Justin Partyka

A Stranger in a Strange Land

For two decades I photographed in East Anglia, my native region of Great Britain on the East coast of England. Now I am photographing in a different region, the Nouvelle-Aquitaine in South-West France.

In 2015 a friend invited me to stay in a small town in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine. Previously I had no intention to visit this place, let alone photograph there. But on this first visit I was immediately inspired to begin making photographs. This changed my life. During the next two years I returned to France whenever I could and continued photographing. But then Brexit happened! And everything changed…. I decided to move to the Nouvelle-Aquitaine and commit to photographing there. Despite the challenges, financially and other, I moved to France in the Autumn of 2017.

When I think about photography as a way to live, this is now more important to me than ever before. Without photography I would have no place here in France. I would probably have no place anywhere. Kurt Vonnegut wrote about A Man Without a Country (2005). Maybe this is now me, and I am using photography to try and find one. After all, the photographer is blind without a camera. It is the camera that guides the photographer through the world, the camera that gives meaning to one’s existence. My photographs from the Nouvelle-Aquitaine are perhaps an attempt to try and understand living in a new country—France—a place that often seems to defy an understanding!

Slowly I found a way to work here. Already, I have created an archive of thousands of photographs from the Nouvelle-Aquitaine, and the photography continues. I consider my photo archive to be a living organic entity. It is continually growing and evolving. It is the archive that reveals to me what the photographs might be about as I discover subjects, themes and relationships between photographs. It is a slow, gradual, intuitive and poetic process that I have come to trust and consider central to my practice as an artist. I have found that as I engage with the archive over time and make repeated viewings of the developed and scanned color negatives, I will discover surprises buried among the many images.

This portfolio of nine photographs from the Nouvelle-Aquitaine are some of these surprises. I am reluctant to call these photographs “self-portraits.” I do not think “self-portrait” is the correct term because it suggests that there was a concept or idea behind these photographs. They come from a way of photographing that is far too spontaneous and improvised to have a concept. So instead I think it is best to consider these photographs as a reaction to my experience of discovering the world with a camera. Occasionally when I look through the viewfinder of the camera I see myself, and for some reason when this occurs sometimes I press the shutter button. Why? I can only assume that the thought that flashes through my mind is: “there I am, a stranger in a strange land!”