“Four Questions on Photography: Ilvy Njiokiktjien in Conversation With…” is a series of events where well-known photographers discuss with Ilvy their responses to the four questions below.
– What is your most important photograph, how did you make it, and what impact do you think it had?
– What is your biggest photo failure; an image you wanted or needed but messed up somehow?
– What is your dream image or story?
– What advice would you give to your younger self?
For this event and in this episode, Ilvy is in conversation with Maciek Nabrdalik.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Thanks, everyone, for being here during your, I’m guessing almost summer breaks that are starting now all around. So, today I’m only allowed to ask for questions, the rest of the questions can come from you if you if you feel like it. And today I’m very happy to be here with my VII colleague Maciek Nabrdalek is an amazing photographer. But I think most of you who are here probably already know this. So, thanks for doing this magic. Thanks for being here.
Maciek Nabrdalik: Thank you for inviting me on. I’ve seen some of the shows you did before. And yeah, very grateful to be the next one.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Thank you. Well, we’re looking forward to hearing all your answers to difficult questions, because that’s the one thing I’ve been hearing during these webinars is that most photographers find these very difficult questions, but we’ll start with the first one, which is what is your most important photograph? And this can kind of be important in different kinds of ways. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the image that made your career but can go in any direction.
Maciek Nabrdalik: Yeah, these because I kind of got an idea what the questions are, they repeat from one photographer to another. And they are difficult. I guess we’re also used to some kind of narrative about our work and life. And part of what you do now is just to take it out of the context of some story and maybe rethink that. So yeah, and I will share my screen, maybe I’ll show you the photographs, because I couldn’t really decide the one that can go with my answer to your first question. Try. So, this is a photograph that has been important to me. It’s, I don’t think it made an impact on anyone else. This, I wouldn’t know, anyway, but it’s 2009 and I’d been working in Chernobyl region for already some some time. I was somehow obsessed with this place when I was growing up. My mother somehow brought home the fear of radiation, which stayed with me longer than anyone else I knew. And it turned into obsession of other places that are associated with that fear. And when I had the chance to go to to Chernobyl, I went there first as not really as a photographer, or when there just to face the fear of radiation. But and I also knew that so many things has been done in the area, so many documentaries and also photo essays that I almost wasn’t expecting to do anything with the language I’d been using, or I was using. And when I was there, I realized that what became more interesting within the story to me were people who are living on the on the edge of the Chernobyl exclusion zone. And I was returning to this circle around the zone and trying to document the daily life. And as a quite young person and a photographer, I had this preconception or idea of what would I need to complete such a photo essay on a daily life of a place. Sometimes I would literally put down a list of photographs I needed and try to look through my photographs of the day and sometimes I would take out the list. I don’t remember if it was a physical, written list or physically or put in my physical phone. But there was like a set of ideas I had. And on that day, I was standing in front of the store in Straholesie, one of the villages on the border, and one of the inhabitants, now I know his name was Aleksei Ishbak. There were men standing outside every day and usually drinking a beer with a colleague. Then he came to me and two of my friends, one was a photographer, and other one was a driver I hired. And he started the conversation by asking, why don’t I take any pictures, he could see my camera. And I was quite surprised with his interest. And the only reason I wasn’t taking photographs was because it was early morning, I was just having the coffee I could get there. And I didn’t have an answer to that. But he kind of explained why he was asking. And he said that many of the people he meets there, people from outside, would come on a bus or on a tour, jump out of the car, as he said, and photograph them. And he also said that then they feel like they are some dying creatures in a zoo.
