The Stunning Nature (And Industry) of Poland From Above
Kacper Kowalski will tell you there’s a beautiful sense of wonder in gazing at things from above. That’s why he takes to the sky in a paramotor to capture breathtaking views of Poland for his series Side Effects.
This impetus to spot patterns is evident in his work, in which striking aerial perspectives reveal unexpected forms and textures in the landscape.
Kowalski fell in love with flying some 20 years ago when he learned paragliding. He added a paramotor (which he flies competitively) and gyrocopter to his skill set, taking photos while aloft so he might share the views with friends. In 2006, he quit his job at his father’s architectural firm to shoot aerial photography full time. “All my photography exists because I love to fly. I have to fly,” he says. “Photography is like an excuse for flying. I take pictures because I can see the world from above. I don’t take pictures on the ground. Not at all.”
He photographed in India, Mongolia and China, but eventually found greater challenge shooting landscapes he knows well. Kowalski works within a 50-mile radius of his home in Gdynia, Poland. His ongoing series and book are a stunning catalog of his homeland. Kowalski doesn’t identify the locations because he believes not knowing what you’re seeing enhances the sense of wonder. “I know every stone here and am not seduced by exotic forms and colors, I can be more focused. And sometimes I manage to spot real changes in and from nature, civilization, humans, and industry—these big, serious things can sometimes show themselves in an inconspicuous, nuanced way,” he says. “This is what I’m hunting for—these little scratches.”
Kowalski likes to fly solo, often soaring no more than 500 feet above the terrain. This isn’t as tricky as you might think; as long as it’s not too windy, Kowalski lets the paramotor fly itself, using his bodyweight to direct the aircraft. This leaves his hands free to shoot. If he’s in the gyrocoptor, he’ll idle the control stick between his knees while shooting. After a decade of flying and shooting, it’s become second nature.
While he sometimes uses a drone for preliminary scouting, Kowalski likes to leave his escapades and images to chance. Because he flies year-round in a relatively small area, Kowalski often returns to the same location in different seasons. Incredibly, the intensely bright colors of his photos are exactly as he saw them; he doesn’t use filters or alter them in post-production.
Kowalski hopes the images make viewers curious, and think about how people may alter or harm the world around them. “That lies at the core of this project: the paradox of development that bears both the costs and profits for us, the transformation of our neighborhood that we love and hate at the same time,” he says.
Side Effects is on view at The Curator Gallery in New York City through February 20, 2016.
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