Agnieszka Sosnowska was born in Warsaw, Poland and was raised in Boston, Massachusetts. The word ‘För’, which stands for the title of her recent series, is an Icelandic feminine noun that means journey, the act of traveling from one place to another, to be moving or moved. It also refers to the route along which something travels or the tracks or marks one leaves behind.
Perhaps you can speak first about your early life to set the scene. Where did you grow up and how did that environment shape you?
I was born in Warsaw, Poland. My parents and I are first generation Americans. I immigrated at a young age. I was raised and educated in Boston, Massachusetts. My parents still reside there. My first language was Polish and I still speak it today. I was sent away to spend summers in Communist Poland as a kid. Those trips were surreal. I would spend months staying with extended family. Those visits really shaped the idea of narrative in my life.
You can be standing in a serene forest or field in Poland that appears calm and beautiful only to learn of the tragedy that occurred in that very spot during WWII. In my family’s town of Rembertów existed a large jewish ghetto. As a kid I would walk across the field where the ghetto once stood. You wouldn’t know this fact unless it was told to you.
I guess that influenced my thinking. Things are never as they appear. Duality exists in how we perceive and what things actually are. I believe this shaped my thinking as a very young person.
What were the key elements to your photographic education? I don’t just mean photographers-schools—I’m thinking of key life experiences or other forms of art.
Iceland. I think if I hadn’t met this culture and people then I couldn’t have grown so much as a woman, artist and a wife. I met my Icelandic husband 20 years ago. We live a remote rural lifestyle in the eastern part of the country. We step out into unbelievable beauty everyday. We don’t have to drive or even hike, it’s right outside. We are totally immersed. Being in nature and not traveling to it has made a huge difference in my being. I am calmer, more focused and healthier.
Living here has challenged my creativity. It has encouraged me to work harder and not give up. I think the rough climate and lack of light for a good part of the year influences my determination.
I feel that your recent work shows how fascinating and at the same time demanding the relationship between man and nature is. After almost fifteen years of living on your farm in Iceland, how would you describe this relationship?
You have to be incredibly self reliant to live our lifestyle. Most of the work we do all ourselves. Finding and building a water source, replacing the roof on the barn, maintaining the land. If we had to hire people to do this work for us we’d be broke. You become independent. It is both hard and rewarding. Our land is very beautiful and isolated. When friends arrive at our farm they are often in awe of it. We’ve been told many times how special it is. It is mine. I have worked to get and keep it not without a struggle. As the years pass I realize it’s been worth it.
Your visual story could potentially bring up uncomfortable thoughts about the modern society structure. Have you ever considered shifting – if not living – attention to the urban landscape?
At this time in my life I prefer to visit cities than be in them. I love the rush. Everything’s open 24 hours, the crowds, the museums, the restaurants. After 3-5 days I usually reach my limit and want out. I have trouble hearing myself think in those environments. As I age I find that I need less distractions. Living in nature and not visiting it gives me that.
In addition to your self-portraits, in the series, we also see people of various ages. Could you tell us more about this choice?
These photographs are a conversation of my daily life. I used to try to take pictures according to a “project” in mind. What ended up happening is that things I’d love to photograph were squashed. They wouldn’t make it into a “project.” I was miserable as a result of this. I nearly gave up photography altogether and started to hate doing it. Instead I tried to get back to the freedom I had when I first started to learn how to use a camera. That total discovery of just looking and feeling what you’re seeing.
I teach on a daily basis, full time. I photograph my students, landscapes on my drive to the grocery store, friends and family visiting our farm, hanging out with people in our town that I’d never met before and just getting to know them. That opens the photographs up to a wide range of individuals. I always have a camera with me. I never know who will end up in a photograph. It’s exciting and I enjoy the freedom of no constraints.
I can notice that you are working on long-term projects. How do you decide the perfect timing to put down the camera and present the work?
Well I take pictures of what’s happening constantly. It’s been 16 plus years now so I think a deadline doesn’t apply. I would love to share the work as it progresses with the world. I am not a believer in “perfect” or “timing.” It’s wonderful to just let work play out over a long span of time. It’s wild to compare the self portraits years ago with those today. I have aged so much! You can see life took its toll. It’s both sad and beautiful.
Some photographers prefer photobooks, while others prepare exhibitions for presenting their work. Taking into consideration your artistic activity, you probably belong to the second category. Where would you place yourself, and why would you prefer this kind of presentation?
I am a really good cook. I love being in the kitchen and preparing elaborate dinners for friends. I equate working in the darkroom with that of a kitchen. When I create a beautiful print I love to share it with the world. Similar to that of a great meal. To stand in front of a silver gelatin print masterfully rendered is truly moving. I remember as a young woman seeing Edward Weston’s and Julia Margaret Cameron’s prints in a museum and I was in a trance for hours. The beauty was intoxicating.
What are your next steps?
Currently I am fulfilling a 3 month grant for the Icelandic government. The topic of the grant is erosion. Land erosion in East Iceland caused by wind, grazing, water and eruptions. During this grant I will be collaborating with poet Ingunn Snædal. We will be traveling to various areas together and just get lost experiencing a place together. We are both turning 50 this summer! I think this life event will influence the outcome of these photographs and writings. This Fall I will be part of a group exhibition at The Hafnarfjördur Centre of Culture and Fine Art in Iceland. The exhibition is called “Community of Sentient Beings.” It will be August 27th. to October 30th. Lastly I will be working towards the publishing of a book. The scope will be my work from the past 16 years in Iceland.
One last thing, in your art making or perception of art in general, what would be the biggest difference between the early stages of your career and the present?
To not overthink. To be in the moment. To welcome chances. To make mistakes.
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