On the Golden Couch was lucky to catch up with one of the busiest humans in Ballarat: Polish-born photographer and wearer of copious hats, Aldona Kmieć.
Aldona is a professional photographer and a former City of Ballarat Multicultural Ambassador (currently a Culture Diversity Advisor). She works on a wide range of commercial, public art and portrait commissions. Her photography is driven by everyday encounters with people on her multi-country migrant journey.
Aldona has won many international awards and exhibits in Australian and European galleries.
You are originally from a farm in Poland, and now call Ballarat home. Can you tell us about that journey?
Yes, I grew up on what is now 160 acres on our family near Czestochowa, (Upper Silesia, Poland), owned since early 1820s. My family’s always been involved in local community (about 2000 people) – my Dad has been a public servant for 22 years, electrician, farmer, his father and grandfather were also very involved. My youngest sister’s too jumped into my Dad’s shoes, two years ago winning a state competition in agriculture/farming as a first female in the history of that competition.
We all just love the feeling of being involved!
I’ve lived in Warsaw until 2004, London until 2009, Gold Coast 2009-10 and after the Gold Coast I wanted to live in the coldest city in Australia. So here I am Ballarat!
Is Ballarat a good place to follow your artistic dreams?
Australia has a very small population (for example Poland’s population is 39 million) and realistically, if you’re thinking of pursuing an ambitious and professional artist career, it is twice as hard here as it is in Europe or US.
But, if you’re coming from a different perspective and are not a ‘die-hard’, the place shouldn’t matter. I think it’s about people and how you connect with them, the art you create, the values you have and how you want to live your life. Ballarat is slowly developing, which may be frustrating for younger generations (and rightly so, I left my home town too!), but it’s what you put in you get out of it.
There are some days when I get really homesick. Skype doesn’t solve it in a longer run, you just got to see your family as often as you can and live those memories. I’d love to live in Poland again for some time.
Not only are you an award-winning photographer, but you wear many other hats. Can you give us a run down on the other numerous activities and community work you are involved in.
My parents don’t know where I got it from, but they just have to look in the mirror.
Mainly, I’m a freelance photographer/small business owner. I manage two websites and have online print sales (visit on www.aldonakmiec.com !!).
I’m super excited to continue my volunteer position as a Culture Diversity Advisor with City of Ballarat, a continuation of the Multicultural Ambassador Program. We have great projects on the go like My Australia My Journey book ( a collection of migrant stories) and it’s great to see that the new Ambassadors group has a really strong potential to lead and work on inclusive projects in the Ballarat community.
This year I also received a sponsorship from Council of Ballarat to develop my skills with LBWR (Leadership Ballarat Western Region). It’s a great one-year long eye opener program to learn valuable things about the problems our local community is facing and how to make it better for everyone.
I’ve been a supporting member of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale Festival Committee since 2011 and starting to prepare for next year festival again I’m also a Marketing, Comms & Membership Officer with Ballarat Arts Alive (feel free to join at http://baa.mx)
There are also some exciting news that I received recently from Sydney, so watch this space (yay!!!)
Where did you study?
I’ve changed directions many times. Mainly because I love learning new things and I kept moving from one place to another to try to find happiness. And you never stop learning anyway. I completed commercial Photography Studies at The London Metropolitan University in UK, Tourism & Hospitality in Czestochowa Poland and a Small Business Management course in Australia.
Working on a family farm until the age of 19 and running a freelance business are two of the best schools I ever went to.
The absolutely wonderful We R You project was impossible to miss, as it was plastered all over Ballarat, can you describe what it was about, how it got off the ground, how it was funded, its impact, how it was received by Ballarat locals and if it will repeated in the future.
We R You was funded by The Victorian Department of Justice and conceived as a graffiti intervention initiative. Council of Ballarat Arts & Culture Ballarat’s engaged me to run a series of photographic activities in January throughout to mid-May 2013 to engage the local community in a street art project.
Participants from many different community groups created large digital photographic portraits of diverse people who were ‘invisible’ in our community. These portraits were printed on paper and then pasted in identified graffiti hot-spots around Ballarat. The first building that received the image ‘makeover’ was the Blockbuster building on the corner of Mair/Camp streets.
