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The Story Behind 'My Heart Is An Animal'

We speak to Katarzyna and Marcin Owczarek about their open-ended photography project 'My heart is an animal'.

| Professional Interviewed

Katarzyna and Marcin Owczarek are a married couple who have embarked on an open-ended photography project together. 'My heart is an animal' is a series telling surreal stories through photos. 

We interviewed Marcin back in 2013 about his surreal dystopic digital art images. This time around, we're speaking to them both about this new joint project and the inspiration behind it. 


The Story Behind 'My Heart Is An Animal': Sea Wolf'Sea Wolf' © Katarzyna and Marcin Owczarek


Can you tell us a bit about how the project took shape?

At the beginning, in 2016 we started with the creation of handmade masks which we made on our own. We sculpted the masks from paper-mache. It was a long process to model the mask in the proper way, to make it look real and visually attractive. We regarded these masks more like sculptures, pieces of art.

As time passed we had the idea that it would be interesting to go a step further and use the potential of the masks for fine art photography. We experimented and the results appeared visually very interesting. After some time we discovered that other masks are available to purchase via the internet. We ordered two and started the first shoots.

The biggest problem with using masks which you can buy via the internet is that they are widely available and other people will also buy and use them. Most other time people use them trivially, for selfies and lighthearted photos. For us these masks have very serious meaning and transforming potential, they change the model into an animal and transmit our significant reflections. 

In our works there is no place for mistakes or fun, we spend a lot of time planning them and we treat them in very serious way. Another issue is that that while shaping the project we wanted to make it intellectually and emotionally powerful. Not only through colourful storytelling, but transmitting serious reflections. We wanted to present the way we observe the world, people and animals through what is considered to be their everyday life. In conclusion: we intended to explore the relationship where man finds himself dealing with nature and animals. Apart from that we also read a lot of books (anthropology, philosophy, sociology and myths) and this is the base for our reflections and ideas. We discussed a lot about our inspirations, exchanged opinions and combined new ideas we have in our minds. This is the story behind our project.


The Story Behind 'My Heart Is An Animal': The Midas Touch 'The Midas Touch' © Katarzyna and Marcin Owczarek

What made you team up together to make the project happen?

We are married, we have been together for 11 years and since the first moment we met we were both interested in art. Katarzyna graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts and she started to work as a fashion designer. In the meantime, she also deeply cultivated her passion for photography. I (Marcin) graduated from the College of Photography, after that, I started to develop skills more towards digital collages or mixed media arts.  In 2016 we decided that we both needed a change from what we did in the past. We decided to start our project, start something challenging and new, something refreshing. We thought it would be interesting to combine our skills, experience and visual sensitivity. In this way, we created our project called 'My Heart is An Animal'.


What camera kit do you use and why do you like it?

In the past we used a Canon EOS 7D, currently, we use the full-frame Canon EOS 6D and in the future, we intend to buy a Canon EOS 5D Mark III. The lenses we use are the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM, and the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM.


The Story Behind 'My Heart Is An Animal': The Dreamer'The Dreamer' © Katarzyna and Marcin Owczarek


Tell us about the metaphor behind putting animal heads on people's bodies?

The series is called 'My Heart is an Animal'. The main inspiration was the relationship between human beings and animals. Apart from that, it is the fact that people resemble animals and animals resemble humans (emotionally, physiognomically). We share the same set of needs - we need nourishment, we need to be loved and understood, we need warmth and shelter, we are all limited by a mortal body etc. 

We wanted to stress the fact that we often forget how deeply we are connected together with the animal/natural world and we do not treat this kind of connection in the proper way. Animals are being abused, some species are close to extinction. By linking human and animal elements we want to say: 'we are all one living organism and we should respect each other'. When we use animal masks and the human body it also means that we share all these aspects of existence. In addition: our inspiration was our state of mind and particular way we observe the world.

This series satellites around allegories, archetypes, symbols and myths which are always up-to-date. The pictures have metaphorical and symbolic connotations. Using animal heads as a symbol and referring to instincts might be interpreted on many different levels. Symbols have many deep dimensions, they are stronger than passing time. Our human-animal instincts are simply universal and will be visible as long as this world exists. 


The Story Behind 'My Heart Is An Animal': The Photographer'The Photographer' © Katarzyna and Marcin Owczarek


You use a mixture of wide-open landscapes and enclosed, indoor spaces for your photos - how do you find your locations?

Most of our works are accomplished by finding the proper scenario or visual field connected to the subject of the photo and the suitable lightning (in the morning, evening or in the studio). Sometimes when we have an idea we simply jump into our car and drive to find the best location. It takes a lot of time, but when the proper place is found it gives us huge satisfaction. Some of the photos were made in our studio for example "The Midas Touch" where it was more about the posing, lightning and attributes (gold apples) than landscape. Another our image is "Dreamer", the concept was a Kangaroo walking with a zebra. We decided that the seascape will be the best one, so we went to the seaside.


Is there a particular reason for the types of animal chosen to portray the scenes?

The main criterion is to use the proper animal (instinct) for the adequate storytelling. The reason is that our series satellites around allegories, archetypes, symbols and myths which are always up-to-date. The pictures have metaphorical and symbolic connotations. Using animal heads as a symbol and referring to instincts might be interpreted on many different levels. Symbols have many deep dimensions, they are stronger than passing time.

For example, we talked about a guard so we decided to use the dog which symbolises the power of protection - this is the story behind our work "Cerberus". Also, the dog is a totem animal for those who love unconditionally, that is the reason we used dogs for our 'Potato Lovers' image.


The Story Behind 'My Heart Is An Animal': The wanderer'The Wanderer' © Katarzyna and Marcin Owczarek


Can you talk us through your creation process - how are the images conceptualised? 

The initial step is the conceptual part - when the impulse for creation appears, we summarize it in a few sentences and make sketches in our notebook. Then we set off on the trip to find the best place, a visually attractive place which corresponds with our sketch/ideas.

The next move is to introduce to our model, who is Katarzyna's Father (he has theatrical skills - perfect for this kind of photography), to upcoming ideas for new work(s), just to prepare him for posing and give him time to adapt to the situation. 

After a few days, we will start the photo session. The model is prepared, he knows the idea of the new work and the way we want to present it. The animals used are either handmade masks which we make on our own or masks available to purchase via the internet. The post-production takes few hours, the biggest part was done during shooting the suitable lightning (in the morning, evening or in the studio). The post-production steps are for example: adding contrast, sharpening the image a bit if necessary, using special filters to change the colours/tonality and make them look surreal and to give the image our unique look.


The Story Behind 'My Heart Is An Animal': Poker

'Poker' © Katarzyna and Marcin Owczarek

Do you each have a favourite image and why do you like it the best?

Honestly speaking there is no favourite one. We like all of them in the same way and we put the same amount of energy and engagement in for every image. Our main criterion while working is that next new image needs to be at least at the same level as the last one, so as good as the latest one or better.


Do you have plans for future projects? 

We have a couple of new sketches, so new works will be revealed soon for sure. I can already say that our next two works will be called 'The Song of the Sea' and 'Who Am I'. Currently, we are just looking for the proper visual atmosphere and landscape. 'My Heart is an Animal' is an open-ended project, which we hope to constantly develop. Moreover, we also intend to create a few sculptures which will correspond with our project. We hope to achieve this in 2018.

Find out more about the project on Katarzyna and Marcin's website,

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