When it comes to photography, Martin Stranka is a game changer. His stunning works capture imagined scenes that twist our perceptions of reality. Each print appears as a film still from the most enchanting movie, or a window onto some parallel universe where everything and anything is possible. It's difficult to imagine how a medium so rooted in the realm of reality can yield such fantastical scenes. Read on to hear Martin's inspiring story and to discover how he makes his works (there's a method to his magic).
What are the concepts behind your work?
I am always trying to capture quite elemental and basic emotions and feelings; the internal monologues we have with ourselves. I see photography as the etching of a unique space between balance and serenity. I believe my images exist in that narrow window, those few seconds that exist between dreaming and awakening. I create images that are like film stills walking the line between fantasy and reality.
Tell us about the processes you use to create your pieces - is there a lot of post-production involved?
I never usually reveal my intentions before a shoot, simply asking my models if they want to collaborate with me so that they don’t bring any preconceptions to the shoot. I love to create spontaneity, relishing the magic of the very moment I eventually tell them the scene I have imagined. Sometimes I even keep the background story completely to myself – my concepts can be very personal.
Some photographers tend to storyboard, and while I think this is great for a commercial shoot, I prefer to only take the photographs when I feel the need to express myself. And yes, post-production is an integral part of it all. Sometimes there is little, and sometimes a lot – it depends. I see it merely as a tool.
How do you come up with the ideas for your photographs? Where do you seek inspiration?
Over 10 years ago I lost someone very close to me, and I was looking for something to act as an emotional valve that would help me escape, and photography became my outlet.
Music is a huge source of inspiration too. I can’t imagine creating my work without the music of Sigur Rós or Lisa Gerrard. It’s a never ending stimulus.
I also find inspiration in the everyday; moments that stop me and make me think, like the smell of autumn in those weeks when nature is preparing for its long sleep, or dust grains floating in the light of sunset (I could stare at that forever). It might sound quite silly and childish, but I love these daily moments. Life is endless inspiration.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I don’t remember the exact moment. It was more like a natural progression to becoming an artist. I started taking photos and after few years people started showing interest in my work. I felt that I want to focus on art more and more, so I finally left my office job 6 years ago. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
What has been the greatest impact on you as an artist to date?
I would say it’s the personal messages and emails I’ve received from people around the world. Some of them give me goosebumps when I read them. Whether it’s someone telling me how my work has changed their lives, or the fact that I've inspired someone young to study photography after they visited my exhibition.
I once had an email from a man who was going blind who told me that my work had made his day, and that he was so glad to have discovered it before he lost his sight forever. I cried when I read this. I also heard from a teenage girl from Israel a few years ago, who was living in this warzone who told me how much safer my photographs made her feel. I sent her a print. These are priceless moments that mean so much to me and spur me on.
Tell us about your studio space - what do you love about it?
I live in my studio space. It’s in the centre of Prague with a view over the park. It is not a huge space but it’s big enough because I take most photos outdoors anyway. My favourite thing in my studio has to be my tree stump coffee table, and all the large scale prints I have lying around.
Do you have a favourite or most meaningful photograph?
‘Until You Wake Up’ is my strongest shot so far. The crashed car, wintry landscape and deer remind me of the accident that inspired me to start shooting, when I lost my closest friend. I have had this scene in my head for such a long time. It’s very personal and symbolic to me, even though taking photos in -15° celsius was out of my comfort zone, but I think this is when the magic happens.
Where’s your favourite travel destination?
I just came back from London and I really love this city. I love the cultural vibe there. It is a magic city that never sleeps. I love the art community, the diversity of population, and the right attitude to all minorities. It’s such a shame that so much tragedy has happened recently, but I always believe that love really wins.
Best advice you’ve ever been given as an artist?
Be yourself: loved by a few and misunderstood by the rest.