Interview with artist and photographer, Olivia Koczorowska
This week, we’re speaking with London-raised Polish artist and photographer, Olivia Koczorowska, about the powerful series of self-portraits she has been creating throughout 2021. Olivia, who took a brand new set of images to accompany her Britain Uncovered interview, explains to us how and why she first started taking these images of herself, the reasons why emotion is the primary focus of her photography, the implications of the photos in relation to her body confidence, and more!
Britain Uncovered: Hi Olivia! To get things going, it would be great to hear a little about your background in the arts. Could we please ask how you first become interested in photography and modelling, and did you have any formal training? Or was it more of a passion project to begin with?
Olivia: Growing up, I always struggled with anxiety and depression. After many trials and errors of finding a good distraction for myself, I was lucky enough to discover photography. It felt amazing to create these images all by myself. I really enjoyed the process of getting to know the camera and see what things I can create through using it. It really helped to keep me distracted from my dark thoughts and struggles.
Photography has helped me more than any doctor or medication ever had. After noticing what a positive effect creating images had on my mental health, and how much joy I was feeling when working with the camera, I decided to take it a step further and go to study it at university.
And here I am, a few years later, almost graduating from my MA in Photography.
Britain Uncovered: One of your first self-portrait photos was taken back in October 2019, and inspired by Adrian Lyne’s movie Lolita. What first appealed to you about self-portraits, and what were you seeking to convey through these initial attempts?
Olivia: I was always a very shy girl, so I have spent a lot of time by myself, mostly watching films or reading books. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is one of my favourite books (and it’s now my nickname; all my friends and most of my family members call me Lolita!)
The idea of recreating film-stills and self-portraits as a way of escaping my dark reality seemed so exciting for me, as it allowed me to transform into a different place and become someone else. Therefore, I started to combine my love for cinema and photography together, and started to take ‘Lolita’ self-portraits, hoping that I would be able to get rid of my anxiety by creating an alternative reality for myself. I think that at that stage, I wasn’t ready to admit to myself that instead of fighting my depression, I should just embrace it and make it the subject of my art.
Britain Uncovered: The idea clearly caught your imagination because self-portraits have been consistently present in your work since. What do you most enjoy about this type of photography, and why did you decide to continue with the self-portraits series going forwards? Do self-portraits give you the freedom to be more creative and evocative compared to other types of photoshoots, perhaps?
Olivia: I started taking self-portraiture seriously last summer, just after I graduated from university. I have become extremely depressed, and taking self-portraits is a great outlet for my complex feelings. I have tried many things to keep myself occupied, like art, reading and yoga... but self-portraiture was something that had the most powerful impact on me, and it continues to have so up until today.
To me, self-portraiture is a form of therapy. The process of going out, alone, into all these isolated locations, with my tripod and a camera is very therapeutic, as it allows me to focus on the current moment, and it distracts me from anything I am struggling with emotionally. I love the process of arranging my camera and capturing my emotions in the image. I was never really good at talking about my feelings, so I am extremely happy that I can share these emotions through my art.
Britain Uncovered: What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of self-portraiture photography, and how are you able to keep the work feeling fresh and creative? Do you enjoy the challenge of coming up with new ways to capture yourself?
Olivia: Self-portraiture photography can open a new world of expression. It’s almost like entering a sacred alternate reality where you can express yourself however you want. It’s a pause in painful experiences and emotions, and a way to heal and connect with yourself.
It is so important for me to create raw and honest versions of myself through my photography, and that’s why I hardly ever plan anything I do; unless, of course, long-distance travelling is required.
What’s beautiful about the process of creating this sort of photograph, is the fact that my primary focus is my emotions. This allows me to keep my work fresh, as each photograph is expressing a different feeling or emotion, which allows me to avoid repetition.
I guess one of the disadvantages of the self-portrait is that sometimes it can get quite overwhelming. For example, sometimes I find it difficult to see myself when I am at a low point, because I become disappointed that I have allowed myself to get so trapped in the spiral of negative thoughts and experiences.
Britain Uncovered: You’ve cited many different inspirations in your work, crediting the likes of Sylvia Plath and Lana Del Rey for helping to inspire some of your recent projects. What typically captures your imagination and makes you want to put your own creative spin on something you’ve seen, and do you enjoy creating your own interpretations of moods and themes set by others?
Olivia: Most of my inspiration comes from my own past experiences, and I try to express my emotions through my photography; however, there is also a strong cultural impact on my work. There are artists that I connect to on a spiritual level because their art makes me feel less alone, and therefore I find it natural to become inspired by their work and reflect that within my own photography.
Lana Del Rey, Sylvia Plath, Sofia Coppola, and Francesca Woodman are just some of my favourites, and I think of them as my ‘holy four’, who helped me discover my style as an artist.
Britain Uncovered: For this interview, you very kindly offered to create a new set of images based on the themes of body confidence and self-love. Have you ever previously attempted to convey these themes and concepts through your work, or have past projects been for a different purpose?
Olivia: The purpose of my images is my emotional outlet. At the moment, taking the nude self-portrait is a process of accepting myself for who I am, and I feel like there is still a long way to go for me in terms of reaching my goal. However, I hope that as I continue and develop my projects, I will be one step closer to that.
Britain Uncovered: How did you approach the self-portrait shoot for Britain Uncovered, and how did you set about conveying body positive and confidence through this new set of images?
