Finding Yourself the Edge
“I didn’t come up with the name ‘extreme projects photographer,” Marek Arcimowicz laughs, “it just found me. It was from the marketing director of Alpinus, an outdoor clothing company that I used to shoot for, and it just stuck.”
It stuck because the description is perfect. In Marek’s work you see he has hurled himself into most, if not all, of the world’s harshest environments.
“I started out taking pictures in places and conditions where many others couldn’t or wouldn’t do it,” he explains. “Like shooting in the Gobi desert in winter, in -20 degrees. It’s harsh on you and your equipment.”
© Marek Arcimowicz | Sony α6500 + 70-200mm f/4 | 1/800s @ f/11, ISO 400
In these hard places, he has found the most compelling of subjects. “The really interesting things are found in the extremes,” he explains, “the middle is not so exciting. If you want to make photography that moves people, you have to do the things that move you – the things that touch your soul.”
© Marek Arcimowicz | Sony α6500 + 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 | 1/200s @ f/13, ISO 800
The toughest challenge he has faced was in Venezuela, joining an expedition to climb an unconquered peak in the jungle, Tramen Tepui. “It was a mountain,” Marek explains, “that didn’t exist on maps – even NASA couldn’t shoot it from space it was so cloudy and wet, that’s how tough the conditions were. But it was totally worth it because we summited the mountain, aided mapping of it, and we found three new species of butterfly, and a new frog along the way! It’s difficult to find places like that,” he continues, “that’s the pleasure.”
The size and quality of Sony cameras he now uses were the stuff of dreams when he started out, says Marek. He once climbed Ama Dablam in the Himalayas with a 6x7 camera, lenses, and a tripod, weighing in at 15kg. He explains that today, with his α7R II, “it’s a revelation. I can get all the same quality or even better as 6x7 medium slide - with just 2kg of gear in my pack"
© Marek Arcimowicz | Sony α7R II + 16-35mm f/4 | 25s @ f/4.5, ISO 12,800
Packing smart for expeditions like Marek’s is vital because a huge part is trekking or climbing, and exhaustion can’t get in the way of the pictures, or the safety of those involved.
It’s a balance, he says, which involves knowing your body: “I was a lot fitter back then! So taking a 20kg pack was less of a problem. I’m almost 50 now so I don’t have the same power, but I have the perfect lenses and cameras instead: sturdy, weather sealed, and they’re light, too. I take one Alpha body and two or three lenses, and it’s all I need.”
© Marek Arcimowicz | Sony α7R II + 16-35mm f/4 | 1/1250s @ f/10, ISO 400
“The quality of the latest Sony sensors is amazing, and we’re really spoilt with things like the speed and precision of autofocus. But it’s the whole system that’s really important to me; the α7R II and III really make the most of the great lenses.”
Along with his α7R II and α6500, his usual kit is “an FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA, FE 70-200mm f/4 G, and something like a FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA, or 55mm f/1.8 ZA. If I don’t want to change lenses, making me less visible as a photographer, then it’s mostly the 35mm, but if what I’m doing is more portrait based, it could be the 50mm.”
© Marek Arcimowicz | Sony α6500 + 70-200mm f/4 | 1/160s @ f/11, ISO 250
The thrill you feel through Marek’s travel and extreme images was born from the restrictions he faced growing up behind the Iron Curtain in Cold War era Poland. “It was hardly possible to even put your nose outside of your home, so I dreamed about adventure; mountains, poles, deserts like the Sahara, Kalahari, Gobi… When it was finally possible, at 18 or 19, I had no choice but to go. First to France, Spain, then Morocco, China, Tibet... Nowadays it’s not so shocking, but before the internet to help book things, it was like going with just a compass. A true adventure.”
© Marek Arcimowicz | Sony α7R II + 55mm f/1.8 | 1/200s @ f/6.3, ISO 800
Now, with more and more photographers shooting the same subjects, Marek is looking for another extreme; a new thrill. “I think,” he explains “what I was doing back then is not that interesting any more. You can use an action cam now, and you see so many amazing images of snowboarding, surfing, skiing, skydiving. I don’t like to be part of the crowd, so that’s why I’m telling more human-interest stories; about ecology and changing societies. What you’re doing must move you as an artist. For the last five years I’ve been shifting to this, and taking some very ‘hard’ pictures about trafficking, abuse, and hunger, all those things we have to face. It’s a different type of extreme.”