Exploring Identity One Portrait at a Time

Photos by Joel Barhamand

Artist Maciek Jasik frames the perception of beauty in a color-filled ‘tunnel to the psyche’

The idea that our soul is the source of our individuality and desire is the driving force behind New York-based artist Maciek Jasik’s decade-long project, A Thousand Souls. Lyric at 70 Pine’s resident artist exposes the soul through a clarity of vision in his portraits of New Yorkers. His work, primarily focused on society’s relationship with nature and questions of identity, representation, and the self, employs color fields and other effects to reinvent reality through purely in-camera methods. 

We caught up with Jasik to get the backstory on A Thousand Souls and talk a bit about his process and what – or who – has had the biggest influence on his work.

When you began A Thousand Souls, did you intend to photograph a thousand New Yorkers?
People keep asking me if I plan on shooting a thousand people, which is kind of a hilarious question to me, since what do any of us do a thousand times in our lives? It's an incredibly lofty number I don't aim to reach.   

Well, we all have to have goals! What were your expectations for the project? 
When I began, I had zero expectations. I didn't know what the project was about or what I was doing. I was experimenting with making photography more like painting. Gradually I understood that I was exploring identity; how we see others and ourselves. I wanted people to disengage from their physical appearance and focus on their inner self. It became important for me to show a diversity of people, to expand who is seen, including people who are not readily considered photogenic, which was not as completely mainstream an idea in 2009 as it is now in 2019. 

New York-based artist Maciek Jasik

How many individuals have you photographed in the last 10 years?
I've photographed over 180 people in ten years. I don't want this project to ever become a chore, so I'll shoot more portraits when I feel it's time.

How do you find your subjects? I know you’ve kept in touch with several.
Some of the subjects are good friends, some are people that I briefly met, or people that answered ads I placed on Craigslist. Many I've stayed in touch with; others have disappeared forever.  

What is the effect you're trying to achieve with the color fields? How do you do it?
The color fields are a way in, a tunnel to the psyche, a method of attracting as well as confusing the viewer. They became a way to, in a way, paint color onto the image. Now, I employ many techniques for applying color, with different kinds of lights. At the time, they were placed in front of the lens. There are many ways to do this, though I have my own way. 

A Thousand Souls predates Humans of New York, which began in November 2010. Is there a resonance between the two?
I didn't know about Humans of New York until it had been going for a while already. In many ways, the projects are the opposite of each other. Humans of New York uses photography as an entry point for telling a story about someone. Mine invites you to imagine a story about a person based on a very particular perspective on their persona.

When did you first pick up a camera? What model do you use?
I didn't really pick up a camera until I was living in Japan. I just used a crappy digital camera, before switching to a Nikon FM2 which I bought in China the following summer. 

I met your mother the last time we were together in NYC – she’s lovely. Did your upbringing – or early life in Poland – have an effect on your work and ultimate career?
She was glad to meet you and all the wonderful people at Lyric! She has seen the project evolve over time and was glad to see it employed tangibly in a space like that. I feel like everything in a person's past builds to who they are today, but it's almost impossible to identify the origins of someone's path. What was it that led me to be attracted to color or mysterious or distorted images? 

Who are some of the artists or photographers that you admire or have influenced you?
Primarily I was influenced by post-impressionist painters in the beginning. Their emphasis on color and emotionality were key. But over time, modern painters like Francis Bacon proved more influential. I was attracted to combining beautiful colors with distorted elements, to see how far I could push elements of the grotesque. Contemporary painters like Adrian Ghenie, Nicola Samori, Ian Francis, Alex Kanevsky continued to offer fresh perspectives. For photographers, Viviane Sassen sticks out more than any other, as she has such a specific, beautiful perspective on color and form. She continues to evolve over time. Others, who I will not name, started with interesting work and then became boring over time, either because they sold out, or because they never evolved.

Check it out
Lyric at 70 Pine
70 Pine St, New York, NY 10005