This photographer creates fine art with travel and street photography
Nina Papiorek is one of those rare photographers who effortlessly encompasses different genres. You are transported immediately to a moment on the street, Papiorek’s keen eye isolating a lone figure in a jungle of modern architecture.
However, her images also contain a travel photographer’s sense of place and, without exception, a fine art sensitivity and minimalist balance. DIYP asked Nina how she manages to combine all the elements of her life to find time to travel and continue to be inspired to create these exquisite images.
DIYP: Tell us a little about yourself and your photographic journey and how you got started
Nina: I am a mother of two, and I work as a graphic designer and photographer. I am a coffee junkie, a music lover, and I have a certain fondness for design and minimalism. If you ask me about my hobbies, it comes down to exactly one. Photography.
You will definitely not hear the typical story about my father introducing me to photography as a child! To be honest, in my family nobody had ever been interested in this topic or given it a single thought. So it was just up to me to find “my thing“. I started getting serious about photography about 20 years ago. One morning, I just woke up with the idea. So I bought a camera to take along on a trip, a gift I had given myself after graduating.
DIYP: How long did it take you to really find your style and niche? What advice would you have for photographers still looking to define their style?
Nina: I really believe that you don’t have to find your style, your style finds you! You should just NOT think about finding a style, just shoot whatever you like! Over time you learn what looks good in your own eyes, and you understand how to optimize your photos.
I would say my “style“ is Fine art, maybe a mix of street and landscape photography. Depending on my mood, sometimes one genre gets more space, sometimes the other.
For the last four years, however, my focus has clearly been on street photography, which is very line and shape-based in my world. I like using architectural backgrounds or minimalist patterns, working with leading lines and integrating lonesome people into their urban environment.
What runs through all my photos is a very minimalist approach. I like tidy, clear images where my eye is led directly to the main subject and is not distracted by anything. As a result, the smallest things, like a single stone in the water, become the star of the photo, and you recognize their elegance and beauty in a completely different and unique way. Thank you for calling it “my style,” in my eyes, that is the biggest compliment for a photographer.
DIYP: What is the most challenging aspect of street photography?
Nina: I don’t even think I am a typical street photographer, I call myself a Fine Art photographer “on the street“. As a street photographer, you always try to catch the daily life, some typical scenes, and it’s kind of a documentary. That’s not really my personal focus, I want to create some aesthetic views. Maybe something you would like to hang on your wall. So I think it’s a different approach.
But both lay most importance on patience and “seeing“. You need to recognize a good situation and the perfect moment. It’s all about being outside and motivating yourself.
DIYP: Your images are almost without exception in black and white. What draws you to this absence of colour? Will you ever be seduced to start shooting in colour?
Nina: I can’t associate the term “seduction” with that at all. For me, black and white is very supportive in implementing my minimalist approach. Colours are distracting, especially if they don’t match or appear in large numbers in my shot.
For me, black and white is absolute aesthetics. I often see colour images and wonder what the photographer saw in the colour scheme. In my opinion, it often doesn’t support the image’s message at all.
I have little connection to colour images and think in black and white when taking photos. There are certainly always single pictures that actually look better and more harmonious in colour, but on the whole, you won’t find this with me in several years.
DIYP: Your photos almost always feature a figure, either alone or interacting with the scene in some way. Do you plan this in advance, or just let things unfold organically?
Nina: Sometimes I plan it, sometimes not. I like walking through the city spontaneously and looking for backgrounds, repetitive patterns or an exciting light situation. Especially in unfamiliar places, I feel highly inspired by the novelty of a place. I notice circumstances that I would simply overlook at home in everyday life.
But of course, I often find my settings at well-known buildings, for example, and do research beforehand. Basically, when I go on a trip, I usually have a plan in my pocket to help me along if my creativity falls asleep or even leaves me. Such phases happen. After a long period of anticipation, you finally arrive in Lisbon, and suddenly your feet hurt, it’s far too warm, and the photos you’ve taken so far don’t satisfy you. My mood can quickly change in those situations!
In cases like this, I can use my plan as a guide and know which place is likely to reawaken creativity. But of course, I don’t think in advance about which photo might be taken there, from which corner of the square it will be taken or what exactly the result should look like. Concerning these aspects, I like going to a place completely unbiased.
Photography, for me, means patience. You can’t take a single shot and think, “That’s it“. You have to work a scene to make it better. Or maybe perfect. Try, try, try… shoot, shoot, shoot. So my photography is probably not street photography. I would call it “Fine Art on the street“.
DIYP: Where is your favourite place that you’ve photographed so far? Do you feel more inspired by new locations or do you enjoy revisiting the same locations?
Nina: I always feel more inspired by a new location where I have never been before. My favourite place to take photos was the city of Varanasi in India on the holy river Ganges. But you won’t find any of these in my portfolio. It was the indescribable feeling of mysticism and otherness in this place that captivated me and that I can hardly put into words. In Europe, I love the city of Lisbon more than anything.
DIYP: What camera equipment do you typically use?
Nina: I am A Fujifilm user, and I photograph with the GFX medium format as much as with the X system. What I love about the GFX system is the unbelievable image quality, especially when it comes to my architecture-based photography, and I have to correct lines or crop.
But of course, it’s big and heavy, and most people would say it does not match with my type of photography because I do a lot of my work while travelling. But I think that’s just a mindset. I have no problem with carrying my stuff 😉
The FUJIFILM x system is, of course, less noticeable because it’s much more compact. It’s faster, and I love it as much as the GFX. I am using the FUJIFILM X-H2 with different zoom lenses. So I decide spontaneously.
DIYP: How do you balance everything in your life (work and parenting) and still give yourself enough time to create your art, take photographs and plan trips?
Nina: That’s exactly the reason why I took a longer break in my photography of about 7 years. When your children are small, you cannot focus on other things. You don’t even have to think about travelling with a focus on photography. But I think that’s completely fine. At some point, time will come back, the children will grow up, and in my case, the love for photography will never disappear.
Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe