Joanna Kulesza was born in Queens and grew up on Long Island. She is a photographer and editor based out of Austin, accepting assignments in Texas and beyond. Her past projects include acting as a production assistant for the 2016 award-winning documentary film, Jackson, and interning under Lauren Greenfield during the production of her documentary, Generation Wealth.
Currently, she can be found roaming around Austin, or otherwise under the dark cloth of her large-format camera.
DRP: Hello Joanna, where are you in Texas and what do you photograph?
JK: Hi there. I am based in Austin where photography is both a love and a livelihood for me. For client work, I photograph documentary assignments, weddings, portraits, events, social media imagery, and the like. With my personal work, I am most interested in longform documentary-type projects that explore cultural dynamics, relationships, and stories of human connection.
DRP: Your portrait work is stunning, how do you approach people when you photograph?
JK: Thank you. I used to be very shy about it but have recently gained the confidence and humility to approach people a little more tactfully. Before approaching someone to take their portrait, I try to gauge the temperature of each situation. It is a blurry line that is sort of learned over time, and something I still struggle with. Above all, I introduce myself, stay engaged and honest with people, and send them their portraits whenever I can.
DRP: The work you're sharing, Creek, documents people and the landscape along the Greenbelt area in Austin, TX. How did you come about photographing this area and the people you ran into?
JK: I was struggling to find a project that I really wanted to delve into because I thought I needed to travel the breadth of Texas to make really good pictures. My situation at the time wasn’t lining up to this grand photo road trip and so eventually I started looking closer to home and exploring what was easily available to me. I was spending a lot of time on the Greenbelt to escape the hustle of city life, and felt really inspired by the organic encounters I was having with people. I decided to continue pursuing portraits of creek bathers and see what kind of work I could make just by going out to these secluded gathering places.
DRP: What is it about the Greenbelt that brings people together?
JK: I think that Austin, as a city, needs a place to commune outside of bars and restaurants which tends to dominate much of the landscape here. The Greenbelt weaves around high rises and is nestled beneath underpasses, which always felt really poetic to me, and so I think the desire to escape the city and connect with nature is obvious. People are always going to be flocking to creeks. There is also a big party side to the Greenbelt that I didn’t discuss or document in this project. I wanted my particular pictures to focus on relationships and evoke quiet connections.
DRP: What do you feel a sense of when you photograph water?
JK: Photographing water is great because it can be a metaphor for so many different things. There is something particularly grounding to me about setting up a large format camera within the water. The Greenbelt only enhances the experience because of how the water absorbs color so richly. It definitely has lackluster days, but in it’s best form it glows in an electric palette of teals, blues, and greens.
DRP: I think that the notion of water has a lot of symbolism right now, with the events of Hurricane Harvey. Do you believe those events will inform your work as you continue the series?
JK: We didn’t see too much of the Harvey flooding here in Austin, but I am definitely interested in pursuing work with the hurricane relief efforts. I am planning on going on a group photo trip to Beaumont later this month, and I imagine that experience may definitely inform future Texas-based projects.
DRP: How long do you think you will continue Creek?
JK: I think it will be a project I look back to indefinitely, but at the moment am not making a huge push to create new work for. There is so much going on politically at the moment in Texas and beyond, and I feel compelled to use journalistic storytelling in a more informative and socially-charged way for my next project.
DRP: Do you have any other bodies of work or exhibitions in the making?
JK: I briefly paused creative endeavors to focus on building up some more client work, but that has not stopped me from planning future ideas. I have been scheming up a documentary project about discovering family - specifically my own. My very large extended family lives in Poland or elsewhere in Europe, and I have this dream of traveling the breadth of those countries to discover how deep my roots go there. I want to create a sort of family album utilizing large-format plus some audio and video elements.
DRP: Thank you Joanna!
JK: Thank you for having me! Looking forward to discovering more Texas photo through your wonderful platform.