Circle of Life
part of the series I Found the Silence
The Circle of Life photograph is part of the several year-long I Found The Silence series. This series began almost 10 years ago in 2009 and remains intentionally incomplete to date. I revisit it and add new shots every year. The entire series resembles a personal diary, where each photograph is a page describing a specific stage of my life. In hindsight, I have come to realize that the entire collection appears to be an intimate confession and reflection of my personal life.
The themes throughout the series are seemingly diverse simply thanks to the scenery in each of the photos. Quite the opposite, actually. There is an underlying theme I believe every viewer can grasp. Creative symbolism for an inner dialogue with one's self. As people today, we are constantly in contact with our surroundings, thus we generate never-ending dialogues with other people. For me, however, the inner dialogue I hold with myself is much more frequent and significant. At any given moment, we ask ourselves numerous questions and bring up topics for which we seek answers and understanding. We attempt to find a path to ourselves, a reassuring balance. I try to capture this infinite process with symbolic sceneries that mostly showcase living creatures, both humans and animals. The surroundings of the scene only illustrate and emphasize moods and emotions.
With respect to the Circle of Life photograph, the title is already very telling in terms of the main theme. I myself began with photography during a difficult time in my life, after losing someone very close to me. This is why I hold dear the themes life and death in my series. I constantly ponder how to poetically capture this circle of life in a creative way. A pilot was a good parallel for me as he, again, symbolically captures life desires, a meaning, personal dreams – to fly. The plants growing add to the series illustration, where nature, in its purest form, takes everything without life and returns it as something different – here in the form of new and growing plants as a symbol of new life.
Idea and Props
I was replaying the idea for the Circle of Life in my head for several months. In order make the entire scene come to life, I knew I needed to have quick hands. People that know their way around plants and flowers. I have been following Květinové Lahůdkářství (Flower Delicacies) on social media for while now and have admired the work of Lukáš and Albert. They were excited to hear of my idea during a face to face meeting with them at a bistro in Prague - Jiřího z Poděbrad. I knew then it would be a fulfilling path that lead to new shot and great people surrounding it. Boy, was I right.
Another important step was finding the pilot's helmet. An unimaginable task at the time and so the journey began. After several weeks looking through my own personal collection and listening to recommendations shared by people, I finally purchased a genuine helmet that was not cheap at all. It was then, already, that I said to myself the cost was not low at all. But when someone is obsessed like me, money is a mere tool for the entire realization. At the time, I couldn't have even imagined I would use the helmet once again in the “Dreamers and Warriors” photo, which received many international awards. So from that point of view, it was a good investment. I also found a green pilot suit from the same period to go with the helmet. The ensemble was then worn by my very willing and supporting friend, Tomáš Kaliarik. He deserves to be acknowledged, not only for this photograph, but for the last three years – without his help, many photos may not have even been possible.
Preparation and Equipment
The shoot itself took place at Květinové Lahůdkářství, approximately one hour outside of Prague. Lukáš was on site picking fresh green flowers and, after we had a mutual understanding of the entire scene composition, he began arranging the flowers. A spring of new life began to come together, between his hands, in the form of wild meadow plants. This process alone was a symbolic and breathtaking experience for me. Meantime, he prepared a grey paper background from Formei, which I placed on tripods along the exterior of their grounds, and took advantage of the beautiful soft diffusion light in July, which penetrated through the individual grey clouds. The light atmosphere was beautifully soft, without any need of adding artificial lighting. I chose the grey screen background with the initial intention to dip the scene into a night sky, which would underline the idea and meaning of the pilot. The shoot was relatively short and, as it has become accustomed to during my shoots, a summer rain shower appeared, which, however, wonderfully captured the mood in the form of raindrops on the helmet visor.
As my camera of choice, I selected the newly purchased Canon EOS 5DS R with my favourite and most frequently used lens, the Canon EF 24-70 mm f/2,8 L USM II. For the tripod I chose the perfectly stable Gitzo tripod. I intentionally went with the said DSLR camera with high resolution with the thought of large-format printing, which I will discuss a bit later. For those interested in specific camera settings, here is what I used: ISO 320, f/7,1, 1/80 sec and a focal length of 42 mm.