Olivia: Considering the nature of my images, and what I am trying to express through them, I don’t like to plan my shoots, because I think that this kills the beauty of the images. I like to be spontaneous with my photography, as that’s the only way which is going to allow me to create truthful and honest outcomes.
I ended up deciding on the location very spontaneously, took my camera, my tripod, and went outside, trying to find the perfect spot. Of course, I knew that I want to shoot the images in nature. I just went with what felt right at that current moment.
Britain Uncovered: Nudity and the body have also featured prominently in your recent work, most notably in your recent black and white photos. What would you say your relationship with your body has been like over the years, and what prompted you to take these types of images?
Olivia: Growing up in an image-obsessed culture, where we are constantly bombarded with idealised beauty standards, I have always struggled with my body image. I was diagnosed with an eating disorder when I was 17, and ever since then, I have never really had a ‘normal’ relationship with my body.
Sometimes, when I look at my photographs from the ‘what my body looks like’ perspective, taking the nude self-portraits can be quite triggering for me, as I end up not liking my body in the image, panic, and get into a spiral of overthinking about what I look like, instead of focusing on the reason why I started taking these sort of images in the first place.
Britain Uncovered: Do you feel as though taking self-portraits in this state of undress has helped you see yourself in a different or more positive light? Seeing images of the self can often be a very confronting (and sometimes difficult) experience for many people, but how have you responded to seeing yourself in these images? Has it improved your self-confidence or your relationship with your body?
Olivia: My emotions are the primary focus of my photography. I take nude self-portraits as I feel that this is the most intimate and raw way of presenting myself. Your mood can change, depending on what you wear, whereas when it is just you and your nude body alone, you tend to be just your natural self.
Looking back at my self-portraits is a very inspiring experience for me, as it allows me to see myself from a different perspective. Instead of being upset and angry at myself, that I allow myself to feel ‘on the edge’ all the time, I can see myself as this strong figure, who has in fact managed to overcome all her struggles.
In terms of my relationship with my body – my self-portraits have allowed me to become much more comfortable within my own skin, which is something that I have always struggled with. Of course, I am not 100% happy with what I look like, or who I am, but I feel like taking these sorts of self-portraits is a great starting point to overcome my body image issues.
Britain Uncovered: What other emotions are you hoping viewers experience by viewing your work? There’s definitely a sense of vulnerability and isolation in your recent projects – are these the primary feelings you’re seeking to present?
Olivia: I believe that self-portraits are not only a form of self-expression, but also a way of releasing emotions. That’s why I always try to express my mood in my photography. As I started to take my nude self-portraits, which seemed to capture me in my most honest and vulnerable state, it felt incredible to release my emotions – both positive and negative – into the photographs. The progress of taking my self-portraits has taught me how to become vulnerable, how to expose my vulnerability to others, and how to feel good about it.
Britain Uncovered: Is normalising nudity and desexualising the female form an important part of your work?
Olivia: My photographic work is very selfish. It is mainly focused on me, and my own experience with my own mental health; therefore, I tend not to overthink the purpose of it. Ideally, yes, I would love my work to have a greater impact on our society and help others understand that the female body is not a sexual object, but something beautiful; however, it is not something that I am prioritising my photography at the moment.
Britain Uncovered: It was great to see that your ‘My Dear Melancholy” series ended up in Vogue Italia magazine! What can you tell us about this project, and how rewarding was it to see these images published in such a famous publication?
Olivia: Thank you! ‘My Dear Melancholy’ is a photographic project consisting out of a series of expressive self-portraits, which I photographed outside in public locations, to explore my issues with mental health. The self-portraits that I created during this project have given me the power to create photographs of the way I saw myself. The project consists of images that I shot only on a digital camera with a little help from my tripod and a self-timer.
This project is special for me, as it was the first time when I allowed myself to become so vulnerable in front of the camera, and express who I really am. I was thrilled to see my work published in Vogue Italia! It made me realise that there are people out there who connect with my work and that they are interested in seeing my story.
Britain Uncovered: Finally, other than the self-portraits series, which other types of art or photography do you most enjoy creating, and what are some of your upcoming plans for the next 12 months?
Olivia: Besides self-portraiture, I am really drawn to erotic art. I love erotic fashion photography. I love creating images, which make the viewer question their morals, awaken their imagination, and push their boundaries. However, because of lockdown, it’s been quite difficult to create those series.
Currently, I am developing my final major project for my MA in Photography. Before the end of the year, I am planning on travelling to Iceland and Norway, to continue taking self-portraits in the natural landscapes. I haven’t travelled anywhere outside of England in two years, so I am very excited to change my scenery and get out of London.
Hopefully, this is going to be a very inspiring and refreshing process for me, which is going to lead to new ideas and developing new projects, and I am very excited about that.
Oliwia Maria Koczorowska is a London-raised Polish artist whose primary creative focus is self-portraiture. She is best recognised for her challenging and sometimes disturbing artwork, often related to the explicit in-depth exploration into the intimate psyche of young women growing up in our image-obsessed culture, saturated with the constant presence of social media and idealised beauty standards.
She uses both photography and the female gaze, combining the two in an innovative way to redefine the fields of fashion, art and cinematic photography in order to make a profound impact on our fast-evolving visual world.