Hasselblad Master Michal Baran | Q&A
From computer science to garbage collector to self-trained photographer, Poland native Michal Baran has evolved into a digital editing guru known for his creative shoots and post-processing work. In 2018, Baran was selected as one of the 11 Hasselblad Masters, an eminent honor.
Appointed as the winner of the ‘Beauty & Fashion’ category, the Ireland-based photographer reveals stories within each layer of his edits. His Masters series experiments with technology, fashion, and meticulously constructed virtual reality. His collaborative work with Hasselblad is displayed in the biennial book ‘Hasselblad Masters Volume 6: Innovate.’ We got to speak to the Hasselblad Master, to ask him about his technique in creating a world of geometry and dark glamour.
Do you remember the first photo you ever took, or when your interest in photography began?
Oddly enough, I don't remember taking my first photo. Although my father was an amateur photographer, my true interest in photography started much later on in my twenties. I initially started shooting with film on a Russian Zenit camera. I came into my first digital camera experience while I was working as a graphic designer at an advertising agency. Right away, I knew this is the way to go for me.
When photographing people/subjects do you have a specific process, or is it different every time?
It really depends on what I shoot. Some shoots are pretty straightforward, like headshot sessions where you work with light and the subject. More demanding projects start with a lot of planning and the process can be very different from one to another. The more intricate the shoot, the more time it takes to plan.
You have a degree in computer science and you are a developer and webmaster. How has your background in computer science and graphic design informed your practice and what is it about photography that keeps you coming back?
I haven’t used my computer science degree for decades now. The reason for that is pretty simple. It wasn't all that interesting to me. Photography gave me much more creative freedom. I especially like when the art of photography works hand in hand with other visual tools. My background in graphics design plays a big part in my approach. I see myself as a visual artist who works with photography, but the camera is not the only tool in my toolbox. It always keeps things interesting for me as an artist. For some projects, I'm hired as a photographer. For others, I'm a Photoshop artist. This variety really makes all the difference to me. I don't get bored this way.
Can you talk a bit about what it means to be recognized by an iconic camera company like Hasselblad as a Master, and how your contribution for the book was developed?
The honor is really an extraordinary experience for someone who didn't see himself as a photographer not too long ago. It’s all quite surreal. Not many know this, but just a decade ago I was working as a garbage collector. It seemed impossible back then that I would find my way back to the visual arts. But that's another story entirely.
Being invited to work on Hasselblad Masters meant a lot as you can imagine and the theme of innovation was very inspiring. I knew it would give me a wonderful opportunity to showcase my entire skillset. Besides all the fun with planning, shooting, and editing in this project, I'm glad I had the opportunity ignite something special in the viewer’s imagination. I wanted to make people think about the coming era of Virtual Reality.
You have a very signature look. High contrast, bold features, dark yet glamorous. There’s an intensity to your photos. How did you first make those choices? What did you draw from for inspiration as you developed your style?
Truthfully, I don't really know where that signature look comes from. I’m not being coy with the answer. It’s just me. I think I create the kind of visual atmosphere that I am always drawn into. I can remember that I was always attracted to that kind of specific look for mood or lighting in films, music videos, computer games. Even interiors.
How has the Hasselblad influenced your work?
It is such an honor to receive recognition for my work, especially from such a prestigious institution as Hasselblad. I am very humbled to have my art included amongst some of the most powerful photography produced last year.
What is the most important part of a photograph for you? The light? The subject? The composition?
While all three are important on each’s own, the balance between them plays the most important role in the creation of photography. There must be a perfect symbiosis between all three to create something special. Even in photography genres like photo-reportage where the subject is obviously the most important, the composition and light are still the means that draw the attention of the viewer. Without proper composition and use of light, no one will look at the photograph.
What appeals to you about the editorial (fashion & beauty) side of photography as a medium?
Having full control over the lighting element was always a very attractive aspect in photography for me. The controlled setting offered by a studio is what got me into photography in the first place. I think many agree that light is the main ingredient to creating the perfect mood/atmosphere. Fashion and beauty offer a lot of opportunities to experiment with just the right amount of light. I think exploring that interplay is what first got me interested in this genre.
Do you think there has been a resurgence in film photography? Will film ever die?
I don't think film photography will die any time soon, but I don’t necessarily see a resurgence either. I think there will be always a place for film photography. The process delivers a very different experience and there are a lot of artists looking for exactly that. Many professional photographers think about their cameras as tools. I prefer the versatility of digital for my latest work.
There's an element of fantasy in your creative work. Where do you draw from for those compositions?
Everywhere. My inspirations come from so many different sources. Music, film, and video games all play an important role for me creatively. What I find the most interesting is that like many artists, I need to be inspired to create. In a world that’s so visually saturated, it’s becoming increasingly more challenging to come up with an original idea these days. For me, the most important aspect as an artist comes down to being satisfied with the realization of my creative vision.
Photos courtesy of the Michal Baran/ Hasselblad