“I used to be like little Lisa Simpson.” — says Laura Kovanska in the beginning of this interview about what she was like for a kid. We then touch on photography, the need of self-expression, and what it feels like to be an artist in Eastern Europe.
Tell us a bit about you as a kid: how did you grow up? How did you stumble upon photography?
Laura: Photography comes from the deepest core of my personality. I’m quite an introverted person and always had geek hobbies. Having been an A+ nerd and bookworm, I’ve been visiting after-school classes: graphic design, writing, gymnastics, and I’ve been playing saxophone. I was a lonely kiddo, a foreigner in my own country.
I used to be like little Lisa Simpson.
My family moved from the eastern part of Slovakia to the western part of the country Moravia, but the countries separated and we ended up being the Slovakian people in the Czech Republic. This made us strangers in our own home. I didn’t speak Czech at all at the beginning, so the kids at school weren’t nice to me. After a few years time I won the Czech language schools challenge, and my teacher forbid me to say I’m from Slovakia.
Did you always want to be a photographer?
Laura: I was a very nice girl, fulfilling my parent’s expectations. I wanted to be an astronaut, a police detective, an archeologist or a judge. It has all changed when I started university. I wanted to go my own way. I met new friends in a new, friendly environment, and I had a new hobby: taking pictures.
It was a great activity for an introverted person, because photography provides enough alone-time in the dark room, with scanning, retouching and posting. I’ve not only found the activity I loved, I was also able to show what I know and how I feel, although, I didn’t expect any sort of photo career. It came very slowly and naturally during the next decade, with a lot of added hard work. This all made me feel very satisfied and happy.
Which project are you the most proud of?
Laura: I love my work I did for Lenka Chrobokova fashion designer. She has re-designed the traditional folklore dresses, turning bohemian into a futuristic silk design collection. It was inspired by an old traditional called the Ride of the Kings.
The Ride of the Kings is a unique Moravian-Slovakian tradition in the Czech Republic which is included in the Unesco intangible cultural heritage list. I decided to make the photoshoot during this event. Being an Unesco protected event, it’s been quite a challenge to arrange this, but as I used to say, there is no mountain high enough.
The shooting was tough as well, because of the super-hot weather: the model got sick, and there were thousands people around. To make things even more difficult, I also decided for a medium-format camera and color film — the “old but gold” technique.
The picture from this shooting received a great award: it was selected for picture of the day in Vogue Italia. I was happy as a small girl, and it has kicked my photo career to the top. I was hugely satisfied with this project, because for the very first time, the hard work was perfectly worth it.
What is “art” for you?
Laura: My life is completely filled with pictures. As far as I can see my pictures are storytelling: I like to consider myself as a writer of stories instead of an artist. I love stories, both fake or real ones. We are here to live, love and share our stories, that’s what life is about for me. Sometimes the pictures are not the greatest or the most grandiose, but a story behind is so strong and is talking to people so much, that it’s making me to stop and think. That’s exactly what I want to reach with my works.
I love to create stories, to speak to people via my pictures. Sometimes it helps me to deal with my inner feelings and worlds, and sometimes I just want to share the love and beauty with people around.
Have you ever tried giving up photography?
Laura: I had a serious sport injury that forced me to take a 2-years break from photography. I took a job at a big international company: a good manager position in an animal food production factory. I had a nice car, nice title and the responsibility to run two factories – but I felt every single day as if I was slowly dying, because my dream was to do photography for living, and during my entire life.
Are you a lone wolf, or do you have a group of people to work together with?
Laura: In the very beginning it was all about doing everything alone. I was a lonely-loner in my lonely way, but the more work I’ve done the more people were coming to offer their talents: hair stylists, designers, models. The shootings turned bigger and bigger every time. It takes a lot of work to make everything all perfect and amazing. And I want it all.
Do you think being in Eastern-Europe is helping you or is it a hurdle?
Laura: There is no paradise on Earth, being in Eastern Europe is also tough and definitely a hurdle. I lived in the United States twice for longer periods, so I can compare living here and in US. We live the same life when it comes to the materials, but the mentality is different. In the US it’s success, victory, the winners that’s celebrated.
Here, success is a dirty word, and any kind of success is punished on various levels. We tend to be all the same, every single thing that’s different is something bad. We tend to be standardized, trying not to be a black sheep. Success is something out of line. We are “forced” to share the same values, the same dress, stay in the same line. We don’t celebrate diversity, genders, different skin colors, non-mainstream fashion.
I don’t know if it is a weird and creepy heritage of communism or is for any another reason. We are simply not so open-minded as we could be. I want to change this and I hope that there are way more young people like me, trying to open our minds and promote the beauty of being different. I don’t wish to have been born some place else, I just wish for my own place to improve. Life is hard everywhere on the Earth, it is up to us to change it, or at least to try.
Would your 6-year-old-self be happy to learn who you became?
Laura: My 6-years old me wont be definitely happy, it wanted to be an astronaut of course! Flying to the universe and back, at least my fantasy let me go anywhere I wanted to be. My 6-years-self would definitely recommend me to be Batman.
As an adult I feel like to be still 6-years old sometimes. And sometimes I feel like that 6-years-old me was way more wise than I am now. Becoming an adult made me feel a little like I’ve stopped to understand the world, so I try to keep my inner child alive. Maybe it’s a way to avoid becoming crazy.
My inner child keeps me stay warm-hearted, kind, open-minded. I’m trying to find the best in people, hope for better days, create new stuff and have a little bit of fun in my life — my brain shouldn’t be the only chief of my personality, even if I’m a very rational and pessimistic person.
What would you advise to your 18-years-old self?
Laura: I would recommend to my 18-years-old self not to be so pessimistic during my teens and early twenties. I know I was super-sarcastic and unhappy 24-7. We live just once, so let’s not waste our life energy on negativity. It took me a lot of time to realize that happiness comes only from your very own.
More from Laura on her website: kovanska.com