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Interview: Luc Kordas

Luc Kordas / Alamy Stock Photo

New York City is a metropolis that crackles and fizzes with energy. It’s also the current home of independent photographer Luc Kordas, whose images of New York’s streets and subways have won awards, been exhibited in the US and Europe, and published in numerous outlets including, The Guardian, Huffington Post, The Village Voice, Lens Capture and Al Jazeera.

Luc’s portfolio also includes fine art, portrait and travel photography, but street photography provides a special buzz, “The fact that the street is so unpredictable is so exciting,” he says, “in the street, there are no limits – it’s just you and the camera. Whether it’s sunshine or rain; hot or cold, it doesn’t really matter: you could get the shot of your life at any given time.”

Luc was born in Poland in 1984, and graduated with a Master’s degree in Spanish Philology (this includes studying Spanish language, history, culture and geography). After graduating, Luc taught English as a second language to students in Spain and England – he speaks fluent Polish, Spanish, English, Italian and French.

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Luc Kordas / Alamy Stock Photo

It was while living in London that Luc started to get into photography seriously, “It’s a strange story,” he notes, “In 2004, I had a friend who owned a semi-pro SLR film camera, which he loaned me for a couple of weeks. I started taking pictures with it. Then, my friend disappeared into thin air, and I was left with his camera.”

Luc has always enjoyed travelling (before moving to New York, he lived in six countries) and his initial interest was landscape photography, “For the first two years, there were no people in my photos. Then, one of my first girlfriends was a teenage model, so naturally, I started taking photographs of her, and then of my friends, and that is how I got into portrait photography.”

Street photography also came about by accident. “I visited New York in 2008 for a week, and was overwhelmed – most people fall in love with the city. During my visit, I took what were later called street photographs – at the time, I thought I was just a tourist with a camera.” Luc returned to New York in 2012 on a three-month tourist visa. “I ended up taking pictures of the city every other day. I would walk five or six hours a day, and come back with 300 images. When I returned to Europe, I had this huge cache of street photographs. I started uploading them to sites like 500px and Flickr and got a good response, so it all took off from there.”

MCNH78 rainy day on Brooklyn Bridge
Luc Kordas / Alamy Stock Photo

Luc spent the next couple of years planning a return trip to New York and returned in 2014. “Right after I moved to New York, I met a photographer who gave me my first job, and I worked with him as an assistant. That evolved into doing my own photography.” Luc says that the key to making a living as a freelance photographer is, “To focus on more than one genre, because that way, you’ll have more options. And you need a number of sources of income – don’t just rely on one or two. New York is one of the easiest places to get work as a photographer, but at the same time, the competition is very strong – every other person I meet seems to be in the creative business.”

Luc gets income and work through word-of-mouth, freelance sites and stock. “I got introduced to Alamy at a portfolio review. At that stage, I hadn’t been into stock. I’ve been with Alamy for four years, and thanks to them, my photographs have been on two book covers. I’m really grateful for that.”

“There are photographers who shoot specifically for stock, and try to figure out what the latest trends are” adds Luc, “but I just shoot what I shoot and if I feel it might sell, I upload it to Alamy. If you’re a portrait photographer, I don’t think it’s a good idea to shoot vegetables, unless you are sure they are going to sell. When it comes to stock, tags are very important and patience pays off.”

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Luc Kordas / Alamy Stock Photo

Luc has developed a distinctive style. His portraits are arresting, and his street photography is in black and white. Many of the street images are in a collection called New York Chronicles. Luc once said, “I mostly shoot with my heart, not my eyes. I have a point of view that is uniquely mine. I’d like to think that by now, when people see a New York Chronicle they know what it is before they check the photo credit.” Even a cursory glance at Luc’s portfolio reveals that he has developed a distinctive visual language, so how did that come about?

“I was influenced by a lot of twentieth century photographers like Cartier-Bresson, Eugene Atget, Irving Penn and Vivian Maier. [Garry] Winogrand was probably my favourite street photographer. That’s where it comes from.” Luc adds, “I’ve always seen New York in black and white whereas most street photography today is in colour, shot in wide angle, has lots of people or focuses on something strange or unexpected. I tend to focus on one person and use a 50mm lens or equivalent.”

Is having a visual language something you are born with or can it be developed? “If you look my early portraits, you’ll see that my style hasn’t changed much – I don’t know why, but I’ve always had this visual language. I think if you’re a photography beginner, the way to develop your own language is to try out different things and settle on whatever feels right.”

EFHEPD A silhouette of a Hasidic Jew in a building in Williamsburg/New York.
Luc Kordas / Alamy Stock Photo

Being a street photographer requires many skills, “You have to feel comfortable about being close-up to people – you can’t be a shrinking violet,” says Luc, “and you have to motivate yourself to go out on the street when it’s cold or wet – that can be a challenge.”

Luc shoots with a Canon 5D or a Fuji X-T2 mirrorless camera, “The Fuji is smaller and more discreet, and the Canon offers higher quality. I use a 27mm lens with the Fuji, which is equivalent to a 40mm on a full-frame camera. I rarely use flash.” He adds, “If you don’t shoot regularly, it’s like an athlete not training – you can soon get out shape. That feeling of being comfortable on the street goes away, so you have to keep going back into the zone.”

Timing and chance play key roles in street photography. One day, Luc spotted an art installation on the subway with the title, ‘So Tired.’ He waited at the location for ten minutes, and then, a small family group walked by. Just as they reached the spot, one of the children rubbed a tired eye, “A lot of street photography is pure luck,” says Luc.

Luc Kordas

One of his most striking images is of a small boy on the subway, breaking out into a Michael Jackson dance pose, with a family member beaming at him in the background, “It was one of those days when I was returning home on the subway after spending hours on the street and getting nothing,” says Luc, “The boy was right in front of me, so all I had to do was lift up my camera.”

When it comes to offering advice to aspiring photographers, Luc says, “Persistence and perseverance are key. If you feel this is what you want to do, be patient and be prepared for a lot of competition. Above all, shoot what you want to shoot. Do your own thing and sooner or later, someone will discover it, but it might take a while.”

And what are Luc’s plans for the future? “I will return to Europe at some point, because that is my home. But right now, I’m working on a subway project that might become a book. I’m squeezing as much as I can out of my time here, because in New York, anything can happen.”

Check out Luc’s tastefully dreamy collection here.

Or check out Luc’s website here.

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