Elzbieta Petryka is a Tango Photographer from Warsaw, Poland. The basis of her photography is reportage photography.
Where did you grow up?
In Warsaw. I have never lived in any other place.
How would you describe your style?
When shooting I focus on capturing a beautiful piece of tango reality. I never create the scene. But for me, the reality of the picture is just an intermediate product. At the post processing stage I’m trying to create or increase the painterly feeling of the photo. For me it brings out the beauty of the moment even more. I would describe my style as ‘painterly tango poetry’ 🙂 My first choice is always color photography. I am converting images to black and white only if I do not like the color version. I shoot at the milongas, but most of my images are portraits of individual couples. I try to capture the intimacy of the dance. After all, each couple is a distinct universe. That’s why I like single spotlights on the milongas, ones that bring only a single pair out of the darkness. I like strong contrasts between light and dark. Regarding composition, I try to adhere to the “old school” rules.
What do you do when you are not taking pictures?
I dance. When I do not dance, I earn a living by improving business processes.
‘Milonga El Infierno (The Hell) in Cracow, Poland’ – For me this is an example of how poor lighting conditions can be used in favor of interesting visual effect.
Why did you start doing tango photography?
Being part of the tango community changes people. People become more open to their inner creativity. Under the banner of tango, people begin to pursue other passions that they lost in everyday life. Some are returning to singing or playing instruments, some find themselves as the organizers of tango events. So it was with me. As a teenager, I painted pictures. Now, after two years of dancing and watching dancing people, I felt the need to capture the captivating beauty of tango. One day, about a year ago, I just took the camera and started to take photos.
Why do you love being a photographer?
The fact that I can show people how beautiful they are.
What was your first camera?
Panasonic Lumix DMC LX7. This is a compact camera with a bright lens. I highly recommend it to anyone who has never worked with photography, but really wants to take pictures at the milongas. It is perfect to begin with.
What type of camera do you have now?
The same. 98% of my photos are taken with this camera. 98% and not 100% – only because for one of the tango events I borrowed a professional camera from my friend. To be honest, since then, I constantly think about buying a full frame camera for myself. Unfortunately, the equipment I dream about costs as much as a small car… and I always have other more important expenses…
‘Rumor has it’ – I like the contrast between the focused lady in the foreground and the ladies chatting in the background. Of course, I do not know what the ladies are talking about 🙂 They were probably talking on very serious subjects and not gossiping at all. This is an obvious example that photography lies 🙂
What catches your eye and compels you to take a shot?
I do a lot of photos just to give people a memento from the event. So often (like most tango photographers) I take pictures under conditions that are far away from the desired. People frequently tell me that if I want to be perceived as a good photographer I should only publish my best photos. I see this differently. If I took a picture that was not so perfect but could still be valuable to someone, I prefer to share it. This is part of my contribution to the tango community. However, the most compelling element when I want to take interesting pictures is lighting. Light is the absolute basis, the starting point. Unfortunately, tango event organizers often do not know how, or do not want, to take care of adequate light for photos. They think that good light for photographers is not good light for the dancers. It does not have to be that way!
What is something you are still learning?
I shoot only for a year, so am still learning everything. I’m trying to improve my shooting technique and knowledge of image post processing. Most of all, I’m trying to develop my own style.
What advice do you have for photographers just starting out?
Never publish images where someone looks unfavourable. If you think that the photographed person may not like your photo – usually you’re right.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for a tango photographer?
There are many technical challenges. Photographic equipment has its limitations. Usually we take photos of fast-moving people in poor lighting conditions. So when it comes to the technical aspect, the challenge is to overcome these limitations. The breakthrough discovery for me was that sometimes the best way is to use these constraints to achieve an interesting visual effect. Picture quality is not, in my opinion, the main measure of good tango photography. The most important is to convey the ephemeral impression of the moment. However, the biggest challenge, for me personally, is the constant struggle not to fall into a routine. I’m trying to force myself to look for new points of view. I am happy when I find new ways of expression, but I have to admit that this does not happen every single time.
What would you like to get out of the Tangofolly Project?
Participation in this project is an opportunity for me to show my photos to a wider audience. People who view my pictures may sometimes have interesting ideas for collaboration. So who knows what will come of this project!