New York based Polish photographer Pola Esther tells magnificent stories through her lens. Having started with the theatre back home, she switched to photography, which became her primary interest and an unstoppable passion. Her freedom is what makes her photographs so intimate, sexual and fun. Experimentation, improvisation and constant shooting is what Pola appreciates the most and by observing her works we instantly become part of her wonderland.
What’s your story?
Pola Esther is sort of a superhero version of herself, who lets her be anybody she wants to be and do all the impossible and inappropriate stuff. Nevertheless, there are a couple of real facts about her. I was born and raised in Poland. The legend says that I was kissed by the Pope and that event made me who I am. That’s actually a true story. I went to the University where I studied Film and Theatre and started to do an experimental movement theatre when I was very young, so performance was my first creative activity. Ten years ago I moved to the States and that somehow shed my Polish skin, my way of thinking and my patterns of action. I had to reinvent myself. I started an internship at the Theatre Center in Connecticut, but it was diverse from what I was doing back in Poland. At home, I was part of a collective, I was used to team work, I could express original ideas, I could improvise. But in Connecticut it was way different. It was hard for me to continue theater there. This is where a camera came to the scene thanks to which I could create my own spectacle. Then I started an artist residency and met artists with whom I could work creatively, I could watch them, and all those creative relationships formed my passion for photography. My art consciousness became stronger and I felt more free. Later I moved to New York where I started extending my visions.
Tell me about your first steps in photography.
Photography is my weapon of choice. I do not have a traditional camera girl education. I learned lot from watching, working with others and by constantly practicing. I come from a town with great filmmaking traditions and was exposed to ‘fine art cinema’ from an early age. We had very few channels on TV back then and around midnight I could watch adult programs like fornication, not appropriate for a young Polish catholic girl, but those films were beautiful. So often my approach is very cinematic. I’m not a technical photographer, the energy of the moment and of a person are the most important aspects to me while shooting. The camera is just a tool, I don't really care if it’s digital or analog, if it’s instant, expensive or cheap, as long as it lets me achieve what I want to achieve. I started taking photos, because I needed a new outlet for my creativity, because it was the fastest way to continue who I was in a new world.
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What do you think about New York as a photographer?
I think NY is everything, there is place for everyone. This city gives lots of opportunities and is constantly stimulating imagination, which sometimes becomes exhausting. I like its diversity, for example, you can see in the streets or in the subway the best dressed person ever and then the worst dressed person ever, simultaneously. The city is very bipolar, pretty and ugly, good and bad. All the energy and the aesthetics intersect with each other and I love that. I’m very inspired by humans of New York. I feel lucky to live in this city and appreciate meeting people who become my muses, heroes, comrades, partners. For photographers NYC is a visual feast, networking party and a cultural garden.
In your series of photographs called Mutual Attraction, you are putting diverse images together and creating a visual haiku. What’s your message? 
A single photograph tells a certain story; I like to expand that story by adding a second image. I play with these two images, juxtapose them, connect them and check if they are able to attract or distract one another. I often change the positions of the images. The dialog I’m attempting to initiate is supposed to provoke a more abstract thinking about common objects or situations. I try to transition them into a fantastic universe. I want to share my fascination by pairing images with the elements of nature like flowers, fruit, vegetables, trees, animals with images containing human forms that can express human desires, hidden intentions, intimacy and sexuality. I was very happy to exhibit these series in Gallery Opus in Lodz, Poland, last June.
Take us behind the scenes of K-Pop band Big Bang photoshoot.
It was super fun. Working on this project with Dikayl Rimmasch was an extremely productive experience. I absolutely admire his constant creativity, mega passion and super skills. We were making a film for a Big Bang concert tour in LA. It was all about explosions in the desert, car chases, giant aquariums, including James Goldstein’s mansion. Apart from shooting, I was involved in styling and creative communication, my photos were sort of behind the scenes material. I concentrated on badass female characters of the film, I generally focus on feminine energy in my work so it was a natural angle for me. In addition, hanging out with fabulous women is always a plus and much fun (laughs).
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Nudity is pretty prominent in your work and especially in the series of Erotic Exercise, where you depict a nude female body. Have you ever experienced any censorship?
To be sincere I have not experienced any censorship. I often contribute with Purple Magazine, where I am given all the freedom I need to represent everything I wish to. My presence on social media is also not humongous so censorship didn’t get me yet. Though I have experienced certain kind of ‘self-censorship’, when people are censoring elements of their body. It could be intimate parts like breasts, penises, vaginas or even the noses, arms and hands. I try to be as subtle as possible while shooting and help people to express themselves while posing in front of my lens. Although, it might get wild. The project Erotic Exercise started from my fascination with Bruce Nauman’s piece Body Pressure (the title Erotic Exercise is a phrase taken from his text) and motivated me to create a short photo story on erotic body movement which I’m planning to continue.
Do you think your images are provocative?
I want them to be a little bit provocative but I don’t necessarily need to provoke. I hope this makes sense. I call it delicate provocation (laughs). For the photo projects, I usually invite people who are willing to share their intimacy and those who are totally okay with the nudity. I sense that they want to and need to express themselves in a naked way. Some bodies perform freely and some are more shy. I’m not the predator, I never push them, there always is a mutual understanding on the shooting scene. It’s a beautiful experience. I often call it a photo date, it’s like meeting with somebody and having a very intimate conversation, seductive and playful. It can be very liberating as well.
Do you have any particular methods while shooting?
Mostly, the shooting process depends on what I am working on. I usually follow a certain concept or an idea, like in case of Erotic Exercise, but often I have to shoot in locations I am not familiar with, where I mostly improvise and try to use the energy and the light. I like spontaneity but I also care for existence and composition of the elements in the frame. What I try to do first is to find a perfect spot and feel how the person wants to represent his or herself and try to listen to their body language but also see them in my own way. If there is a more precise assignment and if I’m working with a bigger team, lots of stuff are discussed and planned beforehand.
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You often incorporate your photographs into art installations. How do you do that?
I start with selection of images; I will create a main line of narration by using those images. After that I decide how to display the photographs and think of how they could be more interactive with the viewers. By incorporating photographs in the installations I try to make them more dimensional. My last installation was in Berlin at Kleistpark U-bahn Station with a project called Platform Berlin. For the exhibition I grouped my photos in triptychs which rotated three times, they were accompanied by sculptural pieces composed of found objects which extended their meaning. The project was displayed in a glass box usually used for advertisements and was accessible for 24 hours for anyone. The project was called EYE.EAT.YOU and it concentrated on the idea of lust and desire expressed by a suggested act of consumption. I set up a small table with two chairs, plates and silverware, ‘main course’ was changing, it included gold fish in a bowl (which got confiscated by German animal rights activists, even though it was fed and looked after every day) and red nail polish among others. I intended to evoke physical sensations.
What’s Next?
I am continuing to work on my existing projects and am planning to do more collaborations with other female artists who I find to be amazing. They are real rock stars and idols. Power of sisterhood is very important to me. I am also hoping to make a short film. Additionally, this fall I will be having a show at Florence Griswold Museum in Connecticut, called Room of Her Own. Ballad of Ruth Coxe, which is an exhibition of photographs and installation elements telling a story of an extraordinary and controversial woman from a small town who is a natural feminist, a dreamer, an entrepreneur, adventurous, independent and a strong character. I’m thrilled to tell her story.
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