Anna McNay: What are the key concerns or themes running through your practice?
Marta Kochanek: I think the people I work with are the source of all my themes and it really depends on what aspect I am interested in – in particular, time and place. One day hidden emotion can be the theme and the next day I might be more interested in dialogue between the sitter and myself and that can then become my need to portray it.
AMc: How much a part of your work does self-portraiture form?
MK: Years ago, when I didn’t feel comfortable at all in front of other people, I tended to turn the camera on myself. Also, during my travels, there were times when I found myself on my own in a hotel room, staring at things, analysing the craftsmanship of the furniture I was surrounded by, etc. I then had that irrepressible need to immortalise myself within a space I would probably never visit again. I think there was a time in my life during which I felt lonely and the only positive thing I was able to do was enter into a monologue, working on my self-acceptance. Looking back, I can describe the experience as something almost therapeutic, as it was the only time I – with no double – dedicated to myself alone. I kind of miss that but, as soon as I managed to put things right in my head, I was able to make a step forward to face the joy of working with other people. I opened up new opportunities to discover other people’s beauty as well as to build long-term friendships.
AMc: As a woman looking at a woman (herself – but perhaps also other women, if you also make portraits of others), how aware are you of the conventions and load of the male gaze? To what extent do you work with or subvert these?
MK: I am aware, yes, but personally I don’t really see any difference between male or female sitter unless I have a woman wearing a tight dress. I would not pose her the way I would pose a man. Otherwise there is no difference here as, for me, it is more about looking for something that shows personality and not gender.
AMc: How – if at all – does your sexuality influence or shape your work, especially your self-portraits?
MK: I believe my sexuality influences not only my work but also most parts of my life, decisions I make, people I work with or hire to join my crew. I am incredibly comfortable with my sexuality, with who I am, and I love being lesbian (I’d be the first to stand up and join that line). I have learned how not to be bothered if someone has a problem with this as I am perfectly fine!
AMc: As a woman who likes women, looking at women, do you feel your gaze is different from the gaze of a heterosexual woman artist? In what way?
MK: I don’t quite know what the creative process of other artists – both hetero- and homosexual – is and whether there is room for desire, physical attraction or even romance, but, in my work, my goal is to concentrate more on spirit and so I don’t recognise if there is a man or woman in front of me, gay or straight, etc. I act with premeditation and I block my mind from seeing anything attractive in the naked men and women I work with. I see them as sculptures.
For my Cognitive Bodies series, I shot quite poetic nudes of both genders and there was a mix of people in terms of sexual orientation. I don’t know how a heterosexual artist would immortalise it, how different it would look, or if my being a lesbian makes a difference.
AMc: Can you say something about the work you are submitting for this exhibition? How are you seeking to portray yourself? What are the key aspects you’re drawing forth? Physical, psychological, sociological…?
MK: The photograph was taken with a digital camera in my studio in Birmingham, where my dream of having my own space had finally come true. I believe it to be psychological aspects that are the motor behind my turning the camera on my face or body. This can include my being happy, emotional, reflective, sad or lonely (not unhappy though). I think some sort of emotions are necessary to either paralyse me or motivate me into spending time alone with myself. It’s probably when it’s too loud in the outside world.
AMc: Do you seek to portray yourself as object, subject, or both? How does this dynamic come through in your work?
MK: Both, I think, as I have to analyse my body as an object and my emotions as subject.
AMc: Do you work in media other than photography? If so, how does the gaze offered by the camera differ from the viewpoint obtained through other media? How does the experience as artist differ? Does it make the act of looking easier or more difficult? If you don’t work with other media, what is it about the gaze of the camera that attracts you to working with photography?
MK: I only work with photography as I can see the result straight away. I would be very impatient if I were to paint myself. I don’t think I would be able to maintain the same mood from the start to the finish of the creative process.
AMc: What one work of art, depicting a woman as object – or subject, have you been most influenced/impressed by and what is it about this work that captures you?
MK: The 2000 Pirelli Calendar by Annie Leibovitz was my turning point in how I started analysing the pure art of the nude and seeing women as subjects and objects. I studied the original copy for hours. I was working for Annie as an archivist at the time and the fascination made an impact in my later work. It’s when I understood that the nude is about searching for beauty and not any sort of attraction.