve made so far, but I’d be sad if my work looked the same and just continued down a similiar path in the future. I want to tune in with what is inspiring me at the moment and see where it takes me.
What advice would you offer to aspiring photographers?
I genuinely believe that the essence of becoming a good photographer lies in trusting and being true to yourself. Tune in to what stories resonate with you, what ideas spark your interest, and don’t be afraid if these are different from the norm. Be in sync with what excites you about the world and photography, and approach it with honesty.
Photography can hold different meanings for different people; its role in my life may not mirror its role in yours. As a professional photographer, I try to balance commercial and editorial work to generate income while also using photography as a medium for personal expression. It’s a truly joyful and liberating experience when photography becomes your primary source of income, as it gives you an opportunity to immerse yourself in it. But, it’s not essential. You can still make excellent work and have a different job. It’s just about determining what you want photography to be for you. Do you want to be a full-time commercial photographer, an artist, a teacher, a technician, a studio manager, a hobbyist? All of them are valid. I think having a rough idea of what you want can help you move forward, but you should allow things to unfold in a way that feels natural to you. I think the key really is just to remain inspired and connected to creativity in whatever form it comes to you in. I remember hearing once that the most creative thing you can do is how you choose to live your life. Whatever you decide to do with it, I would recommend giving it everything you can, really digging deep, having some fun and seeing what happens.