And I was relieved that I had a cup of coffee in my hand. But this helped me to, became start of a little bit of friendship with him. And he became then, unknowingly, the best fixer in the area I ever had. So, Aleksei introduced himself as a grave digger. He said that he doesn’t have this as a real job, but he has keys to the church. And he usually organized some friends and they dig graves if someone dies in the village. They would take the coffin through the village as it is, yeah, usual in the east, and they would go to the cemetery. And then I understood that the payment comes in the gathering after the funeral. They bring food and more alcohol that everyone enjoys remembering the person who died. And he invited me actually to the wed— not to the wedding, the wedding was on my list, I’m sure— invited me to a funeral, which was happening next day. And I was very happy being there to think about witnessing that. But of course, it’s part of life. And I went there, and I photographed how the procession went through this village, how they buried the woman as well, Marya, and then we went to the funeral party. And when we were sitting at a table, and while the payment came in on, he got a phone call. And he looked at me and said, well, tomorrow is the next one. I was of course, you know, somehow moved and curious. And I was asking like what happens now. Well, Jana Trachoma has died. And I knew that name because she was the oldest inhabitant of Strahoesie. And she was someone I wanted to interview on my list. I would imagine someone the oldest. Now, I think naively because all the people often they went for more, but they remember less, but I assume that she will be a good subject to meet and interview. And also, someone who lived long in the place that people are afraid to stay. And I was double sad to hear someone just died and also sad that I wouldn’t meet her. But I asked Aleksei if we could all go back to the to her house. He wasn’t happy, but he agreed, and we went there. And when we got there, we saw her, Jana’s daughter-in-law on the phone, Nina, she was calling the family informing about this recent, very recent death of her mother-in-law and the coffin, which you can see on the left has just arrived. And actually, the photographer and a driver who are with me, were helping put it in the house. And I realized that day that if I would go my usual way, something has stopped me from doing this, because after the first funeral, I would normally move on. The trips to Chernobyl weren’t cheap back then. You would have limited time, I would have whole things, my whole list of things to continue photographing. And something has stopped me there and I realize that by staying, by actually giving up all these plans and allowing whatever it sounds, life to write the script, for me, really worked, allowed me to see the real life I could never plan. And since that day, I literally never, I tried to avoid planning of that kind. I’m also a person that doesn’t really like to plan. But that’s not the reason. When I work on a story, I never, ever tried to imagine what could happen and try to follow that and try to spend as much time as I can with people I photograph. And it’s only because of this moment I witnessed. So, that’s a photograph that literally changed the way I work forever since then.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: And the kinds of lists that you used to make, because I realized, or sorry, I recognize what you say about not planning, like it’s amazing, if you are able to hang around somewhere and things happen. I mean, you can’t even imagine the things that are sometimes happening, you can plan for them, because they happen in a different way. But I still do really like making a list of some sorts kind of knowing, you know what, I don’t know, like a list at least that I know if I get this, it would be great. Or if I get something like this, do you still do that or after this moment, you also decided to let it all be more natural.
Maciek Nabrdalik: Depends on on the story. I mean, when I’m on an assignment, I don’t make lists, but of course, I know what would be useful. And then I quite often with, you know how it is, when limited time and we need to deliver. And of course, then I don’t spend as much time as I would like to, but when I work on stories that I would say are more personal, in my case, they are quite often, they would quite often mean photographing a small community or even a family or a person from inside out. I would literally need to spend time with them. And I started off by choosing stories that would allow that, right? Like so, if I attach myself to a family, for example, that I’m interested in, I’m completely bonded with their plans, and I don’t have to even have to have this discussion with myself. But yeah, that’s an ideal situation for me.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I totally agree. When you have the time, and you can just wait for things to happen. Well, like you had—do you remember how long you were planning on being here? And how long you ended up working on this, on the Chernobyl story?
Maciek Nabrdalik: I, well, first I was just thinking I will go once. When I realized that the historian more triggered by the, I returned until now 16 times.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Sixteen
Maciek Nabrdalik: No, no 16, one, six.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: That’s a lot.
