Photographer JP Kadzinski has built a career out of perseverance. Growing up in Lorraine, France, Kadzinski worked in factories from a young age, which cemented his work ethic and desire to forge a more creative path for his life. At the suggestion of a friend, Kadzinski made a few headshots and started knocking the doors of some of France’s top modeling agencies.
While finding representation would prove to be grueling for Kadzinski – he heard quite a few no’s before an agency finally gave him a chance – the move would prove instrumental for Kadzinski. Working as a model in some of the world’s largest cities, including Paris and Miami, Kadzinski had long dreamed of moving to New York. When he finally did about 15 years ago, he repeated his formula for persistence: He hunkered down on a friend’s couch and spent a week going to door-to-door until another modeling agency was willing to give him a shot.
In many ways, Kadzinski cut his teeth as a photographer while working as a model. While he spent the majority of his time behind the camera, Kadzinski developed firsthand knowledge of photography techniques and became intrigued with the process. Tired of the modeling industry and ready for another change, Kadzinski turned to a familiar subject.
Entirely self-taught, Kadzinski started out as a portrait photographer, a seamless transition for the once-model. He began experimenting with street photography, and soon developed a series that uniquely encompasses his experience as an outsider looking in. Determined to sell his work as a fine artist, Kadzinski set out on a familiar path: knocking on doors, calling on art world friends, and making work that continued to inspire and enrapture him.
Currently represented by Emmanuel Fremin gallery in New York, Kadzinski’s fine art photography has sold work across New York, Paris and Hong Kong. From his airy studio in Harlem, Kadzinski tells Artrepreneur why being persistent is the best thing any aspiring artist can do for their career.
JP Kadzinski’s Journey to a Career in Photography
NM: What prompted your interest in photography?
JP Kadzinski: Before I become a photographer, I spent 25 years working in the modeling industry. I’ve done hundreds of shoots and had small roles in a few films. I think that experience really helped me learn photography – understanding lighting and fashion, and learning to find the beauty in every frame. In a way, I have been surrounded by beauty all my life, so my modeling career really helped me channel that into what makes a fantastic. But then, of course, I got bored of modeling, and needed to make a change. Photography was a natural fit.
NM: How did you make the transition? Did you study photography or simply dive right in?
JP Kadzinski: I’m entirely self-taught, and I think that’s why my work has the edge that it does. For me, taking pictures has always been about absorbing the energy all around me. My photography is very emotion-based – if I feel it, I shoot it. It’s very automatic for me.
NM: How did you incorporate the more technical aspects of photography into your shooting patterns?
JP Kadzinski: Honestly, I really learned how to take pictures because I was in the business for so many years. After I decided I wanted to be a photographer, I spent a few years working in what I knew – modeling and portrait photography. It was a natural transition, because I already knew how to pose, how to work the camera, so I would just apply that knowledge to my subjects and coax them into loosening up for a great shot. Plus, since I knew everybody, I found people to run the lighting and make my photography better. What’s interesting is that my photos were still unique to me because I was able to find and capture that energy I mentioned before.
Portrait photography also allowed me to flex my creativity – I often used props and interesting locations to expand on the image itself. But eventually, I realized that portraiture and modeling wasn’t what moved me. I disliked the routine, and I wanted to do something that felt more authentic.
NM: How did you find what was missing?
JP Kadzinski: Well, I just took to the streets and started shooting. One thing that especially caught my eye were fire escape windows – I thought about the people living behind them, whether they were a family or a young couple or living alone. I started shooting from second-floor windows, which felt like the perfect vision straight from my heart. When I started, I became obsessed and shot them for months and months. I took thousands of pictures of second floor fire escape windows across New York, from SoHo to Chinatown and the Bronx. I loved the feeling of pressing my foot against the edge of a sidewalk and looking up into this imagined life.
An Unconventional Approach to Gallery Representation
NM: So you found your passion, so to speak. What did you do next? Was it your intention to sell this work?
JP Kadzinski: Back in those days, I didn’t have gallery. I didn’t (and still don’t) have an agent. I was shooting and editing this work, and it was looking good, but I didn’t know what to do next. Coincidentally, one day I met Emmanuel [Fremin] in the street, who lived in my building at the time. I knew he was a gallerist, so I asked him if he would be willing to take a look at my work, and possibly show it at his gallery. At first, he said no. So I just kept working and working, but always kept him in the back of my head. And I kept asking him every time I saw him.
Finally, after months of asking, Emmanuel said he was participating at an art fair in New York and if I wanted, we could do a test. If the work sold, we would continue to do business together. If not, then I would have to get back into the studio and try and make something that sells. At that first fair we did in New York, I sold five pictures! So that’s how I started out selling.
NM: That’s a pretty unconventional way to get into a gallery. Why do you think it’s so difficult to break in?
JP Kadzinski: It’s very hard for a gallery to know if you’re going to sell or not because art is very subjective. So as artists, we need to think about why a gallery might want to hire you, and what can you do to make yourself a desirable artist for their space. Once you identify your strong points, you have to make sure to do your best to illustrate that to a gallery.
NM: Are you thinking about that mantra when you make work?
JP Kadzinski: No, when I’m photographing I don’t think in terms of business. I think about what people would be happy to have up on the wall. What do I want to say? What do I want to create? For me, it’s about vibes, energy, happiness, and being playful.
NM: Why is it advantageous for artists to work with galleries?
JP Kadzinski: The reason I work with [Emmanuel] is because he knows his business. A gallery can work for you in ways that you simply cannot work for yourself. They also help you evaluate your work and production against the market. For example, I was new in the business, he counseled me on pricing my work, advising that I shouldn’t go too high. Similarly, he counsels me on how often I should make work, and the cadence at which I should exhibit and make new work.
Minding the Market
NM: Tell me a little bit about the importance of making sure you’re not oversaturating the marketplace with your work.
JP Kadzinski: I don’t want to produce too much because I want to be more exclusive. But I’m still working hard every day, and my laptop is full of picture ideas. The thing is, I don’t want to be too diversified. I want to be focused on some niche. And I also don’t want to produce too much so I can be more exclusive and specific. It’s all about striking a balance.
NM: Do you recommend other artists find their own niche?
JP Kadzinski: Find your own niche. Don’t do what everybody does. Art should be about what you’re feeling. And you also shouldn’t try to compare yourself to other artists. Your success will come in its own time. Be honest with who you are as a person.
NM: What’s the best advice you can offer aspiring artists?
JP Kadzinski: Be a hustler, and don’t let rejection define you. As a model and actor, I got so used to being rejected. Imagine if I had let that rejection get me down – I would probably be homeless! Success as an artist is all about persistence. I asked my gallerist five, six, seven times to consider me before he finally said yes. If I reflect on my work as a model, many of my biggest breaks came in the same way – knocking on doors and being persistent until I got a ‘yes.’
Once you can identify that a gallery can be a good fit for you, then it’s all about making yourself desirable to them, and proving that you can sell. So, trust in yourself to get there first. Then, just push, push, push.
To learn more about JP Kadzinski, visit his Orangenius profile.