Tomáš Vostrejž is a photographer and graphic designer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. His work predominantly focuses on street photography and the characters who make the communities he documents. Tomáš recently took a trip to Morocco to visit a new skate park built by the Concrete Jungle Foundation who create positive spaces to help educate and support local children. During this trip he tested out the Atoll Ultra-Wide 2.8/17 Art Lens and talked to us about the benefits of shooting with this wide-angle lens.
Hello Tomas, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Hello, good people at Lomography. I’m a graphic designer/printer based in Edinburgh, who got more into film and street photography sometime around November 2019. This must be my three years anniversary of practicing curiosity, approaching people and scenes around me.
Tell us about this trip to Morocco, the photos you captured and what the skate project is about.
I discovered Concrete Jungle Foundation (CJF) researching what to do around Marrakech while visiting Morocco in June this year. I think it was through some street or skate photography related hashtags. I messaged them if I could get involved and that’s where it all kicked off, really.
CJF is a non-profit organization that builds skateparks in developing countries around the world, using skateboarding to educate and empower local children - which is a fantastic combination, if you think about it - because skateboarding community has always been about connecting various groups and things, creative souls, friends and strangers. And I’m a creative guy who also happens to write lyrics for a skatepunk band - it’s funny how the whole puzzle gets together.
This amazing skatepark was built in early 2022 by a team of 25 volunteers (including local youths) from 10 different countries and 4 continents, on the grounds of “Centre Fiers & Forts” orphanage in the village called Tameslouht. Following two skateparks already built in Peru and Jamaica. In respect to its cultural setting the skatepark design incorporates traditional Moroccan elements such as an arched doorway, ornamented rails, an olive leaf launch ramp and two large, buoyant palm trees.
In collaboration with both organizations I prepared a three day creative workshop for the kids, and that’s what the idea was - if I want to visit the place and eventually “take” pictures, it’s also nice to “give” something back. And it was an overall fantastic, humbling and pure experience. Many people would like to visit but it’s important to do something for the kids, show something new and exciting, because they are what this is all about.
I visited Tameslouht for the second time in September this year, just when Lomography asked me to try out the Atoll lens - and here are the pictures - streets and markets of Marrakech, Fiers et Forts skatepark and as a special surprise that I wasn’t expecting at all - Tbourida festival was taking place in Tameslouht during my trip. Normally a quiet place, it was flooded with people arriving to see this event, where teams representing various villages have to compete in the synchronicity of riding horses and shooting gunpowder muskets above their heads. And all of a sudden I was invited to join them, walking among horses’ heads and tails, checking out their guns, sharing Moroccan tea and food and nice conversations. What a week that was!
How did you get on with the Atoll lens?
It took me a few days to get my head around 17 mm focal length, especially on a Leica with crop sensor, but here’s a good tip: every time I’m trying a new lens, I take it to a cemetery. It may sound weird but it’s quiet there, with many statues, trees and other objects to practice on, and that always helps me understand the abilities of any lens or camera. Because when I’m supposed to take it to the streets, with an ultra-wide lens especially, it’s pretty much about understanding the distances, quick handling the manual controls and it also gets physically challenging in order to fill the frame with something interesting. Ultra-wide is definitely great for landscapes or tight spaces, my challenge was to get closer than I normally would.
Was it your first time shooting with such a wide angle lens?
I have been recently using a 28 mm lens which has taught me how to get (sometimes uncomfortably) close already. And now for the first time with 17 mm it was more like - if you think you are close enough, take at least one more step closer. That’s where the fantastic feature of the Atoll lens shines - you can close focus a rangefinder camera down to 25 cm (rather than usual minimum of 70 cm or even 1meter). The rangefinder focusing mechanism stops at 50 cm, but if you understand your positioning and get beyond that sweet spot - magic happens right there between 25-50 cm! It’s funny taking someone’s portrait while being literally in their face, but the results have so much character that it’s definitely worth it. No wonder you guys call it an “Art lens” - it really is a creative tool with so many ways how to use it.
Did it change the way you approach your style of photography?
The Atoll has not left my Leica for the whole month and a half, and even if I thought I might needed to swap lenses in situations I couldn’t reach the scene, I’d rather stick to this one and keep my mind set to how it behaves. Get closer and then closer again, see a bit more beyond your framelines, envision the frame based on what you’ve learned at the cemetery, ... so many factors that can affect the final photo.
But the funniest part from a street photography point of view, was making pictures without people noticing and yet “invading” their personal space. Like an invisible dance of strangers. Or a quick entering of someone’s world only to stop time for a fraction of a second to make a picture, and exit again. This is a fun and challenging lens, if you like challenge. At the same time - it can also be a very convenient and reliable tool, if that’s what you’re looking for (the hyperfocal point is very handy and f2.8 for lowlight or bokeh? oh yeah!). I have fallen in love with this new way of making pictures and it’s thanks to the Atoll 17 mm!
To see more of Tomáš's work visit his Instagram page.