Maciek Nabrdalik: But over 12 or 10 years, I would return on almost any occasion I had. It was a place for me to go, a place to work, a place to get some reset, rest, to continue the work I’ve been doing. It’s similar to your project. I’m sure you spend much more time in South Africa but that’s the mindset I had working a long-term project. I would try to be there as much as I could. And because of the place, of the way Chernobyl is, I couldn’t spend many months continuously. I would have to go back and return. Yeah, it took me much longer than I would anticipate in the beginning. Yeah. And I hope to return.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah? Oh, do you? I thought it was finished, but it never is, I guess.
Maciek Nabrdalik: It was finished. I published a very small book about Chernobyl called Homesick. But I’ve been there since, twice. And now of course it has another meeting. When this when this war’s over, I’m sure I’ll be trying to get there to see how the place has changed. And now people I know.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah. Beautiful, beautiful story and beautiful image.
Maciek Nabrdalik: Thank you. You know, the story remains. I mean, I like to repeat it. I know, I probably do it. Too often, I whenever asked. But I also whenever I repeat myself, I believe more and more that. Sometimes I just regret I don’t have as much time as I had when I decided to do, to go around photography this way. But I have one more photograph that I will bring up when the question comes, rarely do it. But I when I was thinking about two of us meeting here, it came to my mind as it’s I’m obsessed about this photograph or for a bit different reason. And I know if I can move a bit forward, I know that there is a question that comes that is about failure. And this actually is on the border of being one of the most important I have and also, I can’t fully credit myself for failure here. But I also feel that there is a part of me that could do more to omit the feeling I have now when I look at the photograph, and I will just briefly bring your in really.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I literally don’t think we’ve had it before—no, we haven’t, where any photographers have said this kind of leads into the most important and maybe also into the failure question. So, I’m curious, when I’m looking at this, I can’t imagine what would be the failed part, but—
Maciek Nabrdalik: It’s not, it’s not really photographically, I like the image as it is. But so, in 2015, when the so-called refugee crisis was peaking in the Greek islands, I wasn’t someone who will get an assignment to go there. But I somehow felt a need to go and look with my own eyes. It was, it also seemed like it was a pretty doable trip for me, but I was pushed out of my house by reading the published news and seeing that usually, if I remember well—I remember well, unfortunately—there was a section underneath all the reporting on the refugee crisis, which read, due to the amount of xenophobic language in the comments, we had to block that section. I felt like I had to go there and look with my own eyes and possibly when I return have an opinion, I could face people who had those right-wing, far right-wing views on migration here. So, I went without an assignment and over the first few days I realized what I was experiencing there was quite surreal. I even had, like on the first night, the need to talk to someone who was also in my position there and just chat about what we’ve seen— hundreds of people squashed together in those rubber boats, usually couple dozen, a few dozens of them at least, coming to the islands and coming from being like a blurry point to being fully visible and happy quite often and I don’t know happy that they made it, happy knowing what’s next. It was a very strong experience for me. And I was documenting it. And on the first night, I ran into three people who were talking about this experience. And one was a photographer who was complimented by some aid workers. They liked his image on a cover of one of the British, if I remember well, newspapers, and he responded to it in a way that left me angry, also uncomfortable. And he said, I wouldn’t take this kind of image—I haven’t seen his image, but I can easily imagine it—because I wouldn’t take this photograph, he said, if you wouldn’t be helpful that helping them, they wouldn’t have so strong emotions on their faces, and I wouldn’t be able to take it. And then he added, when I see how people jump out of those boats are happy, and they take selfies, I don’t even take my camera out. Because that’s not how the refugee looks like. I was I was angry, because I kind of blamed him with all that xenophobia. And underneath those articles, I didn’t read but I knew about. And I felt like if he would show what he doesn’t think refugee looks like maybe people would be easier to accept them as someone like them. Maybe naively, I was thinking that, but yeah. And so, this whole trip was somehow hampered by that sentence. I was hearing and also, when we were working, that I could see people, Greek people, driving faster than any aid workers, or journalists and getting to the place where boats were standing, and taking out engines before anyone was actually offered help. The engines would then go back to Turkey, where someone else would buy them from the smugglers and made their trip, the better word. And I kind of you know, hearing him, not having an assignment, I almost felt like I’m closer to those people we would call engine crowds or whatever. It was, like a nickname we gave them. Then to the aid workers, I felt like I’m in the wrong place. And when this family arrived to the to the coast of Lesbos, there was a moment when everybody was fine being photographed, and were greeted by a bunch of journalists, but they wouldn’t be