When photographer Kuba Ryniewicz attended a family member’s wedding last year, he didn’t expect to come across the subject of his next shoot: voluntary firefighters. Kuba was born in Poland but has been based in Newcastle for the past 14 years and has, during this time, accumulated an impressive portfolio of work; his collaborations include the likes of Fantastic Man, Cos and Apartamento. Photography, Kuba says, played a formative role in his upbringing. “My uncle was a photographer and set up a darkroom in our basement. I spent a lot of my childhood posing for test photoshoots whenever he bought a new piece of equipment. But it was only as a teenager that I started to develop my own photography skills when my uncle passed on his darkroom equipment to me,” Kuba tells It’s Nice That.
It was during a small family wedding that Kuba bumped into his aunt and uncle, neither of whom he had seen for a long time. They told him that they had become firefighter volunteers in support of their son, who was a professionally trained fireman. This familial encounter sparked Kuba’s creative interest and, together with long-time friend and stylist Julio Ganio, the duo set about planning their shoot of the firefighting family for Replica Man magazine.
“It’s important to me that I photograph ‘real’ people when I shoot a fashion story,” Kuba says. “The presence of human and dignity in a photograph is more important to me than anything else. I want to present people in a positive light while uncovering who they really are. In this series, for example, I wanted to capture my family environment and the Polish landscape.” Kuba skilfully achieves a relatable narrative by shooting his family in a domestic setting; the children and their parents pose in the kitchen, the living room and on the hallway stairwell. Despite the immaculate outfits, Kuba’s Firefighters series references a typical family photo album through its combination of posed group photographs and spontaneous snapshots.
Beyond the domestic sphere, Kuba was keen to offer a rounded portrait of the family that included their professional routines. “We wanted to evoke the feeling of a journey between the house and the fire station, to include two differing aspects – home and work life,” he says. But working with family was not without its challenges. “To start with, neither my uncle nor my auntie felt comfortable about the shoot so I had to make sure they knew exactly what we were doing and what our intentions were. I would talk them through every shot before eve taking my camera out of its case. Within a short period of time, they completely transformed and became totally amazing to work with.”
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