The creative force behind the project Most Beautiful People in the World, Dutch-Polish photographer Michel Szulc-Krzyzanowski, has another innovative project: What The World Has Never Seen. Driven by the same desire for intimacy and a wish to connect with his subjects on a deeper level, Szulc-Krzyzanowski once again travels the globe seeking out the deepest secrets, and then capturing them through his lens. Which secrets, you may ask. The question remains unanswered. Why? Because of privacy: a quality seemingly absent from today’s society.
What is the project’s message?
I want to create a discussion. We live in a society where 'over-sharing' seems to be caring. Social-media tools like Twitter and Facebook enable every aspect of our lives to be published on the internet. Is this a good or bad thing? Personally, I'm not trying to tell the public what they should or shouldn't do, I'm just trying to provoke a conversation about the way in which we portray ourselves to the public. Is it really necessary for us to put all our cards on the table? Does it set us free, or should we remain introverted and mysterious?
What are the project’s core elements?
Intimacy and privacy. Most people have a secret. Not everyone wishes to share their secret, some have a good reason for telling. The people I am currently talking to fall into the second category. I have specifically chosen these people because they have a reason for sharing their story: they want to be set free.
How did you initiate an intimate discussion with your subjects?
I make them feel at ease. To do this I have to make myself vulnerable. When I am talking to these people they must see me as a real person and not a photographer. This makes the content of the images more interesting, and is also important because of constraints of time.
What is your mind-set when you meet them?
Neutral. Human beings generally formulate some sort of judgement about a person, whether because of the way they dress or say “hello”; first impressions can be so important. I avoid doing this. I have a couple of hours during which I must communicate with these people on an emotional level, which means I have to be very direct and honest, without passing judgement. Even if someone's secret is potentially the least interesting of all, I cannot say “I am not interested”. These people are opening up to me about something so close to them that this fact alone makes it appealing. The whole project balances on discretion and anonymity so it is inherently easier for things to be said. The only people who know about the stories are Peter Paul (our publisher), the person themselves and I.
What do you do at the end of the day?
I have received a lot of positive feedback from the people I work with, (“You are a healer” a reaction from one of the WTWHNS candidates), but I am only human. The issues are weighty and use up a lot of energy and to deal with them properly I have to ‘leave them at the office’. I am there, in the moment, giving my full attention but at the end of the day I have to let go completely: I cannot 'carry the weight of the whole world on my shoulders'. It is similar to being a war photographer: the stories and the physical mishaps are terrible to see, but if I could not handle them, I would not do it.
What have you learnt so far?
While in New York, filming and photographing, I realised that I needed to rid myself of my own secrets, so I told them to the people in my inner-circle. I can now relate to the WTWHNS subjects more closely; understanding the feeling of setting oneself free. I did not, however, share my deepest thoughts with the subjects. The project is not about me but about them.
Were the type of camera and location conscious choices?
Yes. I decided to use a Hasselblad, an analogue camera, which produces photographs that cannot be achieved with any digital camera. It ties in with the core of the project; forgotten quality. There is a parallel between the forgotten quality of analogue cameras, and the quality and possibly the importance of privacy.
How can we find out about these hidden stories?
Buy the book! The photographs will be published in large 70 x 70 cm books. Only 100 copies will be printed (hand printed), and sold at €700 each. These stories must remain relatively secret and it would contradict the idea behind the project if everyone had access to the photographs without really knowing what they are about. The book will include a short story about each subject to accompany the photographs and Eugene v.d. Bosch will also make a documentary which will be aired in spring 2012, when the book is published. The identity of the subjects and their secrets will, however, remain hidden.
Michel Szulc-Kzryzanowski will continue to travel the globe in the coming months, listening to and understanding the secrets of some of the most unique people on the planet. With a small team, always consisting of a man (himself) and a woman, they will embrace and set these people free, while excluding the whole world from the telling of their story.
Follow the journey of this project here.