willing to share their names or nationalities. They must have heard from the smugglers that, you know, it’s better to be Syrian than being a refugee from Iraq or Iran. You’d see them tearing the passports, you would see, for example, Iranian money floating in the water, like they wouldn’t want to leave any proof that they are, they might not be from Syria, they could lie about the roots. So, they weren’t happy to give names randomly to any journalist. And that was the case with that family. They were, I asked if it’s okay if I photograph. They said, yes. Can I get your names? No. Why? No. And I gave up and I somehow moved on and photographed other people. And I was leaving Lesbos, and I was driving from—and I saw them once again. And I thought, I mean, I need to go and speak to them. I looked at the image at the hotel and saw it’s strong and they are kind of proud and they represent actually everything I would like to tell about refugees. And I didn’t manage to find a parking spot and I literally lost them in this really small port city. And it has been haunting me since then, you know, so it’s, I would like to find out how their lives went on how, where they ended up. Now as I’m also a father, I look at the couple here. I know these are two brothers and a couple with a baby he’s holding on his chest. It’s also changed the meaning of the situation to me, I started, like, looking at this from my new perspective, and it became extremely strong, extremely haunting. And I also know that there are ways I could probably look for them. But I don’t want to, because I didn’t know what they have been saying on their way, in their new life, hopefully. So, you know, let’s, that’s why I call it an important moment, but also failure.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, wow, what a story I can imagine it kind of feels failed. But to be honest, even in this way, without the names, the story you’re telling now is, I don’t know, it gives a lot of depth to the story. I can imagine, it must have been very frustrating not being able to stop at that moment, not getting their names. But to me, it’s such an amazing image. And now that you say he’s carrying a baby, I didn’t notice at first, but now I’m seeing it. And that makes—
Maciek Nabrdalik: She has a bottle. Yeah. So, there is a little of a happy ending to it. Because before it came, it got worse because I was invited by some friend of VII, I was invited to speak about the refugee crisis in this resort, beautiful resort town, Telluride, in the US, so imagine me having doubts if it was right that I even went there, having these doubts about not having the names and going to this resort, and having the room with a Jacuzzi on the balcony. It was too cold to use it, I’m glad, but still, it felt not right. And I was like, okay, I’m gonna talk to the people who have their lives, so bad, it just doesn’t matter, but you know. And I showed the photographs from my trips, because I did quite a few trips on the Balkin road. And after this, I would think very random presentation, three women who came after to a dinner, told me that thanks to me being there, they just met in this small town. And they are well-established, and they decided to fund two families, two migrant families to come to Telluride, which I know they did. So, it kind of healed the whole feeling of guilt for being there, for also made me realize that it made lots of sense, in the end.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: That’s beautiful. It’s amazing when an image or a story or a set of images can kind of do that where people could go inward and realize they want to help in some way or do something and I wish you could speak to these three—well, while you do probably more, but you don’t want to go looking for them. I didn’t really understand the reason why. Why don’t you— because there are ways, I’m sure to like with social media or
Maciek Nabrdalik: So, I was trying to do like a reverse image search by using their faces. I had different images of them, where they were like front facing. So I thought it would be easy. I was thinking about it and I had a friend, the writer who was also interested in following them. But then we realized that you know, if they didn’t share the names, what if they ended up in some country where they made it work, and they didn’t share how they came to Europe and they didn’t feel comfortable the way they did come. Or you know it’s, it would be—
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: That’s right. Yeah, yeah, you’re right. Yeah. Yeah, because if you search in a big way like that, if you do it on social media, of course, everyone will know they were on this boat, on that day. The three of, the four of them. That is very considerate but —
Maciek Nabrdalik: I have the feeling that, as it usually happens in my life, I will somehow meet them. I know these things happen. I know they will. Don’t just, don’t know when.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yes, yeah, I know that feeling where you kind of just know it will happen. Well, I hope it does. I hope it does, would be very interesting to to hear how they’re doing and also what this moment was for them because if you look at their faces, all three of them have such a different expression, first of all, but also, you can imagine, like three total different stories for each person just by their facial expressions, because she looks happy but also anxious. And the middle guy, in the middle to me looks proud. But also, I don’t know. Well proud, I would say and then the guy on the left looks a bit sad and tired, but maybe also ready to keep on moving. I don’t know, there’s like, for every facial expression, you can literally find the whole story. And we don’t know their story. That’s quite—yeah. That’s maybe also why you start making up stories in your mind, I guess.
