Henryk Hetflaisz’s Photography or the Celebration of Perception

When the first outputs of creative work by new artists start unravelling into the public domain, The Style Examiner considers it a privilege to stop and pay close attention to such demonstrations of emerging talent. This is quite often a laborious process, but when we come across consummate budding ingenuity, as in the case of the young Polish photographer Henryk Hetflaisz, this examination can turn into a very rewarding task.

Hetflaisz hails from Poland, where he was raised in a farm in a small village during the communist regime. He studied Environmental Sciences at Warsaw University before deciding to move to London where he pursued his passion for photography. His work is now part of many private collections and has been published in numerous publications, including Tatler, Modern Painters, and The Independent on Sunday.

Hetflaisz’s ‘Fragments’ and ‘Shadow Figures’ series of photographs (the artist’s first ever exhibition) is currently on display at Gallery 27 in central London. The exhibition (open until 3 March 2012) comprises some 60 photographs taken in travels around the world over the past four years, with an emphasis on the process of capturing the material qualities of landscapes and the seductive elements of nature and human shapes.

Fragments’ includes diverse subjects such as Masai settlements perched on a cliff’s edge in Tanzania, water in the pool of a fountain in Guatemala, the rough and yet colourfully painted skin of an adorned elephant in India, and the space within a glacier in Patagonia, Argentina. If this series (on the ground floor of the gallery) mostly removes the human subject to concentrate on vibrant textures and experiment with stunning colour contrasts and effects, ‘Shadow Figures’ (in the gallery’s basement) focuses on how classical black and white techniques can be appropriated to explore the dimensions of the human body and natural shapes in the environment. This section of the exhibition also reveals a clear admiration of the human body’s potential as a creative canvas, better evidenced in a photograph where a figure is devoid of human traits in order to celebrate the qualities, textures, shapes, and shades of antique marble statues.

In the introduction to the exhibition’s catalogue, author and historian Gail Buckland (former curator of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, and visiting professor at the Cooper Union in New York City) sums up Hetflaisz’s creative process adroitly by describing his work as having ‘a deep sense of nature, the magic of the earth and man’s place in it’. We would add that Hetflaisz has an acute sense of perception that is made even more striking and poignant when one realises that this is someone who has acquired deeply proficient photographic techniques purely on his own and not through any formal training.

Furthermore, Hetflaisz’s photographs are tremendously enthralling and highly accomplished in how they perceive landscapes and physical silhouettes in ways that enhance the viewer’s perception of reality, which, as any photographer knows, is no mean feat. As such, the colours and shades of a glacier, a scenery portrayed from a bird’s eye perspective, the immediacy of a movement, or the texture of skin are significantly enriched for the viewer through effective command of techniques and skilful perceptions of empirical personal realms.