All images © Kuba Ryniewicz
Since arriving in the UK from Poland, the Ones To Watch winner has rejected the prescriptive expectations of the photography industry
“I wouldn’t call myself a political photographer,” says Kuba Ryniewicz. “But I participate in art, and I’m a foreigner, and I will talk about being gay. I’m a foreigner and I’m gay, it’s a double minority. Really, at this point, I don’t know which minority to choose!”
Born in a village near Poznań, Poland, Ryniewicz studied philosophy before moving to Newcastle in 2004 to study photography. He spoke no English and had to stay on for an extra year because his Polish degree was not recognised in the UK. Inspired by the tradition of British documentary photography and British style magazines, Ryniewicz stuck it out and graduated with a degree in contemporary photographic practice from Northumbria University.
Nearly 20 years later, he is happily settled in Newcastle, married, and living in the close community of friends he depicts in his 2021 book, Daily Weeding. He is established in magazines in the UK and beyond, contributing to cult Dutch publication BUTT plus titles such as Fantastic Man, Financial Times’ HTSI and More or Less. He had a large solo show at Newcastle Contemporary Art in autumn 2022, and is also a visiting fellow at the Northern Centre of Photography.
Daily Weeding sought out beauty and community in the everyday, and Ryniewicz is still inspired by that ethos, even as attitudes harden towards immigrants in the UK, and to the LGBTQ community in Poland. For Ryniewicz, finding joy and camaraderie is itself a political act.
“I go to protests but it’s also important to do things that make us happy,” he says. “It’s important to build a community and have a little fun. Here in the West, we’re so used to being busy, to thinking of the past and the future, we’re losing the sense of being in the here and now.”
“Kuba Ryniewicz uses photography to grapple with the complexities of life and the limitations imposed upon us,” says writer and editor Gem Fletcher, who nominated him for Ones to Watch. “He has no interest in following trends or falling in line with the prescriptive expectations of the industry. Instead, his work is a proposition – how do practices of care allow us to co-curate new possibilities?”
Ryniewicz is shooting his current project in his studio, a former office whose decor he has left untouched. The challenge is to find the poetry in it, he says, laughing that it is tough but all part of the process for this work. He is photographing people he finds via word of mouth, or the local lesbian bar, or Grindr, inviting them to the studio then seeing what happens.
“Often gay magazines only show muscly bodies, I really wanted to show the dignity of different types”
Sometimes it is a small party, sometimes he does not take any pictures, sometimes they will make work together; it depends on the energy of the day, he says, but whatever happens, that is part of the process too. In reaching out and making new friends, he is building a community in the area. As with Daily Weeding, the work is taking him out of the studio too, capturing wild flowers or the northern landscape.
The photographer’s recent commission for BUTT magazine had a similar ethos, showing a group of friends based in northern Poland. His first contact was via Grindr, then he visited them in their house, a warm pro-gay home despite Poland’s newly harsh laws. He took images of the men on a beach, which was once a cruising ground, keen to change the narrative about Poland and show that a positive LGBTQ scene does exist, and has done for many years.
He was also determined to include “bigger boys”, he adds, to upend some of the divisions in gay body culture and reach for something more inclusive. “Their bodies are so beautiful, I wanted to show these very Baroque curves,” he says. “Often gay magazines only show muscly bodies, I really wanted to show the dignity of different types.”