Photographer Anna Bloda's aesthetic vision is shaped by the world she grew up in – the Poland of communism, where Mickey Mouse, Coca Cola and bananas were the primary fetishistic icons. She is known for her raw style of unabashed, gritty nudes, a style tinged by her clandestine glimpses at porn as a child of the 1980s, with its pastels and authentic anatomies. Nostalgia for days gone by continues to colour her work, even as it evolves.
She received her academic background in the arts at the High School for Visual Arts in Nowy Wiśnicz in the south of Poland, where she is from. She then attended the prestigious Łódź Film School (officially the Leon Schiller National Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre), which counts the likes of Roman Polański and Andrzej Wajda among its alumni. As a young woman, she moved to Warsaw to explore career opportunities as a photographer in the capital. Yet after almost a decade in the city, she felt that too many doors were closed off to her. This sense of professional claustrophobia led her to take the leap and try her luck in New York City as a determined thirty-something. She has lived in New York City for the past four years, on and off, working odd jobs to support herself while striving to make it as a photographer in one of the most artistically saturated metropolises.
As a child growing up in communist Poland, America was a beacon of promise, a wonderful new world. Today, as a New Yorker, she continues to explore that sense of magic. The city has made her more cynical about romance, but perpetually hopeful about art and its possibilities. She compares New York to an animal, where powerful instincts determine the survival of the fittest. Her vision of the city is paradoxical – it is at once a city full of love and lust, but a lonely one, too, full of pretense and rejection. These are among the many idiosyncracies that make New York a fertile source for inspiration, a place where art lives among its denizens and pops up at every street corner.
The streets of New York is where she finds her subjects, sometimes on the subway. Struck by a certain quality, she approaches them and sometimes they agree to model for her, not always aware of the artist's tendency to push the envelope. As she wields her Nikon D800, she pursues the very qualities that make them interesting and original, digging as deep as she feels necessary to reach it. As she says in her artistic statement,
Photography is an ability to see forms through the qualities contained within the psyche. Psyche and soma come together as one, driving me to approach a potential subject and attempt to examine them through my camera lens. In photography, the most essential act is the ability to break into someone else's mind.
The collection of personalities she has amassed create a "portrait of a generation" that is very much inspired by the style of Terry Richardson, Nobuyoshi Araki, Nan Goldin, Richard Kern and Helmut Newton. "From each of these masters I have broken off a crumb for myself to forge my own style of photography", she says.
Like these masters, nudes or semi-nudes are an important part of her oeuvre. As an artist of the day, sharing her work via online channels is also vital, although the two don't always mix. Her photographs are often censored, her instagram account was shut down permanently over a year ago (which, in a sense, puts Bloda among the coveted ranks of stylish icon-exhibitionists like pop singer Rihanna). And yet they are far from pornographic – there is no full-frontal nudity, no staging of actual sex. In fact, Bloda finds the pornography of today very different from what she saw as a teen - it is less intimate, more violent, increasingly excessive and unemotional. Yet a sweep of her Tumblr page is more than titillating. There are naked breasts everywhere among the vintage furs, oversize roses, platinum blonde hair, hot pink lips, granny panties, a panorama of sexuality through the ages, from '60s-era glamour to millennial hedonism. Some of her subjects are transgender, celebrating the theatre of clothes and makeup that goes into extreme femininity. The ambiance of recent images often recalls the technicolor intensity of Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers. The ATL Twins, who have a cameo in the 2012 film, are also the main protagonists of her most scintillating photographs, full of sex and mayhem.
For Bloda, it is when the body sheds its clothes that the person within comes through, shedding the masks the ego has worked to create. For her the nudity of the flesh represents a vulnerability that the face cannot express as profoundly. She often offers herself up as her own subject, pushing the limits of both professional artistry and personal intimacy at once. With her daring self-portraits she enjoys shocking her audience and challenging herself. Simply, she is her own muse. Boldly self-aware, she is not afraid to bare her imperfections.
In an interview with Kirsten O'Regan for the BedfordandBowery blog, she explains her decision to show a rather stark topless portrait of herself at a group exhibition at the Rox Gallery on the Lower East Side, rather than a stylized, sexier version.
I usually show myself in an erotic way so people think I’m perfect, desirable, even plastic, but this time I decided that as an artist I have to be honest. So I have my long boobies hanging down — it’s clear that youth is slipping away.
The theme of the exhibition was Polished, bringing together 50 artists of the current generation. Bloda took the double meaning of the word – "polish" as shine and "Polish" as a nationality to convey a personal portrayal of herself as a Polish woman, her skin aglow with a layer of coconut oil. She's constantly changing her game, keeping her audience and critics on their toes while she herself sidesteps typecasting and the cataloguing typical of the art world. Among some of her most poignant photographs are a series of portraits of American children, all of different racial and cultural backgrounds, united in their gazes of intensity and curiosity.
In an interview with Kasia Bobula for Dazed Online, Bloda calls photography "quite a magical process", explaining, "I love the fact that I often don’t know what’s going to be the final income. Spontaneity, (technique) are all very important here. But most important of them all is taking risks and sticking to your own voice".
Anna Bloda's photographs have been published in Machina, Aktivist, Exclusiv and Wysokie Obcasy (Poland), as well as Vice, Richardson Magazine, Ellements, Contributor Magazine, and S Magazine (U.S.).
- POLISH, Rox NYC, New York, NY, USA
- Ugly Art Room, The Yard, New York, USA
- Who shot Natalie white, Rox Gallery, New York, USA
- The Silvertones, ROX Gallery, New York, USA
- Generation, ZERO Gallery, Berlin, Germany
- MELON Gallery, Warsaw, Poland
- Blackstars, SYF Gallery, Warsaw, Poland
Articles on: bedfordandbowery.com, www.lifelounge.com.au, www.dazeddigital.com, www.vice.com
Sources: Interview with the artist, own sources, dazeddigital.com, www.lifelounge.com
Agnes Monod-Gayraud, 10.10.2014