If you haven’t heard of Paulina Otylie Surys yet, then we’re here to remedy the situation.
We first got wind of this Polish-born artist over at the photography website, Feature Shoot. One look at her arresting body of work (which could be described as a cross between the dreamy and the macabre), we knew we just had to get in touch with her.
Paulina has a magnificent body of work that unites photography with painting. Thanks to her unique creative process of taking still photographs (in 35mm or in large format), and then hand painting them using an array of toners, chemicals, waxes, inks, and dry dyes after they have been processed and developed, she gives life to pieces that are just visually arresting.
Real name and location?
Paulina Otylie Surys, based in London but currently working thoughout Europe.
How long have you been into photography, and why choose film?
I took my first photograph surprisingly late, when I was in my twenties. We did not have a camera in my mother’s house for [a] long, long time. When I was studying painting, I took up screen printing and began a series of peel apart, hand coloured Polaroids (with Polaroid 210 Landcamera). When I left Poland and came to London, I took a break from the creative arts as I needed some time to settle down.
This was the most frustrating time in my life, but the experiences I had were essential for me to become the person I am now.
When I properly got into photography, it took over from painting as my preferred artistic medium, but I quickly realised [that] I could combine the two by hand-colouring my images. I have since progressed from just using traditional negatives to working with metal and glass. No digital imagery can ever compare with the feeling of analogue. How the chemicals react with each other, with light; there is almost a supernatural presence in photographs taken on analogue cameras.
How about analogue cameras? Any particular favourites?
I also own a range of other cameras, from 35mm to large plates view cameras, some of them originate from the 19th century.
Describe your photography and/or shooting style.
As I have mentioned, due to my background as a painter, I decided to combine photography with painting, partly inspired by such wonderful artists as Jan Saudek, Hector de Gregorio, Gonzales de PalmaI who also work in other alternative techniques.
Can you tell us more about your work? What is the inspiration behind your themes and concepts?
Photography is a science examining both desirable and detestable objects. My works study the subject of the sublime, “a beautiful nightmare”. My work is inspired largely by classical paintings, literature, films, and my observations and thoughts on the world in general.
Why decide to combine photography with painting?
I came across hand-coloured photographs in my grandparents’ house as a child. As far as I know, it was a technique that originated in Japan in the 19th century. It soon became a very popular treatment for photographs across the world, probably due to a lack of alternatives (until autochrome was invented).
Even as a child, I was immediately fascinated by hand-coloured photographs; I saw stunning works by Jan Saudek, his hand colouring is unbelievably brilliant. This interest led to my first experiments with Polaroids and, eventually, to what I am doing now.
Unlike some photographers, who seem to use the medium simply as a method of decoration, I quickly realised how wonderfully conceptual it is. It completely denies the supposed convenience of photography over painting, especially when done in such an elaborate and painstaking way (with layers of paint) that the photographs are one off pieces like paintings. And yet, it is not simply the painting of them that makes my works what they are, I think my photographs could stand up by themselves, without treatment (I am not making poor photographs better by painting them).
What is also important for me is the process of changing the meanings inherent in the image. When the photograph is taken, the subject is transformed and captured. Then, once hand-coloured, the composition and mood changes again, transforming into something else. It is quite radical to see how the decorative, almost vulgar qualities that colouring brings to an image can effect it, something that was originally monochromatic.
It heavily effects the nature and meaning of the image, taking away or adding gravity to certain subjects.
What can you say is the most challenging part in your whole creative process?
All the parts of the process are different yet equally challenging. I enjoy all of them but I believe that the most important is inventing a strong brief.
Any tips and advice to our fellow analogue lovers out there?
I strongly believe in experimentation. When a project fails, it is the most useful and helpful lesson you can get.