Karol Orzechowski launched his film and photography career in 2003. His work has taken him to various parts of North America as well as the United Kingdom, Spain, Southeast Asia and Costa Rica. He is currently working on his first major film project, Maximum Tolerated Dose, which documents the inner-workings of animal-experimentation laboratories. Never idle, Orzechowski has several projects in the works. He hopes to take the film on tour once it is complete. He also plans to publish a book of photos taken during a project he undertook for his master's degree. His secret to success, he says, is to take his projects 'one step at a time.' His photos of a series of a bike-powered sustainable outdoor music festival in Toronto are featured in the June 2012 issue of Canadian Geographic.
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Q You seem to cover a broad spectrum of themes in your photos, but nearly all of them involve or evoke strong human emotion. How do you capture this?
AI don't know, I guess the main thing when doing photography is to be as close to the subjects as possible. Like for example, I've done a lot of photography of protests, and the reason I can do well there is because I'm really involved and I'm a part of the protests myself. With music photography, I'm a musician, so I know what it's like. I spend a lot of time on tour, and I also know how annoying it is with photographers in your face all the time, so I tend to adapt a bit better in those situations. I can get to know the people and know what to look for. I've done a lot of animal advocacy photography as well, but that's sort of complicated'
Q Speaking of your animal advocacy photography, many of your photo and video collections seem to shed light on important issues. Would you consider some of your work forms of activism?
AI don't know. I tend to think of activism as things that are done with a particular goal in mind, and I know a lot of people ' myself included ' who do quite a bit of activism on different issues, but I don't know if I'd say my photos are a form of activism. I would say they're a tool for activism and documenting those issues. They raise awareness, so in that sense, yes, they are a form of activism. But I tend to think of activism as hard and unglamorous work, like day-to-day organizing and community-building and I don't now if my photos can be elevated to that level of hard work.
QWhat was the most difficult thing you've had to photograph?
AThe hardest thing I've had to shoot was probably a rabbit slaughterhouse that I went to in Spain, and I only took a few photos while I was there. I was mostly shooting video. It was a small family farming operation, and it was just really difficult to be there and watch that and to be not be able to do anything about it. It's one of those situations where you have to tell yourself that the photos or video will serve a higher purpose. It goes back to the question of activism ' I really hope that that would be considered activism, because I would say that's the hardest thing I've had to shoot. I also recently photographed monkey farms in Southeast Asia, and that was quite difficult.
QIs it easier to be in those situations when you're behind your lens, as opposed to just watching?
AIt's easier in the sense that I'm reducing things to a technical job. It's like: I'm in this situation and I need to do this so these photos will turn out. I don't know if it's easier though. The thing that makes it harder, is that to the animals watching in the cages, I'm just as bad as any other human to them. That escapes whether I have the camera or not.
QYour photo sets all seem to embody different personalities. For example, your work in Canadian Geographic's June 2012 issue reflects a muted, vintage feel, while some of your other work shows high-contrast or vibrant colours. How do you choose what the tone will be for your photos when you're shooting them?
AI don't think about it all that much. With the bike festival photos, I was shooting in colour and I knew that already. It was a two-day shoot, and both times I did it I remember it being quite humid. A warm, humid Toronto day. The sun was really sharp on both festival days, and it kind of had that washed-out feeling, and I think that sort of came through in the photos. In other situations, like these photos I shot of fighters on a beach at night, they had this great lighting at the beachside ring and the photos just ended up high contrast. I don't really like using a lot of flash or extra stuff. I like to play with saturation here and there, but I don't try to mess with things too much.