Maciek Nabrdalik: Yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: So, was this your, let’s say, out of the four questions I’m officially allowed to ask, was this an official failure? Or is there—
Maciek Nabrdalik: Well, I had one failure, but I would clearly consider a failure. I can very quickly bring it up. In 2012, exactly 10 years ago, I decided to go to Siberia. And, you know, just to, I was probably trying to be, like, secure about my plans. And I wanted to see how it is just in case there is a story coming there so I’ll know how to move around. It was almost like a, like a first. It was not the first trip to Russia. But it was it was, yeah, first trip to Siberia. And we planned for three weeks. I took a friend of mine, who actually met in Chernobyl. We like traveling together, and we went everywhere within three weeks, which sounds impossible. And I had one condition. I said, we can go quite interestingly, without much plans. But there’s one village I need to be. I made contacts with— it was 2012, so it wasn’t this story yet, as it became today. It was the story of Vissarion. I don’t know if you know who I’m talking about. It’s Jesus of Siberia. It’s a guy who in 90s, a policeman who in 90s, had this, he’d waken up as the incarnation of Jesus Christ and started his church and started community village of people who believed in him. And I was interested in faith. Documented faith in Poland, like felt it’s something that I will be very curious to see with my own eyes. And I made a contact with them. And, to my surprise, they had like a, almost like a press office, or someone who could communicate with me easily and gave me directions. The woman said, so when you come to our village, you need to look for a German house, it will be green house, and seems like— she gave me very precise directions. And me and Pavla, we were planning for the last few days to be there. And I was obviously planning to get to know them and then return to work on a story about the Vissarion. And we got there. I think we had like three days left to a plane back. After driving collectively, over three days, 36 hours easily, and the first person–it’s dark already–the first person we see we asked about German house. They looked at us like, with the face that we are suspicious. Okay, so they don’t want to share with strangers. So, we asked about the Vissarion and he, his eyes were even bigger. So I called the woman. She picks up. It’s 2012. So, you can, it’s not really the navigation you use on your phones. It’s still old school like a Garmin, like few pixels by few pixels maps.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah.
Maciek Nabrdalik: And while I talk to her, and she’s like asking very detailed question, do you see the church? Yes, I do. So, on the left, there should be like a house with the green heart, green roof. My friend, like puts a hand on my shoulder and shows me the string and I see a list of the villages with exactly the same name.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Oh, no way. Oh no way.
Maciek Nabrdalik: And so we’d gone to the one on the right. The one we were supposed to be was the one in the middle. So, it was 18 hours away.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Ah, no way.
Maciek Nabrdalik: And there was absolutely nothing in the place we’d got to, I mean, absolutely nothing of my interest.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Oh, no.
Maciek Nabrdalik: We started; I don’t know. I mean, there must be some way of dealing with failure like this because we are laughing all the way returning to—which was another 18 hours away, different direction. I never seen him, never. Now he was arrested in 2020. But there were also many great stories made about him in between.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Oh how frustrating. Frustrating. They shouldn’t have town names with the same name. I’ve actually done something similar in Rwanda, I was looking for a specific town with a church that was burned down, and I went to the town in 2008 and similar. It was the wrong town, and the other town was like a 20-hour drive. It was horrible. I didn’t laugh, so I’m happy you were able to actually laugh about it. It feels so weird, realizing that specific moment, you’re standing there thinking, Oh, no. Oh, no, this is not the right town.
