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Capturing lives, experience and truth on camera

Watching people throughout his career has taught Canon Ambassador Piotr Malecki a simple truth: that humans want to be good and do good things.
A black and white image of five people in waterproof clothing trying to push a small fishing boat from the shore back into a choppy ocean. In the front and centre of the shot sits a black dog, his fur windswept and leaning to the left as the wind blows hard against him. Copyright Piotr Malecki

Capturing lives, experience and truth on camera

Canon Camera

Written by Piotr Malecki and Cecilie Harris

Canon Ambassador Piotr Malecki sees himself as more of an “observer than a creator”, which is why people are at the centre of the stories he tells. He is compelled to capture things just as they are, in their authentic environment. It is a clarifying simplicity that teaches us a key lesson: at our core, almost all of us want to believe we are doing good things.

“These fishermen have their boats in the Baltic Sea, and I chose to go there in the middle of winter. It was -10° or so, the harshest time for the fishermen. Nevertheless, they go out to sea because to fish there is more efficient in winter than in summer. There was a moment when one of the vessels was pushed onto the beach by the waves and wind, and people came to help. You can see the fishermen and some locals from the village trying to push the boat back into the sea – like nature versus humans. How does the story end? Well, they pushed it out, but in the end they couldn't do it by themselves, so they used a rope and another boat and finally got it into the sea.

During my work, I have learned that almost all of us want to be good. I have this feeling that we do things according to our beliefs and everything that has happened in our lives. It is linked to what we watch and see around us, but that at our core we really want to believe that we are doing good things. So, it's up to us to judge who we think we are. I have learned to sympathise and understand peoples’ points of view, even people I don't agree with. Their point of view comes from everything they have experienced throughout their lives and wherever they are at this moment.

A black and white image of five people in waterproof clothing trying to push a small fishing boat from the shore back into a choppy ocean. In the front and centre of the shot sits a black dog, his fur windswept and leaning to the left as the wind blows hard against him.

© Piotr Malecki

For me, my story started the day my father gave me a camera on my 11th Christmas. I remember going to the park to take pictures of my family and then he and I went together to the darkroom, which was set up in the bathroom of our flat. He showed me the process of developing the film, drying the film and making prints out of it. This was completely new to me! The physical experience of being in the ‘darkroom’ and watching a piece of white paper in water turn into a picture was so mesmerising that I knew that this was something I needed to do. During my teenage years, I was always the guy who liked photography and taking pictures, and I even made a little exhibition at my high school. Early on, I loved playing with the tripod and experimenting with long exposures. When choosing my higher education, juggling the ideas of being a doctor or a photographer, I was not sure I was bright enough to go the doctor route, so I went into filmmaking, as that was the closest alternative to photography.

As time went by, I really enjoyed portraits and the psychology of the person – trying to read their eyes, the atmosphere and what they were feeling inside. Now I approach portrait photography in a reportage and documentary way – I don't like interfering with the situation and would much rather catch it as it is. When I meet people I am going to photograph, I like to talk to them, but I don't push it too far. They know why I'm there, to take pictures of them and sometimes we make friends, sometimes we don't. Sometimes we simply understand each other and sometimes we don’t, and that's fine too. We are all different human beings.

On the right, a black and white portrait of Piotr Malecki, who wears a black polo-neck and black rimmed glasses. On the left, a quote that reads, ““I am proud that the pictures I take are not manipulated in any way, which means not only digital manipulation but also manipulation of the space or the people themselves.”

And I like to share my view of the world. In my series on kids during the Covid lockdowns, I wanted to share my regret that these children couldn't go to school at the time and ask, "what is the cost of keeping them at home?" I would typically come to their homes in the morning, have a cup of tea and chat with them, or sit with them as they had a class. I would be shooting, then put the camera away and talk a little bit and then shoot again. The psychology is extremely important because this is about the kids and how they coped with the situation and about the costs. I'm always interested in the human side of the story.

I am a better observer than a creator. This is one of the reasons why I shoot documentaries. I'm drawn to telling stories that I think are interesting to me as well as interesting visually. But, as a photographer you often have a lot of contact with people, so maybe this has shaped me into a person who finds it easy being with others. Or perhaps it has helped me to be more attentive to the world around me. At the moment, 99% of the work I do is in media, and I have been given insight into many stories that I otherwise would not have seen. I am constantly where the stories are and in places where the news is happening. It gives me insight and knowledge instead of a view filtered by the media and I am proud that the pictures I take are not manipulated in any way, which means not only digital manipulation but also manipulation of the space or the people themselves. I'm trying to be as truthful as possible.”

Learn more about Piotr and his work on his Canon Ambassador profile page.

Written by Piotr Malecki and Cecilie Harris


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