Behind the Lens: An Interview with Photographer Jakub Śliwa

January 02, 2015


If you’ve visited our website lately, you’ve probably been wowed by the gorgeous camerawork of photographer Jakub Śliwa. A Kraków native, Jakub travels far and wide for his photography projects and is often on the road. Luckily, we were able to catch him during some down time, and he graciously agreed to answer some questions for us about his work, his hometown, and how he came to know the ancient language of Sanskrit.

When did you start taking pictures?

As a teenager I was fascinated with darkroom techniques – all that magic done with developers, fixers, light and photographic emulsion. I used to spend weeks in the darkroom. At the same time, I was also reading everything I could about photography – its theory, optics, chemistry, history, artistic aspects, etc. I got my first serious jobs while I was still a student, working for museums, advertising agencies and publishing companies. But even then, I was already more interested in reportage/documentary photography.

What kind of camera(s) do you use?

For different jobs you need different tools. For me, a camera is first of all a tool. Sometimes, I choose a specific camera to achieve a desired effect. I use Holgas, self-made camera obscuras and many lo-fi cameras. For my own projects, I might use film or sheet cameras like Linhof Technorama, Graflex, or Mamiya. For most of my assignments, I use a Nikon d3 with two or three favorite lenses. 

What are your inspirations?

I have seen so many inspiring photographs, some by great and widely known authors, and others by unknown or even anonymous ones. 

I am constantly seeking inspiration and ideas. Everywhere I go, I keep my eyes open. I also find inspiration in the news, the books I read, the films I watch, etc. I think of it like a puzzle: you need to gather several pieces from random places and then you have an idea for a story to tell.

Your portfolio is amazing! You’ve photographed everything from a leper colony in India, to gold mining in Sudan, to garbage collectors in Egypt. Which projects are especially memorable or significant for you and why?

These are all my own projects, i.e., my own ideas, not done for any client and not assignments. One of the most important projects for me was the zabaleen, the garbage collectors from Cairo. I spent a lot of time with them, living and working in Mokattam Vilage. Even more important was being able to enter the community of Lepers near Puri in India. I spent about two weeks in the colony working on that project.

What is the next place you want to visit?

For the past few years, I have been working on some projects in India, so that is probably where I’ll head next.

What are your favorite things about Kraków? How has it changed since you were a kid?

My favorite things and places in Krakow are connected with my childhood and early youthful memories. Many places have changed; many don’t exist anymore. Especially the neighborhood of Kazimierz. I prefer the old and ruined one with dark courtyards and gateways. Now it is renovated, rebuilt, and full of tourists –though it still has some charm.

We hear you studied Sanskrit in university! What attracted you to that field? Are you still involved with it?

Sanskrit was only one part of my studies, I studied Indology, and you can’t understand Indian culture, philosophy, etc. without knowing Sanskrit. I don’t use it often, but my knowledge of this dead language is sometimes useful in India, where I still spend quite a bit of time.

To check out Jakub’s amazing portfolio, visit:

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