Maciek Nabrdalik: Driving there wasn’t anything pleasant. There were truck cars passing by us. We felt like we are risking our lives all the time. Wide roads.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Ah horrible. And then when he was arrested in 2020, did you really kind of get that feeling like, Ouch. I never, or are you fine? Yeah.
Maciek Nabrdalik: No, no, when I saw some stories made about him. One of them by Jonas Bendicksen. And when he followed quite a few people who felt they are Jesus’s. I realized, no, it’s done. It’s beautifully done. And then Mary Gelman did a story on the community after he was arrested for the New York Times.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Okay, so all was fine in the end. I see there are a few questions coming in, in the q&a. They’re still, they’re still from Chernobyl. Gwen is asking, what do they say about your book?
Maciek Nabrdalik: Who?
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I’m guessing the people from Chernobyl or from the area or the family. I actually don’t know, maybe you can answer both.
Maciek Nabrdalik: Right. Now, the book is really tiny, I almost have it. I could bring it up, maybe I will. It’s, especially if it’s out of print. It’s this small. This is red, as you can imagine. And it’s this, it’s a small book, but it’s very long. It’s seven meters long, gives you a view, would go a long time. And so people who heard about the book, then they would see this little object, might be disappointed as well. But they are also happy to see the effect on faces and they wouldn’t never tell me if they are disappointed. But they’ve seen prints before the book was published. So, they were happy— they saw probably more prints than there are in this book. Because from any meeting, I would bring them back prints in the years later, and they would always remember my name. What we did, how we enjoyed life in this part of the world together and yeah. Is that the question. I hope it’s answered in a way.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Thank you. And Ted is asking, well, maybe you see the question as well. But when I worked in the hot zone with radiation, I wore a dosim— how do you call, how do you—dosimeter or something, some kind of—
Maciek Nabrdalik: Yes. Yes.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: With your concerns with radiation, did you monitor your radiation levels?
Maciek Nabrdalik: At the beginning I was. I was somehow scared by that and also, then you get, you don’t move the way you normally would. But when I returned from one of my first trips, I went to this institute in Poland near Warsaw, where they actually had a very small experiment, experimental testing site of a nuclear power. There are many people, most of the people who know about this kind of energy there, and I was asking the questions, and they were laughing at me. And it wasn’t because you know, the questions shouldn’t come. They would explain to me that all the units of radiation are time dependent. So, I’m sitting here in Warsaw, and radiation is maybe 10 times smaller than in the Red Forest or near the the plants in Chernobyl or near the apartment building in Pripyat. But if I spent there an hour, it’s exactly if I would spend 10 hours where I’m sitting now. So, in the life span, it doesn’t really matter if I would live there, if I would put up my tent there, if I would maybe the worst part, the worst thing that can happen is absorbing some radioactive particles by eating them, but also your body will bring them out quickly. But it’s yeah, can be harmful. But it’s, but having this information and then, yes, traveling with the meter made me quite calm. And it would go crazy on the flights, usually. Because yeah, because when you are above, I lack the English word as well, the radiation gets as high as in Pripyat, and there is no limits for the stewardess and pilots to be there either.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I never thought of that. But it makes sense. Yeah.
Maciek Nabrdalik: And radiation is very, is a very spotty thing. It’s not like that you land in Chernobyl, and it’s 10 times more than here, or 100 more times. It’s sometimes you go, and you step left, and it gets to those really high mountain readings, then you step right. And it’s alright. So, as long as you don’t spend too much time in one place, don’t eat while you travel through the zone in open space, you should be fine. And I am.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah. And do people there use that? Sorry, I don’t know what to call it. Dosimeter?
