Street Portraits of Strangers

Jakub Fabijański

Jakub Fabijański is a Polish-born photographer who lives in Australia with an ambitious street portraits of strangers project on the go.

Behind the scenes at Way Up North, he’s been a team member who has helped with various things throughout the years. He even travelled all the way to Europe to experience WUN in Cologne last fall, and he’s definitely a member of the family.

We caught wind of his project on Instagram and were immediately intrigued. The portraits were fantastic. That was a given. The twist? Jakub is approaching total strangers and asking to take their portrait.

He’s just kicked off the project so it’s early days. We wanted to catch him at the start and learn more about why he’s doing this intriguing challenge.

Who are you, where are you from, what do you do?

My name is Jakub. I live in Melbourne, Australia with my wife and daughter. I was born in Poland but Australia has been home since I was a child.

When I’m not busy shooting weddings, I’m usually working on personal photography projects which I’m never in a rush to complete.

Describe your current project and what gets you excited about it?

I’ve always been fascinated by the power of a good portrait that conveys a sense of character, individuality and an emotional connection between the subject and the viewer.

There were so many occasions I’d notice someone on the streets and think how striking their portrait would be at that very moment. So many opportunities for a picture that was never taken.

One day I worked up the courage, approached a stranger, asked for a picture and have made it an ongoing project ever since.

Take us through your approach when pitching this to strangers. What works, what doesn’t?

It’s important to approach people with a good level of enthusiasm and respect. In most cases I simply explain my intention and why I’d like to take their picture.

It’s a lot easier than you’d expect and more often than not people are actually quite flattered! If someone isn’t interested, it’s time to move on, there’s no point in trying to push it any further.

Apart from placing the person in same nice light, I try not to stage anything, I simply ask them to look into the camera and capture their natural personality.

Why film and not digital for this?

Black and white film photography is such a wonderful process. I love spending an hour or two developing a couple of rolls, switching off and getting completely lost in my thoughts. I come up with some of the most creative ideas during this time.

Even after so many years of using film, seeing the pictures for the first time, fresh out of the development tank is a highly rewarding and exciting moment.

How long will this project last and what do you see as a best-case outcome?

For now it’s an ongoing personal project with no real timeframe in mind.

Perhaps one day I’ll have enough content for some kind of exhibition or photo book. That would be the ultimate goal.

Finally, what gear are you using for this project?

I used a Nikon FM2 and 50mm lens for the 35mm work. For medium format, a Mamiya 645 with the 80mm 1.9 lens. More recently I’ve been using a Pentax 67 with the 55mm and 105mm lenses.

I’ve experimented with many different film types and development methods. These days I’m mostly using Ilford FP4 for 35mm and Kodak Tri-X for the 6×7. I nearly always push the film by one stop, which means I can underexpose in lower light situations and then compensate using longer development times.

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