explore poland's bmx community through a black and white lens
Photographer Tori Ferenc invites us deep inside this flourishing scene.
Documentary photographer Tori Ferenc uses her camera as an excuse to meet people from all over the world. From the Hasidic Jewish community in Stamford Hill to the Kurdish children in exile on the outskirts of Dunkirk, Ferenc's atmospheric black and white photographs capture a sense of identity and belonging. For her most recent project, Ferenc traveled back to her hometown in Poland to document portraits of those involved with the flourishing BMX scene. "When you're young and bored you don't have a lot of options" shared Ferenc, "but these guys found their passion which is BMX". We spoke to Ferenc to find out more about the BMX scene in Poland and the relationships built through her photography.
What is the atmosphere like in your hometown in Poland?
My hometown is rather small and when I was growing up there wasn't a lot to do. Back then, Poland was still getting back on its feet post-communism, lots of people would lose their jobs because state factories couldn't keep up with the changes of capitalism. Even though the economic situation is better now, the sense of strange immobility still runs through my town, like time stopped at some point. However, a lot of my friends from school, after years of being away from home, decided to come back. They are doing some amazing work to animate the culture in the town. It gets better and better every year.
What do you think draws the young people of your town to BMXing?
Well, I think they are drawn to it mostly because it's a very challenging sport. These guys are really passionate about BMX, most of them started when they were kids. You wouldn't believe how many injuries, broken bones, and serious wounds it takes to master a trick. But when they finally do, their satisfaction is so visible. One of the boys told me that there is no better feeling than when you're flying over ten stairs and you're doing 360 flip. It's indescribable. Every fall is a motivation to get up and try over and over again. Every successful trick is a reason to push yourself even more. The other reason is the sense of community. These guys are like brothers to each other.
How important is the relationship you build when photographing people?
I think it's quite crucial to develop a relationship with people you're photographing, otherwise you will never get below the surface. But you also can't force anything, and you can't pretend to someone that you're not in order to get the photograph you want. It will show. I believe that honesty is the key. Which is always a bit tricky, because photography is so subjective. It's such a small part of reality you're capturing, it's very easy to manipulate. These guys trusted me because my cousin is one of the bikers and he introduced me to the rest of the group. So they were quite relaxed about me being there and having an insight into their world.
What do you think is different about the BMX scene in Poland compared to other places in the world?
I think the differences are minimal, but BMX is a relatively new sport in Poland -- while in the US, its history goes back to the 70s. So I would say that the possibilities are much bigger in the West, if the bikers want to start doing this sport professionally. These boys I was photographing occasionally go abroad to meet up with other crews and they notice the differences when it comes to, let's say, skateparks. There's much more support for BMX bikers over there. Guys from my hometown had to build their own skatepark because the authorities decided to take apart the official one that has been set up for years.
How do you go about seeking out and documenting different communities?
To be honest, there are so many ways I find new projects, but in short, I just keep my eyes and -- more importantly -- my mind open. I think in general I am kind of drawn to documenting communities because there is a sense of identity and belonging that I miss as an expat. So wherever I go, I tend to look for opportunities to create a collective portrait of a group. I live in South London, so right now I am working on a project based in Peckham and Brixton, a mixture of street photography and portraits. I just go out, have a chat with people in the neighborhood and ask if I can photograph them. Sometimes it can be a subject that has fascinated me for a long time and I want to research it with my camera. Recently I have been reaching out to beekeepers' associations because I am obsessed with bees and I would love to photograph people that keep them in the city. And often, I just come across something by chance and feel that I want to document it. Not too long ago I started a collaborative project with my friend. She asked me to take portraits of a man that is an amateur jazz singer and one of the regulars at an incredible pub in Mile End. I went there one evening and suddenly I met this group of brilliant individuals, most of them in their 80s, singing Frank Sinatra's classics with a band and living their fantasy. It was very unexpected so I thought it would be great to capture these folks.
What do you love most about your work?
I love that I can use my camera as an excuse to get to know someone and hear their stories. It's not like I wouldn't be able to do so otherwise, but the camera makes it easier. I enjoy the excitement that comes with developing my own film and still learning new things about it. It's pretty magical I think. I like it when my work makes people notice things they haven't seen before around them. And simply, I love being out in the streets taking photos, just because it's fun. I enjoy the process.
Where would you like to travel to document your next project?
There are a lot of places I would love to see, but China is on the top of my list. Some decades ago, bees and other insects disappeared almost completely from most parts of the country due to the extensive use of pesticides that were supposed to beat the plague of flies and mosquitos. Since then, Chinese farmers have to go up in the trees and pollinate them by hand, using small brushes covered in pollen. I think a lot of people don't realize how much impact we have on the environment and that the same thing could happen here, so it's important to raise awareness. Once you see something, you cannot ignore it.
Text Lula Ososki
Photography Tori Ferenc