Maciek Nabrdalik: No. But the guides, which you have to have there, will have a dosimeter. Sometimes they will have those personal ones that actually don’t show any readings but read the collective amount of absorbed radiation. And that’s why when people work there, they have to work in shifts, so they would work two weeks and then go home for two weeks, because of the amount absorbed over two weeks there. I’m talking about working at the plants, so—
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: That’s a different case, of course.
Maciek Nabrdalik: Yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I wanted to say there’s another question in the q&a, but it’s Ted saying beer can help flush it out too. Seriously, he said. So, okay, let me just check here. There. Okay, for now, there’s no more questions. But if anyone else has a question, please put them in the q&a box. I only have two questions left, and about 10 minutes. So, we’re a bit behind schedule. What is your dream image or story, and it doesn’t really have to be something that really, I mean, it can be anything, it doesn’t have to necessarily be possible or just an image.
Maciek Nabrdalik: I have this need to do one story which is possible. But it’s impossible in the way I would like to or and again, I’ll make it more complicated than it is. My grandfather, who was an amateur photographer—and I kind of credit him for putting this on me by being present with his camera, left his archives behind and I’ve been scanning the archive, not as intensively as I would like to but still, I’ve been doing it and getting to know him through his work, through his photographs. And there is a whole set of road trips he did with my grandmother. They did them when they were already in their 60s, so they had their own kids and they had grandchildren as well. But by seeing them traveling together in that Polish car called Syrena, and seeing how my grandfather documented it, I learn quite a lot about them, about him, about Poland back then. And I could retrace pretty much the routes with my mother and her sister, my aunt. So, my somehow, I wouldn’t say dream, but maybe a plan is to repeat those routes with my partner. But when we are almost their age, and only impossible thing is I would like to do it now and I don’t have time because we can leave our children behind. And also, we have different perspective. I felt, I feel like, this is something I can’t wait to do. And I hope I’ll have time to do it.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Because why? Why don’t you want to wait to do it till you are that age? You could wait right?
Maciek Nabrdalik: I can wait. Yes, but we can also wait, and it cannot happen. It’s not written anywhere that I will live long enough. But yeah. No regrets. But yeah, that’s something that— I was also going to repeat this before. I could do it in many ways. I could do it on my own. I could probably do it with the whole family, but it’s, yeah, by seeing my grandfather’s photographs and seeing him photographed more often than any other parts of his archive. We don’t have any pictures of him really, because he was always behind the camera. It’s I can see myself repeating that with, in a natural way. I wouldn’t have to like, look at the picture where he is and do the same. I can, I feel a connection with them traveling together and naturally documenting in the same way. The route, the life on the road as well.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Beautiful, and it’s also quite amazing they did that in that age? Didn’t they do something similar in the years prior, kind of your current age? They were together already.
Maciek Nabrdalik: Yeah, yeah, yeah. They were together till the end of their lives. But no, my grandfather would— I have photographs of him, from him actually, not of him, documenting light and his neighbors and his close friends and his work and everything that he would witness. But it’s also the time when they could have a car. When Poland under communism, not so easy. And when he could get the car, it was already the time when they could. So, not so long ago. And 1989.Yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Beautiful. Well, in a few years, many years. How many years is this away now?
Maciek Nabrdallik: It’s, I try not to think about it, because I don’t plan even for next week, as you already know.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah.
Maciek Nabrdalik: If I had to plan for 20 years. So yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: It’s a bit long.
Maciek Nabrdalik: It’s a bit long,
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: But it’s a beautiful idea. I hope it will happen. And the last question actually kind of goes back in time, not forward in time and it is what would you, well, advise your younger self or what would you tell your, what would your advice be to yourself.
