Krystian Lipiec: Coming Home To You

Artist Krystian Lipiec

Words Tom Czibolya

Growing up in a catholic small town to building up a career as a professional photographer working worldwide is a journey to be proud of. Yet it just can’t spoil the genuine, humble person that is Warsaw artist Krystian Lipiec. Krystian’s story is one of personal growth, one that has been documented through his gorgeous imagery that he likes to refer to simply as beauty photography. In conversation with Container Love, Krystian told us about the forests surrounding his mother’s house, his coming out, and how overcoming hesitation has changed his life forever.

I like to romanticize my pictures thinking they are holding secrets on their own.”

Looking back in retrospect, what is the first photograph of yours that you took great pride in?

I remember very clearly one picture that I took maybe 12 years ago. It’s the view from the window of a cabin on a ship. My ex-boyfriend and I, we went on a small holiday getaway to the lakeside. According to the forecast, it was supposed to be perfect weather, so we arrived with high expectations and as for me, only a denim jacket. Of course, it turned out to be the coldest weekend on record with snowfall and everything. We ended up crossing the lake aboard this ship, downing shots of vodka with the captain to avoid freezing to death. It is an important picture to me.

You were born in Poland. How has your background influenced the way you think of other people now?

I was born in a very small town in the south of Poland, in a strictly catholic, traditional area. I think everyone can imagine the story of a young gay man living in this environment. I was 18 and only a few very close friends of mine could suspect something about me, but even for them, it wasn’t clear. I tried to package it for others and for myself too as much as I could. I told people things like I’m just experimenting or that I might be bisexual. I wasn’t ready to come out. The one dream that I had was to be able to move from there, possibly to a bigger city. And that is exactly what I did.

Later on, I met a lot of gay people and got introduced to a thriving gay society in Krakow and Warsaw, yet there is sense of secrecy coming from this period that  is still embedded in my photography.

Although my subjects often go beyond the queer world, I like to romanticize my pictures thinking they are holding secrets on their own.

Anonymity and people living their lives in their own hidden dimensions are recurring elements in your work. Why?

I like when there is room left for imagination. This is why I rarely work with nude models, and none of my pictures are explicit. Not like there would be anything wrong with that, I just feel that it’s not my style.

Not so long ago, my mom moved out of the city and into a house in the countryside, very close to the forest. I fell in love with the place. I enjoy wandering in the woods there whenever I’m visiting her. The effect nature can have on someone is incredible. I love being out there and I love taking pictures there too.

To many, fashion remains a safe place for self-expression. How did you drift toward fashion photography?

When I moved to Warsaw, I started working at a very big studio, as sort of a photographer’s assistant’s assistant. They were lots of fashion shoots happening and I got to learn the craft while working on those. I love fashion but wouldn’t label my work as fashion photography. I’m more into portraits, into faces. It’s beauty photography. Also, I’m 34 years old and I love the way Gen Z is normalizing and liberalizing makeup nowadays. They think of makeup as a basic option for literally anyone, and this has had a huge influence on my work.

They wanted to make us disappear from the public eye, but much to their surprise, their propaganda actually brought us together.”

Many of your personal projects come with a semi-documentarian approach. What does visibility mean to you?

I live in Poland and we’ve had the same rightish government for the last eight years. And they are not in favor of LGBT rights, to put it mildly. They hate us. When they came into power, we knew that the community will face serious problems. They wanted to make us disappear from the public eye, but much to their surprise, their propaganda actually brought us together. It kind of opened the eyes of many people, realizing that we have much to lose. I think we became louder, stronger, and more visible. And we have been fighting for our rights ever since.

The LGBTQIA+ topic is on constant rotation in government media outlets, but this kind of awareness kind of backfired for them. Eight years ago you couldn’t see a single LGBTQIA+ flag anywhere except maybe in a gay bar. After almost a decade of propaganda, they are everywhere, on shops and balconies across cities.

Do you think that this propaganda is a clash between the LGBTQ community and the government or the community and the general population?

It’s the government’s narrative. And I don’t think they are only facing the LGBTQ community, but the Polish people.

You are in the industry for over 12 years now. Can you tell us a little bit about the times when you were doubting yourself, your abilities, or your work and how you cope with that?

When I feel the urge to change things in my life, that usually means that I need to change my surroundings and the place I’m living in. After graduating I first moved to Krakow before making my way to the capital and changing cities for the second time was an excruciatingly slow and painful decision to make. It really felt like I’d abandon a life that I just started building there. I wasn’t ready for this and ended up postponing my plans. Looking back now, I lost two valuable years to doubting my decision.

Later on, as I started working with different artists, and studios in Warsaw, it gave me the skillset and the confidence that comes with it to trust my instinct more. I started getting recognition and jobs. Since there were people telling me that what I’m doing is good, I too started to believe in myself. I do a lot of commissioned work these days, but the best feeling is still when someone wants to buy a print from me to hang on the wall in their home. Every time that happens, it feels like I’m in heaven.

What would be the best piece of advice that you could give to someone who is struggling to live out their identity?

If you feel like you need to change something in your life, but you are unsure if people around you would approve of it, just do it. Many people have a hard time making decisions, I know, because I’m one of them. But it’s very much like getting out of a toxic relationship: if deep inside you know that things just ain’t right, that you are not happy, you should remember that life can fly by very fast. And if you recognize that you want to feel, you want to live differently, you’re already halfway through the work. So keep going and trust your inner voice.

I was born in a very small town in southern Poland, a place I was ashamed of for many years. But when I grew older, this changed and my hometown turned out to become my hereditary, a source of inspiration and a part of my identity. It helped me realize that everything that I’m doing is about changing the perspective for others and for myself, too.

This interview with Krystian Lipiec is part of our special The Hidden Dimension, celebrating queer identities in all their beauty. Check out the cinematic portrait of Warsaw-based photographer and visual artist Leo Maki on Nowness.