R.I.P Eryk Fitkau

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About Eryk
I cannot count how many times I have heard Eryk blurt out, "A photograph does not speak, it does not smell, it makes no sound, it does not move, it is just a two dimensional piece of paper, but a good photograph can do at least one if not all of the above!" At the end of the day that is exactly what Eryk's images are all about. Considering the fact that most of the images in this website have been created under the auspices of creative advertising photography makes it an even bigger achievement. Within the restrictions of budgets, client requirements, deadlines and all else associated with advertising, he never loses sight of the fact that a good photograph is more than just a two dimensional piece of paper.

With no formal training, Eryk was working as a photojournalist in communist Poland three months after he first picked up a camera. It was not about a love for the camera and photography as such at that stage, it was more about staying out of the work camps that the unemployed were put into by the government at that time. Up until then Eryk knew only Icehockey, exchanging money on the black market and a bit of modeling. The reality of it was that these were the things that actually helped him to succeed as a photojournalist, knowledge of street life, the ability to take risks and an active and creative mind. It more than made up for lack of technical knowledge and experience with the camera.

A few years later Eryk emigrated to Australia, he worked on building sites during the day and took photographs in restaurants at night. Slowly he infiltrated the world of advertising. I could fill a book with stories of the beginning of Eryk's career in Australia, maybe it is enough to say that there was no advertising in communist Poland and so there was no chance of getting experience or knowledge.

His first advertising shoot in Australia was done in the living room of an old house he'd just bought. The background was a curtain stolen from a demolition site he was working on and he had borrowed 2 lights. When he first got the job he had prepared a quote based on double a building labourers wages, just as he was about to give the advertising agency the bargain of the century something made him stop and explain that he was new to Australia and he wasn't familiar with the rates here so they gave him a budget. Be it enough to say that it was considerably more than what he was about to quote.

Unused to shooting transparency film and oblivious to the notion of clip testing, the final shots were overexposed. It didn't take him long to convince the art director and client that what he had done was something new, fresh and original. So began Eryk's advertising career.

It's all a bit different now. The studio is centrally located in Melbourne and constitutes 4,000 square feet. It has all its own lighting equipment, cameras, cyclorama, bar, dressing room, darkroom, artroom, etc. All processing and printing is done in the studio as it is necessary for Eryk's specialized photographic postproduction techniques. It is also important when working with tight deadlines and overseas clients as we are able to work successfully within limited time frames.

Unlike some photographers, Eryk enjoys and possibly thrives on diversity. He believes it keeps the senses alert, ideas fresh and the brain stimulated. To those who say that everything has been done, Eryk's reply is: "You have forgotten how to live, if you do not push yourself to experience, do not set new challenges, do not accept the good with the bad, then you can expect nothing". His greatest influence is life. Drawing on experience, being able to relate, understand, empathise, excite, stimulate. Advertising demands that you work hard, play hard and then take time out to recharge batteries in order to be able to do it all again. 

Recharging batteries happens in a house on the beach in the country far from Melbourne in an area one can only refer to as fishing heaven. Obsessive as Eryk is about creating images, he is equally obsessive about his fishing, both small and large fish, ocean or estuary. Amongst the locals in the small town he is as revered for his fishing ability as he is worldwide for his photography. The house is situated in such prime country area that it is now equipped with darkroom and postproduction area as the location has proven itself time and time again for a variety of shoots from catalogues to advertising of all descriptions.

For many, Eryk's strength lies in his photographic postproduction techniques, I say it lies in his ability with people. Not only those he puts in front of the camera, but those he surrounds himself with. The importance of production, the right selection of talent, makeup, stylist, the right everything. Every link is important, if one link is weak it will show in the final image. Advertising relies on group effort. I watch him brief people, explaining the concept, his ideas, lighting, showing references and then he waits for input. Inevitably every now and then there is a new makeup artist or stylist who listens carefully and then with the best of intentions quietly asks, But Eryk, what do you want me to do?

At this point, those who are used to him suddenly remember something very urgent and important that they should be doing and they disappear into different corners of the studio to the strains of Eryk's voice, "Sweetheart, I am not a makeup artist, do I ask you what film I should use? You know the brief, you have seen the model, the references, my lighting - now make it work!!!!!!" It may all sound a bit severe, but lets face it, its a tough industry and its amazing what people produce under pressure.

Indeed the industry thrives on pressure and needless to say so does Eryk. It is under pressure that ideas flow, decisions are made and the sun comes out when least expected. It is also at these moments when budgets and restrictions become secondary to the need to produce good shots. There can be no worse feeling than the knowing that you have not succeeded, despite sometimes very real restrictions beyond anybody's control. Similarly the thrill of succeeding against the odds has no equal. There are different measures for success in Advertising, such as winning awards or being selected for publications, but the thing which generates the most satisfaction is knowing that an ad has really worked.

I remember when a young designer came to Eryk and wanted him to shoot an ad for her. She was fairly new in the fashion industry and could not really afford him, but her attitude and determination got him thinking and he struck a deal with her. If she trusted him he would come up with an idea which would be very simple and inexpensive but it would buy her publicity. She trusted him. Without doing anything illegal, immoral, sexist or offensive he did a simple black and white shot, very photojournalistic in style. It was published in one magazine. One week later the ad appeared on every prime time news bulletin on every major television channel along with interviews with the designer in her shop. Lets just say that you couldn't wipe the smile off Eryk's face for a long time.

Helmet Newton once said that, every photographer has got a tiger inside, unfortunately the tiger often dies before the photographer. For Eryk, setting himself challenges like that every now and then, combined with diversity of work, big jobs, small jobs, some very large parties, some smaller parties and fishing, keeps the tiger very much alive. 

Models too often need more than a bit of prodding to make them work, with experienced models there is often the need to break established routines in order to get that extra magic. The current swing towards more real people in advertising, often involves scouting and working with inexperienced people of all ages and genres. To a large degree Eryk almost prefers the fresh and uninhibited reactions of inexperienced talent. The result is that we are always scouting our own talent which we use extensively for a variety of jobs, many of whom appear throughout the book. 

At the end of the day, the studio structure means that Eryk manages to have control over the work he does. Every detail from choosing talent to how his films are processed is important to the final result. At the same time let me not forget the importance of Eryk, his eccentricities, love of people, nature, fishing and of course photography. His inability to do anything in halves, be it work or play - it is always all or nothing and maybe that is at the end of the day what counts the most.

photography site: http://www.eryk.com.au

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