Max Miechowski is a street portrait photographer based in London. Approaching a total stranger in the street and asking to take their photograph is a scary proposition for both parties. To gain their confidence and create a striking and soulful image is a skill that we chat about in this interview with Max.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first got started in photography.
After pursuing a career in music throughout my teens and early twenties, I discovered photography a little later in my creative journey – around the age of 24. When I began to fully understand what photography was capable of as a medium, it really blew me away! I decided that it was something I wanted to explore in a serious way and began trying to learn everything I could, both technically and theoretically. Around this time I did some traveling around Southeast Asia, which really gave me a chance to connect with photography and to see how it can be used as a tool to deepen my experiences of a new place and to connect with new people. I have been hooked ever since, and have spent the last four years trying to find new ways that photography can further my connection with the people and the world around me.
Who or what are your main sources of inspiration?
I have a lot of sources of inspiration, from photographers to writers as well as some really amazing people that I’m lucky to have around me. In terms of specific photographic inspiration, I try to keep up on what’s happening in the photo-world by buying photobooks, checking out blogs, going to exhibitions and looking through Instagram. There is so much great work out there at the minute, that my inspiration is coming from such a wide selection of photographers who are all making very different work – from documentary to fashion, to more unusual conceptual stuff.
In your opinion, what makes a good portrait? Do you need a connection with the subject to get the ‘best’ portrait? What works for you?
There are so many different things that can contribute to a ‘good portrait’. It might be the lighting, the subject, the concept or styling, the ‘decisive moment’, or the story behind the photograph. I think that any one of these elements can be enough to create a breathtaking portrait.
You shoot a lot of street portraits – a style that yields some spontaneous and amazing results – but I have always found the idea of asking strangers to sit for a portrait very intimidating. How do you make it work? How do you overcome that initial awkward interaction?
Street portraits are quite unusual in this sense, as you have to convince a complete stranger that you’re not a total weirdo in about 5-10 seconds, and then try and get them to understand the idea behind the work you’re making! Approaching people to ask them for their portrait definitely gets easier with time – the only way to get better at it is by getting over your fears and asking someone. They may say yes, they may say no, and it’s about being respectful of that decision and not letting that stop you approaching the next. The only consistent technique I use when approaching people, is to try and make them feel as comfortable as possible. So I’ll say what it is that drew me over to them, and why it would make a good photograph – it might be that there’s beautiful light on them, or that the colour of their jacket compliments the colour of the wall they’re stood in front of. You have to try and make it about something other than “You have an interesting face” or “You look like a character!” – It’s not a freak show, it’s about being respectful and working with the subject to make a nice image.
What is next for you? Are you working on any projects that you can tell us about?
A large selection of the portraits you see here are from an ongoing body of work about Southeast London. It’s currently in it’s very early stages, and I’m trying to just let it grow organically without thinking about it too heavily. I moved to SE London about a year ago, and this work is currently an opportunity for me to explore and understand people and cultures that exist here.
Who was the last photographer whose work made you stop in your tracks and just say “Wow”?
Just last night I saw a hand-made photobook that really left a big impact on me – It was an incredible project by Tamsin Green, called ‘Born of the Purest Parents’. The whole project was about salt – how it’s formed, and about own relationship with it. What really moved me about this work, other than the amazing images and the beautiful presentation, was that it helped to further my appreciation for what photography is capable of as a medium. It can be so diverse, and can cover so many subjects in an infinite amount of creative ways!
See more of Max’s work at:
All images copyright Max Miechowski.