Post-production and Printing
The photograph was taken within a single day. Preparations took weeks and weeks, mainly due to the search for props such as the helmet and pilot costume. Nevertheless, this was nothing compared to the tens of hours devoted to post-production. Specifically, the most challenging part – masking the entire pilot and, primarily, the plants growing from his chest. This was followed by long days, during which I focused on individual leaves, stalks, petals and stems, to ensure a perfect final photo worthy of large-format printing. Helping me along this journey was another piece of equipment, specifically the EIZO CG318-4K monitor. I began cooperating with EIZO a year ago. I am very grateful for connections like this one. Years before the partnership, I used two lower models of EIZO monitors at home. And so the partnership that came about was natural and meaningful. It's true that I appreciated the actual photo displayed during the export from Lightroom CC and the subsequent post-production in Photoshop CC. Relying on your own eyes – monitor, when fine-tuning the print is a mere pleasant ending to the entire artistic and creative journey, is priceless. The final photograph, at the end of post-production, contained over 120 individual layers.
I turned to my personal publisher and framer, Janusz Szyndler, who I fully trust. Finding someone better is practically impossible. The photos are then printed on 100% cotton Museo Silver Rag 300gsm museum paper, using archive pigmented ink. This combination guarantees colour stability for more than 200 years. People often ask me how limited editions work in the world of photography. I myself took the route of said limited editions and not open series. And therefore, there is only a limited number of each photograph in a given size. The Circle of Life photo is limited to 60 printouts for all sizes combined. The price for the smallest size 50x84 cm is around USD 700 (CZK 16,000) and for the largest size 220x130 cm, the price is around USD 13,000 (CZK 297,000).
In addition to this, there is a single print of the largest size 254x150cm. It is a rare collector's piece, where the price of USD 54,000 (CZK 1.2 million) corresponds to its uniqueness on the market. This photograph can be seen inside a loft apartment in New York.
The Circle of Life photograph was first introduced during the Art Basel art week in Miami (Miami Beach) in 2017 by the owner of the THINK+feel Contemporary Gallery. It was also on display in Basel, Switzerland, during the New York SCOPE festival. I am very thankful for the fact that I can say the photograph received international awards at the 2017 International Photography Awards, 2017 ND Awards and the 2017 International Photographer of The Year.
Occasionally, I come across the opinions of people that contemplate what constitutes a photo and what is no longer a considered a photo. With a smirk on my face, I gave up on constantly attempting to explain. As a medium, photographs cover numerous fields, which also includes my favourite artistic photography, and, when it comes to the Circle of Life photo, it also includes the collage technique. The final scene is the most important to me – everything that comes before are just tools that help me reach the goal. I never attempted to capture and document the actual world. I always ran towards my inner world, into my own reality, which I see all around me every day. And so I would maybe recommend to those who seek infinite labels, categories, definitions in art: it is always better to invest time into your own creativity rather than spend it on the unnecessary, often mistaken guidance of others. Today, it seems to be an inevitable phenomenon thanks to social networks and the internet alone. Even more so should we take good advice to heart, think about them and leave the world of trolls behind. Be yourself, loved by few and misunderstood by everyone else. This has and will continue to be my key to success, and especially inner satisfaction.
About Martin Stranka
Martin Straka was born in Most on Friday the 13th in 1984. He began with photography as a way of healing after losing a person that was very close to him 12 years ago. Although he never studied art, he always thought of himself to be a self-learner. His distinctive way of seeing photos lies somewhere between dreaming and waking up. Martin creates photographs that are seemingly static shots taken from a film – one that, in terms of genre, is somewhere between fantasy and non-fiction. He sees photos as a space for finding pure balance and peace.
Over the course of the last 12 years, he managed to win over 80 international photography awards. Among the most valuable awards is the newly awarded prestigious international award from the Sony World Photography Awards, as well as Professional Photographer of the Year, or Emerging Talent Award from the Nikon International Photo Contest. He won the Prix de la Photographie Paris international award. And holds eleven consecutive titles from the International Photo Awards competition.
Exhibits of his photographs have seen the likes of Los Angeles in the United States of America, London, Paris and Prague in Europe, and Shanghai in Asia. Martin's photographs were presented in renowned galleries including Getty Images and Saatchi Gallery. His work was exhibited next to artists such as Andy Warhol, Annie Liebovitz, Banksy and Damien Hirst. Just recently, Martin was successfully presented at the Scope expo during the Art Basel art week, which ranks among the largest and most significant art events in the world, held annually in New York, Miami and Basel.
Martin's work has been on display at many exhibitions, however, he also created book covers for the largest publishing houses in New York, Harper Collins Publishers and Sterling Publishing. Martin cooperates with many other publishing houses, both producers of books and music, or directly with many artists from the music industry. He himself has published two monographic books “I AM” and “10 Years”.