Max Miechowski on exploring community and urban spaces through portraiture

“I like taking photographs,” stated photographer Max Miechowski as he took to the Nicer Tuesday stage last month. Based in London, the main themes of Max’s work are community and urban culture and so, rather than going far and wide to exotic places, he makes work about the communities and the places that are right in front of him. This is done by making portraits of anyone and everyone; a predominant aspect of his practice.

Max’s talk focussed on three projects taken from different points in his career, in turn, revealing the progression of his practice. Originally from Lincoln, Max only came to pursue photography at the age of 25 while working as a music teacher. The first project, titled Cemetery Road, was a pivotal project for Max which steered him on the path to making the work he does today. A simple concept, it saw him visiting each of his neighbours on the street to take their portraits. “It was a great way to engage with the local community and promote a sense of unity within the street,” he explains.

When he later moved to London, Max knew he wanted to employ these tactics again, he explained. This time, he took to the streets of New Cross with his camera and started taking portraits of the people he met through that process. These images instantly presented quite a different visual style to Cemetery Road. “It was going in a more sensitive direction,” he remarked. Flicking through some images from this time, the recognisable intimacy of Max’s work today started to become clear through delicate and compassionate portraits.

“Making this work gave me an opportunity to explore my new home and to slowly understand the place within it,” he told the audience. “I find the process of walking and meeting people, taking portraits, essentially doing street photography, a particularly meditative experience. It’s something I still see as an important part of my practice – just put your camera in your bag, pack some peanut butter sandwiches and just walk around all day and take pictures.” This process, he continued, is “relaxing, therapeutic and it’s always quite surprising who you meet.”

In the summer of 2018, Max stumbled upon Burgess Park, entering the grassy space to take a break while on one of his strolls. The photographer instantly fell in love with the location, having never been there before. The park sits central to four different areas – Peckham, Camberwell, Walworth and Bermondsey – and so acts as a melting pot for all these communities. “It seemed like a good place to focus on making some work,” he remarked on the matter.

The day that Max first discovered the park, there was a birthday party going on with a BBQ, a mariachi band and salsa dancing. “It was amazing to see so much life and community spirit happening in your local park,” he recalled. This spirit inevitably became imbued in the images he was taking there, and they took on a dreamy, romantic lilt which “fits [his] ideals about community and unity, and about living together within an urban space.”

Titled Burgess Park, this series acted as somewhat of a springboard for Max. He received some positive press from it, and one image in particular was shown in the National Portrait Gallery as part of the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize. This led to a solo show at the Print Space and a further group show as part of Photo London. “The reason why I end on this point is really not to brag,” he concluded, “but hopefully just to illustrate the fact that inspiration and great stories and great projects aren’t just happening on the other side of the world, they’re happening on the street that you live on. Behind number 75 where George lives, you can go and knock on that door and ask him if he wants a cup of tea and you might find a really amazing portrait. It might even be happening as close as your local park.”

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