Canon Ambassador Maciek Nabrdalik is a celebrated Polish documentary photographer whose work focuses on social changes in Eastern Europe.
Well-known both in his native Poland and abroad, Maciek's awards include honours from World Press Photo, Pictures of the Year International, NPPA The Best of Photojournalism and multiple awards in his native Poland. His work has been exhibited and published internationally.
A graduate of Warsaw University of Technology, Maciek gave up a possible career in computer science to pursue his greatest passion. He became a professional photographer in 2001 and initially spent time shooting for local newspapers in the US. He also had a spell as an assistant on fashion shoots for magazines before joining a major Polish daily newspaper, covering national and international news.
In 2007, his shot of ex-Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, taken shortly after the former leader was defeated in the race to be Mayor of Warsaw, was named Picture of the Year in Poland's Grand Press Photo contest.
In 2012, Maciek was awarded a grant from the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage for a project on Nazi prison survivors worldwide. The project was inspired by an assignment to photograph the preservation efforts at Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum for Smithsonian magazine. Maciek travelled more than 80,000 kilometres around the globe to meet the last remaining former prisoners, thanks to a grant from the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in 2012. The results were published in a book, The Irreversible. In 2012 he also received the prestigious Pierre & Alexandra Boulat Grant, sponsored by Canon France, for a project on economic migration.
In 2016, Maciek became a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, spending a funded year focusing on improving his journalism.
He has held exhibitions all over the world, including in New York, Mexico and Greece. He is also a member of the prestigious agency VII. His second book, Homesick, which summarises his long-term project chronicling the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster, was published in 2016. In January 2018 OUT, his book which portrays the Polish LGBTQ community, was published in the US by The New Press.
Your documentary projects appear to be works of passion – how do you pay your bills?
"It's true that most of my long-term projects are purely personal but I do get assignments, both editorial and corporate, that help me sustain my needs and fund my projects. I teach quite a few workshops and I was lucky to get some grants along the way as well."
How do you decide on the visual treatment for each of your projects?
"I usually opt for a classical documentary approach, preferably black-and-white reportage, but I do experiment with the form and I stretch the documentary boundaries quite a lot. As a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, I spent my time learning how to write and studying Virtual Reality, so my creative toolbox has grown."
Which of your stories do you believe has helped you to grow the most as a photographer?
"I think I learned the most working on 'Chernobyl's Outskirts'. I used to try to pre-visualise photographs before I would get started on a story, but covering this one made me understand that all the plans you can think of don't make sense if you can't take your time and open yourself to people and serendipity."
Your projects often last many years – how do you know when they're finished?
"I rarely know that, to be honest. Those projects usually depend on deep relationships with subjects who I follow over the years. I try to keep those ties forever, so even when I stop visiting those people with the camera, I still stay in touch and it never really feels like I'm finished. However, to date I have published three books, and those stories I consider to be closed chapters."
What do you love about your profession, and what frustrates you the most about it?
"I love the opportunities it gives me. It has given me a chance to experience many different walks of life. What frustrates me, sometimes, is that it is really difficult to plan ahead. Usually when I do that, I get an important assignment that conflicts with my plans."
"My advice to aspiring documentary photographers is to realise, sooner rather than later, that what makes you unique as photographers is your own life experience. The place where you were born, the people you've been surrounded by, the books you've read, the music you've listened to and so on. I believe your own life, your own fears and your own curiosity should be the source of inspiration for your projects, and not so much the history of photography. I was lucky to meet people on my way who taught me that."