In 2017, Max Miechowski moved to London from Lincoln – a small city in the East Midlands. The pace and scale of the capital came as a shock. In an attempt to navigate his new neighborhood, Miechowski explored on foot, photographing individuals that resonated with him. Engaging with his surroundings through photography gave Miechowski an insight into people’s relationships with the city, and, slowly, an understanding of what had drawn him to the capital too.
On one of his walks, Miechowski happened upon Musah – the employee of a fishmonger located just a short distance from the photographer’s former Southeast-London home. “There was an amazing light on him at the time, and after talking for a while about our different experiences of the city, I asked to take his portrait and we made this image,” says Miechowski. The photograph depicts Musah, his gaze fixated on the camera, standing bolt upright surrounded by the paraphernalia of his trade. Despite the dilapidated surroundings, Miechowski bestows his subject with an air of majesty.
Miechowski’s work centres around portraiture; it is through this genre that he explores the themes of community and urban culture across London. The portrait of Musah seemed like an obvious choice to submit to Portrait of Britain 2018 – an award dedicated to celebrating the diversity of the country – and it was selected as a winning image. “It gave me a lot of confidence to push my work further and to continue making portraits of the people around me,” he reflects.
His photograph of Musah is just one portrait from Miechowski’s extensive portfolio of work. “What continues to excite me about portraiture is the collaborative nature of it – two people sharing a moment, recognising and respecting each other, and making an image together,” he explains. For Miechowski, successful collaboration is key to creating a compelling image: both the photographer and subject must reveal enough for the photograph to exude intimacy and honesty, yet hold back sufficient that the viewer is left wanting.
For Miechowski, knowing what makes a strong portrait is instinctual; both the nature of the subject and their surroundings come in to play. “There’s obviously a visual dimension to it, looking for interesting lighting or pleasing colours,” he explains, “but, more importantly, it is about finding the right atmosphere to be able to create something. Often, when it feels comfortable to make an image of someone, something is revealed in the developed photograph that I did not see during the taking of the picture.”
Many of Miechowski’s portraits were taken in Burgess Park, south London. He spent the fiercely hot summer of 2018 photographing the local community amidst swathes of sun-dappled grass and trees. Despite the diverse range of individuals depicted, the work is united by Miechowski’s ability to mould and manipulate light. “Light plays such an important role in the atmosphere and feel of my work,” he says, “it contributes so heavily to the success of my portraits”. The subjects captured in Miechowski’s Burgess Park series are bathed in a golden glow that speaks of long summer evenings. “There is often warmth and optimism to my portraits,” he continues. “This is something I obviously look for and found it just at the right moment for the portrait of Musah.”