Sure shot – Natalia Poniatowska on the art of capturing the off-moments

“You wouldn’t lie down next to the buffet during the party as an adult unless you are not sober,” deadpans Natalia Poniatowska discussing her shot of a young girl at a wedding party, which made the shortlist in the undergraduate single image category of BJP‘s Breakthrough Awards.
The image was caught off-the-cuff at a wedding reception, which Poniatowska had been commissioned to photograph. Momentarily drawn to the buffet, because of the way the light fell in that corner, she fired off a few shots of the girl as she played before being called to take photographs elsewhere in the party. It was only later, when reviewing her shots before sending them to her clients, that she realised she had caught something interesting.
“She was a stranger to me, to be honest. Her parents hired me to capture their important moment,” explains Poniatowska. “However, thinking about it I could picture myself as this little girl. The photograph has a reminder of the escape into a childish world, full of power and imagination and carelessness.
“I decided not to send it with the rest of the set as I thought they [the girl’s parents] would not like it or accept it for being shown to other guests and their friends,” she continues. “But photography is my way of story telling, and what I like the most about it is the fact that everyone can have their own interpretation of the image.”
Studying Fine Art Photography at The Glasgow School of Art, Poniatowska has sometimes found living in the UK isolating, having left her native Poland six years ago. She shoots weddings and fashion events to help support herself, but says that it’s her personal work that allows her to express herself – even if it’s caught on the fly. Inspired by this shot she’s now started a new series, Celebration, that captures similar ‘off’ moments when she’s working on commission.
“Maybe I could see some of my emotions captured in that image – the young Polish girl lost in the foreign country, a bit lonely,” she says. “Or maybe it is only the emotions of the child, simply escaping the crowded place, searching for some freedom to play around. As a single image, it importantly opened my eyes for what’s happening around me, and proved to me that I should never switch off my fine art approach to photography, even when working on commercial commissions.”