A shutter snaps and a piece of life is forever immortalized, showing a view of the world from another perspective. Photography is empathy and the meaningful collection of David Kopytko beautifully tells the story of life in a way that we can all feel.
There is desperation and glimpses of compassion’s absence, but there is also hope along with imagery of empowerment and bravery.
There is a delicate elegance in the way Kopytko approaches photographing people where as a lot of his locations and objects take an almost eerie trip through the ominous. No matter his focus the result is an interesting moment in time captured for all to experience.
Your client list is impressive, which of your projects has been the most rewarding to you?
In 2000, I was involved, along with photographers Gunther Gamper, Patricia Gonzalez and Pascal Teste in a project that we had named ''Witnesses: Chronicle Of A Non-Event''. The goal was to draw a portrait of Montreal over the 24 hours surrounding the transition to the new millennium, and the ''Y2K bug'' (hence the title). The purpose was also to document the diversity and discrepancies of our city which led to an exhibition of 100 images at the Centre d'Histoire de Montreal. This was a liberating experience.
What is your ideal dream camera set up and what do you operate on now?
My favorite camera is a small, simple mirrorless with a fixed-focal lens on it. Any good rangefinder fits the bill, along with a 28, 35 or 50mm lens, depending on your state of mind. The camera that I am using nowadays is a digital full-frame Leica M9, mainly with a 35mm lens.
What had the bigger positive influence on your work, your education at Dawson or your life’s travels?
Travels, since the real learning starts where school ends. I met some great teachers and friends at Dawson. This is also where I acquired a certain sense of self-discipline. Traveling is a quick way to step out of one's comfort zone, it makes one's creative juices flow. As our adaptive nature takes over, it sets us free to enjoy great moments of lucidity.
You live in Montreal now but were born in France. Is France or Canada more receptive to not just your photography but the arts as a whole?
I don't know enough about the French arts scene to really have an opinion.
I've so far had a great experience here, especially with museums and ''Maisons de la Culture''. There is an openness, not only towards photography but towards arts in general and it is easy to meet people from different fields and exchange work together. It is an extremely rich and active scene.
How important is the city you live in to your photography?
Montreal is my muse, my background and my home. I bring it along when I'm away. There is a sense of freedom here that is seldom found elsewhere and a richness that comes from variety. When something beautiful happens here, I feel a pride that has nothing to do with the territory. It is hard to describe, there is a peaceful feeling. I think that it comes from the people who choose to make their lives here.
What is the most meaningful photo that you’ve taken?
I really like the one of the old woman feeding the squirrels in the park. It is a picture of subversion (it is strictly forbidden to feed the squirrels in Montreal). I particularly like the fact that she is laughing as I am shooting away. It felt to me like a moment of mutual awareness even though we never said a word to one another.
Do you practice any other art form other than photography?
Yes, breathing! Asthma raises it to the level of a discipline...
Photography helps a lot, though. It is an amazing mental regulator.
I also really enjoy drawing non-figurative subjects. My grandfather was an ebenist and showed me some of his tricks... I just love matter and giving old objects a new life or sometimes transforming them, giving them a new purpose. And cooking, abstract at times too...
You seem to take a lot of inspiration from quotes. Do you have a favourite?
Quotes are wisdom in small packages (this is not a quote).
I really like this one: “Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught” -Oscar Wilde.
What I get from it is the notion that we all have something unique that allows us to participate in the evolution of the community, yet does not come from it and could never be manufactured or quantified.
What artist do you look up to the most?
Vivian Maier, a recently discovered photographer whose images were not discovered until after she died. You most probably know about her work by now, she was a Chicago nanny who always carried a camera on her way to work. She used it as a window and as a mirror, making candid portraits of society, as well as self-portraits (candid as well, which is less common...). She died in the hospital after a nasty fall in the winter of 2009, penniless and convinced that all of her images were gone forever.
If you couldn’t use the words experimental or captivating, how would you describe your photography?
Self-therapeutic. It is at the same time the illness and the cure for it. It helps me in finding my way and at the same time keeps raising new questions. It is the language that I use to communicate my feelings. It is also a great antioxidant.
Do you approach photographing people differently than places and objects?
Most objects are but a trace that people leave behind, they tell a human story and one can feel the human presence through them. I don't really have a conversation with objects (not yet). Places are a different thing, they can be humbling, especially natural landscapes. They are all questions and no answers, mysterious and awe-inspiring. To answer your question, I don't know, because building a composition appeals to the head, and showing an emotion appeals to the heart. And these two things are so intimately related not only for me, but in the general practice of arts.
A lot of your photos are black and white. Is that consciously part of your style?
I wouldn't use the word style, it is simply because some subjects benefit from the absence of colour. It is a case of ''less is more''.
For example, no one in their right mind would take pictures of autumn leaves in black and white. But when the symbolic becomes more important than realism, the subject gains from losing that chromatic dimension and the mind can focus on the essential. Also, I like to use black & white for portraits because there is something happening in the human face. An expression that tells a story and takes you to some place. It does not lie in the hue of a foundation.
How has COVID19 affected your art?
It pushed me to be more attentive, which has had a positive effect on my work.
It made me conscious of the extent at which some of us are privileged yet we still feel the need to control. We have the amazing power to let go, to be in the moment and to become more productive.
''Most people go through life dreading they'll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They've already passed their test in life. They're aristocrats.''
"Fixing a moment in time, hounding its true nature, seizing the beauty and ugliness of it all is my way of taking it all in." - David Kopytko