Hugo Barclay

Aleksandra Karpowicz

Hugo Barclay
Aleksandra Karpowicz

Aleksandra Karpowicz

Aleksandra Karpowicz | Polish photographer, based in London

Photography, University of the Arts London, UK

MA Political Science, University of Warsaw, Poland

What was the brief you gave?

I asked my participants to envision in their heads a very clear character that they wanted to portray in the session. Whatever role they chose, however invented it might have been, would be a reflection of their own subconscious—it could be connected to some fear or fantasy or curiosity, or any feelings we can have about sex.  

For example, take a woman who is 50 years old with two children. She lost her virginity with her husband, is conservative, Christian, and not active sexually. So if she is going to portray herself, she is probably going to be shy. But if she decides to play an opposite role—a 20-year old, sexually open bisexual woman, for example, she is going to be able to show a different emotion with more bravery and self-confidence.

What did you learn?

People are super different, and I originally began the project because I was interested in people’s differences. But what I really learnt was just how strongly outside factors like the various ways we are brought up can really shape us internally.

It was interesting to start seeing the links between peoples’ diverse backgrounds and their attitudes to sex. And the ways in which people respond and adapt to these factors can be so individual. Some try to liberate themselves but we always carry social baggage—things we’ve been taught from an early age.


How has your career developed?

When I came to London I decided to change career paths. I did a photography course at the University of the Arts. It was a very technical course, and I pushed myself to try everything. Then I realised I didn’t want to be a photographer; I wanted to be an artist. There is a fine distinction.

I’ve been interested in photography since I was a kid. That’s why I was naturally drawn to it—but I’m at a stage in my career now where I want to be in control of my own work and vision, and not to be limited to photography as my only medium. I want to work on moving image and audio pieces.

Tell me about some of your habits or routines that you have

I feel like I don’t have any—nothing repeats itself. My days are very organic. If I go to bed late I can wake up late, but I do try to wake up early every morning, around 8.

I spend a lot of time meeting with people—building and maintaining relationships takes me so much time. It’s all about getting to know people and getting different perspectives.

What is going to be the narrative of your next project? 

I started working on the audio-visual project in continuation of Let’s Talk About Sex. What started as a photography project is really evolving. I want to do a performance—something about confessions. I would like to do it in a church. The idea is that I am going to have this audio recording with supporting moving images. And in a separate room, have a confession room where people can record themselves. I think people will share their stories. It’s going to be interesting to encourage people to talk about sex in that environment. 


Tell us about LovArts...

I set up LovArts with two of my friends as a promotional networking platform for visual arts mainly focusing on emerging artists. We did a show 4 years ago on Brick Lane called Chaos Control, which managed to bring in 800 people and had really good feedback. This was the first time I sold my work for quite good money so it was a confidence boost.  We do seasonal events, which opens many doors. It is really about building a community of artists. 

Tell us about your Let’s Talk About Sex project

This project is fundamentally a psychological experiment about human sexuality. It’s situated in Alfred Kinsey’s academic research on human sexual behaviour. In the 40s, Kinsey conducted 5,000 interviews with men over a seven-year period and then did the same thing with women. He published two books in 1948 and 1953, which were revolutionary as no one had spoken about sex so candidly before. In brief, Kinsey concludes that sexual behaviour is shaped by biological factors like age, gender, and sexual orientation and social factors like your parents’ education, whether you were brought up in the city or the countryside, and the most important—religion and disposition to religion.

Based on this research, I created a brief and invited 200 strangers from diverse backgrounds and orientations to pose for me. The volunteers were firstly interviewed and then photographed with a smaller selection having further interviews that were audio recorded. The photo-shoot involved participants engaging in the psychology of role-play. They were allowed to portray any character they wished. The impulses for creating these personas were based on a whole range of experiences from desire, fear, a curiosity or a reaction against a particular idea.

The choice of character did not necessarily portray their sexuality but did however reflect a subconscious alter ego

The final pieces are two lightbox photo installations containing 96 portraits each, Let’s Talk About Sex I and Let’s Talk About Sex II. The project is a double winner of the National Open Art Competition (Best Portrait Award and Visitor’s Choice Award).


What surprised you about undertaking your project?

I didn’t expect that participants would want to share their stories and, feeling they needed to be heard, to tell me so much about themselves. We would discuss why they chose the roles they played. They had desires to express their thoughts, feelings, traumas, joys etc. They were all prepared for the challenge they set themselves.  This was a means to liberate their bodies, to leave the trap they’ve been morally forced into.

When I shot 100 people I thought—this is crazy, how can I keep the stories to myself?--they are really incredible. But I always felt it wouldn’t be fair to share them—that was not part of the deal. Then I photographed another 100 people, and I thought about how I might be able to show the depth of our experience. So I emailed some of the models to ask if they’d like to return and record their thoughts. During the second session they spoke more about how the project changed them. 

I think it is super brave to do something like that. The vast majority of people had never before posed topless—so it was a liberating experience.

Many of them got to meet one another at the exhibition in Mayfair. That was almost like a project within a project—seeing everyone interact and identify with one another. 

When looking at the formative moments in your early life, what were some of the main things that were influential? 

I have this weird interest in people. When I was seven I got my first camera and already all my pictures were of friends and people.  That was an important realisation from an early age. 


If you were in a cocktail party, what do you say you do?

I am an artist. I am currently working in the mediums of photography, audio, and moving image, and I also want to look at performance. 

I consider my work conceptual—my projects involve a lot of depth and background research. But I also want the content to be engaging and accessible. With Let’s Talk About Sex, there were weeks of research on top of developing an engaging visual story. Without knowing the background of the project you will get the point—but the story makes it stronger. I want to take my projects in that direction. 


Have there been any shows in the past 6 months that have really surprised you? 

Infinite Mix - it was really good! The films were outstanding. And Bill Viola’s solo exhibition in Florence—absolutely breath-taking! 

How do you interpret the importance of branding for artists?

Once you create a negative brand or a brand that doesn't really define you it is difficult to change it. So branding is super important. 


Do you find it hard to value your work? 

The most difficult part is keeping emotions separate from value. I believe it’s difficult for artists to detach themselves emotionally from the artwork—to see it neutrally without thinking about how much heart and passion was put into it.


Are you in London and interested in organising artist studio visits and discovering the active emerging art scene?