Michael Kominek, born in 1971 in Poland, is a photographer and gallery owner. He was co-founder and editor of the Spanish magazine SCOPE and runs since 2007 the Kominek Gallery in Berlin.
Peter F. (PF): Michael how did it happen that you founded the photo book gallery Kominek 2007 in Berlin. How did you get the idea to combine the various elements of publishing, bookstore and gallery?
Michael Kominek (MK): The basic idea was to create a specialized type of site to present the best photo books. My absolute dream was to publish books by myself, even if it would be very small editions.
I am an absolute fan of typography, a professional photographer and a photo book freak. I had to do a lot with publishing houses and magazines and made the experience that many photographers know themselves how to layout their work. That is the reason why I appreciate book projects by photographers who want to do everything by themselves and even don’t give away the choice of the paper. But of course there are also advantages in team working on a book and there are also a lot of brilliant book designers as well. For example Claudia Ott from Duesseldorf.
I lived fifteen years in Spain and worked there as a photographer. In 2000 I was co-founder of the magazine SCOPE. It was about cinema and the opportunities to do a movie with a low budget or even no budget or just a photo book. I always wanted to be independent from boundaries and profit targets. I just wanted to learn more about photo books but also about the art market. At this time I avoided to visit galleries and photo galleries for various reasons. For me photography was so much more than just a business. I wanted a diffrent kind of gallery.
PF: How important is the photo book as a presentation format for photography? What can the photo book do, what a print on the wall can not do?
MK: The photo book can be more narrative, more insistent and personal than a print. If you buy a photo book you can carry it home and experience a much more personal relation to the work compared to a visit of an exhibition. In addition the book can create a totally new work: the combination of typography, paper, design and photographs.
PF: The focus of the Kominek Gallery is documentary photography from the eastern and northern European countries. Why this special emphasis? Do you have a special affinity for photography from these countries?
MK: I’ve always had the opinion, that Eastern Europe has better photographers. Following right behind are the Scandinavians.
It may be the fact that the Slavic soul is always in a state of half-waking, half-dreaming and floating state. That provides a different starting point for taking photographs. You can see things from another angle.
With the Scandinavians, the Finns at least, I have had similar experiences. In addition, for geographical reasons, they have a special light.
Documentary photography can be an excuse to explore the world. Documentary style is a very open concept to me, so it also deals in one or another way with freedom.
PF: You had well-known photographers like Simon Roberts and Joakim Eskildsen on display, but you promote young talents as well. How the cooperation with these artists came about? Do you contact the artists by yourself or is it more like that artists introduce their projects to you?
MK: At the beginning I had targeted the people whose work I admire. My concern was mainly to build up a particular style or a direction of photography. Naturally this is a very subjective approach, but to me it makes a lot of fun to work with people whose pictures I would put on the wall for myself.
I always hope I can introduce this kind of work to other people. But the gallery is still under development, so we can not speak really of talent promotion at this time. But at least I’m very open to young talents.
Most important is fun and the exchange among the people. Therefore I would like to thank all photographers who previously participated the project, because without their consent and support the Kominek Gallery would not have been possible.
The idea of Kominek is to exhibit or publish books that interest me and are somewhat outside the usual pattern of the photographic scene. There is a long list of photographers that I admire and with whom I hope to realize future projects. But I am of course open to new people who are in line with my direction.
Soon the first photo book of Kominek Books will be published. It’s called “Far East / Far West” by Greg Girard, a Canadian photographer who is based in Asia since the 80s. The book will be presented in May 2010 at the Kassel Photo Book Festival.
PF: Under the influence of the economic crisis auctions and galleries reported strong sales declines. Do you feel the crisis as well, or is the photo book market a niche that will be affected less?
MK: The photo book market is probably a very small niche in the art and publishing market that applies to a specific audience only. Books such as “The Roma Journeys” by Joakim Eskildsen and Cia Rinne are perhaps an exception that became known beyond a small circle of photo book enthusiasts.
On the economic crisis I can not say that much. But I believe that the interest for photo books is growing globally and the photo book market will develop positive in a long-term. But when I hear about established book publishers who pre-finance their books by the photographers themselves, I think that above all these publishers have found a niche.
PF: All in all I have the impression that the interest in photo books as an art form continues to grow. In May 2010 the third Photo Book Festival takes place in Kassel and in June 2010 will follow the first Photo Book Days in Hamburg. That raises the question if two events with such a similar topic really make sense. How do you see this development?
MK: Basically I can just say that I appreciate very much if there are increasingly specialized events on photo books. Until now I know not that much about the Hamburg program. But I will join the Kassel Festival for the second time.
There were apprehensions that the subjects in Hamburg and Kassel will overlap, but I think that new festivals always need time to develop. So check times. I look forward to both festivals as well as visitors and as a participant.
PF: You’re on the road as a reviewer, for example at the f-stop festival in Leipzig. What are your experiences are with these reviews? What advice would you give to a photographer who logs on to a portfolio review?
MK: Portfolio reviews are a lot of fun. It’s always great to discover unknown works. Nevertheless, it can be a stressful affair, if you look closely at many works in such a short time.
My advice is to inform yourself thoroughly about the reviewers and their preferences. Think carefully about what you expect from the review: contacts, a publication, an exhibition or an opinion on a specific point of your own work. Speak directly about these expectations with the reviewer.
Portfolio reviews are very good chance to make contacts for photographers, publishers, curators and others people in the photo world. But to get a truly feedback to your own work in such a short time is perhaps a matter of luck. I think the feedback is more a first impression and mainly it is a matter of making contacts.
PF: The digital photography and digital media are changing photography in many ways. Micro Stocks, Flickr and user-generated content, to name just a few items became a part of everyday life. To what extent these changes affect the contemporary photography? What current trends do you see in contemporary photography?
MK: In connection to Flickr I think about the books by Joachim Schmid. He is a good example of what can be done with this incredible volume of images on the web. Digital photography has its advantages, but is not necessarily better. It offers simply other ways of photography.
For the first time I thought about the digital difference when I saw the pictures from Estonia by Donovan Wylie. Not because of the quality, but because of the approach. These images wouldn’t have been photographed analogue. He shot a lot of pictures which were then perfectly edited. So this series was developed while editing, not while shooting. Photo editor seems to be a profession with a great future in the digital world!
In the fine art world digital photography is considered shoddy. I don’t agree with this. I wait for the moment, when the differences between analogue and digital blurs away and everything goes back just to the image.
The specialty of analogue cameras is hat they all have their own characteristics, even mistakes, which must be handled. Digital is, however, almost too perfect. I prefer to photograph digitally with Russian analogue lenses.
PF: Michael, you studied photography yourself. Is there time for your own photography beside the gallery work? And if so, what is it?
MK: I work continuously on my personal projects. But above all I work up my archives. Soon my first self-published book will ready. Earlier works from 1996, entitled “First Journey”. A slightly surreal journey through Poland.
PF: Thank you for the Interview.