My name is Polly Rusyn, I’m a London-based pro photographer with a few prior careers including being a graphic designer, an adventure travel tour leader, and a commercial product manager in the travel industry! My whole life now revolves around photography – I work commercially as a freelance personal brand photographer, I run street photography workshops (The Photo Weekender), and of course I shoot for fun. I’m also a brand ambassador for Fujifilm; and one of the hundred women featured in the first “Women Street Photographers” book (curated by Gulnara Samoilova). Aside from photography – I write, think about life (and the meaning of it), watch way too much TV, eat more cheese than I should, and laugh at my own (bad) jokes!
Pre-pandemic I rarely photographed in London. I never felt inspired on my own doorstep, and always waited for dedicated time abroad to spend whole days wandering around making pictures. But I have been forced to remove the lens of familiarity that I used to look at London with and find photos in my home city. It has been a revelation, as well as a challenge, but I always tell people who come to my workshops that I believe photos are everywhere patiently waiting for street photographers to see them and capture them – so I had to listen to myself! I do very much look forward to being able to travel again though, as there is no better way of discovering a new city than with a camera in hand.
I have to admit that I am a fair-weather photographer, with a strong preference for sunny days (hence most of my travels take me to sunny places). I don’t restrict myself to mornings or afternoons when the light is softer though, as I’m quite happy photographing in harsh light, so I can be out all day – there’s always something you can do with the light, or something you can do “to” it by manipulating camera settings. So again, the pandemic forced me to do something different, and I’ve had to adapt to photographing in different light conditions, although I do still draw the line at deliberately going out in the rain to do street photography! But I have found I’m not as dependent on a sunny day as I used to be, and think I’m a better photographer for it.
Often the first thing to trigger me on the street is colour, and I think of it as another subject as I believe a great colour photograph is “about” colour as much as it is “in” colour. On sunny days I think of shadows as solid shapes or as real people, and enjoy the added dimensions they give to an image. But while I really enjoy playing with that kind of aesthetic, I’m also looking for story elements, maybe something happening, whether it’s a gesture or some movement, or interesting characters, or some kind of curious detail. Recently, I’ve noticed more and more that I’m seeking out anonymous subjects, and I’ve also been making street photography without humans – I’ve been thinking a lot about privacy and the ethics of photographing people without permission even though I always feel that I am respectful to the people I photograph. Plus, it’s another challenge to make an interesting photograph when the face, the thing us humans are most drawn to, is obscured in some way.
Because I have to dammit! I am a problem solver, and street photography is a big problem to solve. I think about the ever-changing environment that I have in front of me as a jigsaw puzzle where most of the pieces are moving, and it’s my job to arrange everything in my frame to complete the whole picture. And having been a graphic designer composition is in my DNA. I guess that explains why I’m sometimes preoccupied with it… but I like how the world can be frozen in a very organised way. I see street photography as the art of observation coupled with the science of composition (with a little serendipity thrown in). But aside from problem solving and jigsaw building I find the practice very grounding – it’s like an active meditation once I get into a flow, because I’m so focussed on what’s unfolding in front of me that’s all I can think about. And then when I’m rewarded with a good picture, I am a very happy Polly!