Maciek Nabrdalik: Well, this question usually mean advice, something I didn’t do, but, sorry, I’m —something, but I think I would advise myself one thing that I believe many people do. So, I would try to bring up my confidence a bit up more. Yeah. I feel like I was too shy for a long time seeing the work I was doing back then now; I felt a lack of formal education in photography. I was, you know, I’m trained as computer engineer. So, certainly, I would have to call myself a photographer, which took me many years. And I wouldn’t do it publicly quite for a long time. Computers—I never worked a day as a computer programmer, but I still feel that that’s who I am, because that’s where I graduated from. So, I would advise against that. But I would also advise myself to follow intuition, I would say, I feel everyone has those opportunities on the way, but some people are maybe less sensitive to pick on those signals. And I was very sensitive, and I still am like, I allow my life path to change quite easily. So, that’s why I’m photographer being planned for from a computer scientist, as well. But yeah, but if I could change something, it was the confidence. And also, maybe working more hard, after some project was fulfilled, not skipping up so quickly to the next one, and maybe working more with what it became like pushing for more exhibitions on some projects,
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Is that when you look back, right, or is that something you are now currently doing?
Maciek Nabrdalik: If I look back, like, you know. I did a project on on survivors of different German-run Nazi camps, concentration camps and death camps around the world. And I, it’s a story that it’s surely never expires. But I feel that once I finished, I should be pushing for more exhibitions. I had quite a few. And I’m very proud of some of them. And I felt that every one of them was important, but I feel like today, I would dedicate the same amount of time I dedicated to making the project on traveling with it. And I will, but just it’s a little regret that I didn’t do it while I could, for example, invited my subjects to those places and introduced them to younger generations.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, I think that’s a very, I really love all the things that you just said. And they’re also very, I recognize them. I think a lot of us do. I also wasn’t in school as a photographer. So for many years, I was just like, Well, I kind of just pretend what I’m doing. Or I was telling people Oh, I can take pictures, but I’m not really a photographer kind of like that. So, I’m just trying so that that sounds very familiar. But it’s interesting, because the last thing you said, no one has said that before on this one on the on the four questions, but it’s I think, something that many photographers have trouble with. We work so hard creating something. And then when it’s over and you’ve had like one or two exhibitions, or maybe a few more, you’re onto the next project. It’s also kind of how it just works, because people start asking you, so what’s your next project and you kind of feel stressed, we’re starting to work a new project or money has to be made or, and I also recently realized, yeah, I should do more with the things I make instead of just making them and then, you know, moving on again. I don’t know. So, that’s an important one.
Maciek Nabrdalik: I definitely feel that the question that you mentioned comes too often in my life, and I learned to distance myself from it and I can joke but I can honestly say if I don’t work on anything I can say I’m training my puppy or bring up two kids, which is true. But it also came from lack of confidence because you feel that the world is judging you, how you have to do something. It’s, or you just did that and it can only bring you to some dark corner of frustration because if you worked on something that possibly you will bring along for your whole life with you because you think it’s good, you’re proud of it, it’s very difficult to match the next project back, you can do better and better projects for your whole life. If you’re lucky, you can have two or three that people will remember you for sure. And it’s something that I wish I knew before.
Iilvy Njiokiktjien: Beautiful advice. Thank you. That was, unfortunately, our last question. Oh, wow, look, you were exactly one hour. Thanks for sharing all of this with us and being so sensitive about it and so open, because that’s always wonderful when you’re really talking from your heart. And yeah, it’s much appreciated. And I think many—well, I recognized a lot of things and I think a lot of the people watching as well. So, thanks for that. And good luck with the upcoming project. First a vacation for all of us, I think for many of us. So, that’s first but then on to a new project or finishing a current one.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: No project, no projects, just the dog and kids.
Maciek Nabrdalik: Well, who knows? Trust me.
Maciek Nabrdalik: Exactly what I’m gonna do now. But thank you for inviting me and yeah, thanks for everybody for being here.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Thanks. Oh, someone’s saying thank you as well in the chat. Well, thanks, Maciek.
Maciek Nabrdalik: Thank you.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Bye bye.
Maciek Nabrdalik: Bye bye.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Bye.