It was hugely successful and it’s still going!! I believe it’s now We R You II, engaging other local artists producing some amazing colourful murals – quite a contrast to previous b&w posters and I’m sure there will be more.
It’s a fantastic project. You can always pop in to my studio to have your portrait taken too!
Thanks, but I may need a hair and beard trim before I visually assault the good people of Ballafornia
How was working with the Ballarat Council? Are they encouraging to local artists?
Deborah Klein, Julie Collins, Daniel Henderson and all other staff at Council of Ballarat Arts & Culture Unit are very supportive and they’re the ones who chase up all funding for these great art and public art projects we’ve been having here in the last 3.5 years that I’ve been living here. Things are definitely moving into a great direction and there are a lot of new projects coming in. I’d still love to see more commissioned murals and empty shops turning into exhibition spaces, connecting arts community with business community and working together. I believe it’s possible, mutually beneficial and can spark other people creative ideas.
I have a dream of Ballarat becoming an artistic hub, something like Bilbao (the run-down industrial town in Spain which was rejuvenated, and put on the map when the Guggenheim was built). Am I stark raving mad, or do you think my dream is feasible?
Are you star raving mad?? Of course dreams are worth having if only you put enough energy to realize them You better go and check out that laneway just off Webster St (between Loch Ave and Frank St). It’s a great example of an artistic, rejuvenated space. St Kilda inspired murals are by Casey Tosh www.caseytosh.com.au
Whose work (both past and present) do you really admire and why?
So many people. I love portraiture and not necessarily the flattering one.. What always interested me in portrait was bringing up character in people and the lever of difficulty that came with it. Who? Platon, Leibovitz, Avedon, Erwitt, Trent Parke, Tomasz Gudzowaty, Salgado. Everyday people I meet on the street. I love ethnic music, films, especially Polish-French collaborations.
What themes do you pursue?
I’m interested in the connection with the subject. It’s not easy to admit, but I’m full of fear – what if I don’t get the photo I can clearly see in my head, or… what if I won’t express myself enough in English/or Polish to get this particular expression from the sitter… It’s a difficult and intimate time that you have to have if you want to do it well, without that, it’s just a dry shot, almost like a lost opportunity. I love collaborating with other people and not necessarily just artists.
What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
Trying to catch up on Polish books. Trying to learn more about Australian culture, books, music. Getting back into the piano accordion playing… I’m also spending time in the garden, planting, building pathways, fire pits, swimming, cycling and eating well. Taking care of myself basically. It’s too easy nowadays to loose that connection with the body and mind, which can quickly lead to anxiety and all other negative feelings. It’s good to have people around, I function best when I’m surrounded by people and I have to say I really miss that sense of family connection from Poland.
Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting, that you can tell us about (I’m particularly hinting at Big Space)? Anything you would like to share? Upcoming gallery shows?
Big Space is a great experiment – shared artist space. Some time ago an opportunity has presented itself and we (Sam Brown of Morgan Creative, Amy Tsilemanis of Weave Length Productions and myself) took it in.
We’d love to stay in that space, although being self-employed freelancers, it is an obvious risk signing a long-term commercial lease beginning of winter in Ballarat. So we are open to sharing it with other people.
On April 11th Wolveschildren Art Space is hosting a great collaborative exhibition called Each to Each – definitely check this one out.
I’m also working on a Polish Exhibition at The Mining Exchange – part of Heritage Weekend and another Heritage exhibition at ‘A’ Hall asking a question ‘Who Made Ballarat’.
Forge Pizzeria still hosts my exhibition of multicultural portraits; I’d love to find a permanent space for them in Ballarat or Melbourne.
Favourite place to go/ thing to do in Ballarat?
Tennis, cycling, hatching plans for overseas adventures, catching a train to Melbourne to see good exhibitions – sadly Ballarat, apart from the Ballarat International Foto Biennale Festival, doesn’t utilise any of these great empty shops we have in CBD. I do hope to see a permanent photographer’s gallery in Ballarat, I could even run it (just hinting to any philanthropic donors out there…)
Thanks so much Aldona for taking time to chat with BallaFornia.com!
All images are copyright of Aldona Kmieć