Walter Bakowski is a Melbourne-based artist specialising in photography, video and written word. We chat about Walter’s background, creativity and motivations and about the new book Manières D’être, images from which accompany this interview.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first got started in photography.
I was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, my parents are both practicing artists/creatives, so I was brought up with an appreciation for the arts and hence they sent me to a Rudolf Steiner School, where the idea of physical and mental creative practice was a key part of the curriculum. As I grew older surrounded by so many talented friends who had an ability to create realism on paper, I found myself frustrated at my inabilities to mirror reality with a pencil or paintbrush. Around this time it was coincidental that I picked up my first camera and discovered the ability to capture a moment of my perceived reality. The more I learned about photography as a medium, the more I discovered that one could use it to manipulate reality and this became a fascination that has continued to grow. We are now living in a post-truth age where the connotations of the photographic image are changing substantially from its use as evidence and documentation to a creative tool that is no longer bound to reality, and I am trying to take advantage in my work of this unique period in the history of the medium.
I think also having ADHD my mind is wired in a unique way, what people often perceive as a lack of focus, it is quite different. Having ADHD is a feeling of constantly being intensely focused on a multitude of things to the extent that it is hard to just let one come to the fore of my full attention. Photography allows me to take a piece of time and slow down my cognitive process. When looking at a single frame I have the time to let these different focuses resolve themselves and bring a new mindfulness to focus intently on just one detail that is constant and ever-present.
From where do you draw the inspiration for your photography?
My artistic practice comes from a fascination with the psychology and philosophy of the human being. I am driven to document these experiences because I believe that they cannot be fully explained in scientific or logical terms. There is a lot that we do not understand as a society and in my own search for enlightenment and knowledge through my art practice, I hope to uncover a new sense of meaning.
You are currently in your final year of an undergraduate degree in photography; what do you feel are the advantages of formal study of photography and how has it changed your approach to photography?
More than anything, the course I am undertaking at the Photography Studies College in Melbourne has taught me how to think as a practicing artist. My approach to the photographic image has become a more thoughtful and slow process, which gives me time to focus on the intention of every image I make and thoroughly research the concepts around which my work revolves.
We are featuring images from your book Manières D’être; tell us about how this book came about and the inspiration behind it.
Manières D’être was inspired by the philosophy of the education system I was raised with. It was not until after I finished high school that my desire for understanding why I was taught what I was came to prominence. In particular, one lesson stuck in mind, this simple piece of philosophical and existential thinking was this:
According to Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner our lives are lived in a repeating cycle of three states: Waking, where we experience the world through our senses and process this information around us in a streamlined way, Dreaming, in which our mind collages visuals and other sensory information from the waking state and pieces it together to create an alternate reality and Sleeping, the state where our conscious mind detaches from the body to roam the spiritual landscape of beyond.
Manières D’être investigates these ideas and emotive states of being in an abstracted narrative flow, focusing on both ideas of place and identity.
What is next for you? Do you have any new or ongoing projects that you can tell us about?
I am currently working on a project around the idea of the sacred and the other/unknown. This work is built on my personal search for spiritual enlightenment, acknowledging tradition and the theatrical and repetitive nature religious and spiritual practice.
Who was the last photographer whose work made you stop in your tracks and just say “Wow”?
In researching my current project, I came across the work of London based photography Dominic Hawgood. His series ‘Under the Influence’ investigates the trends within African evangelical Christian communities in London. The work consists of a series of staged graphical images focus on ideas around advertising and the theatrical nature of religious practice. The witnessing of spiritual exorcism was the catalyst which inspired his work, which combines photography, CGI, lighting design and installation.
See more of Walter’s work at:
All images copyright Walter Bakowski.