Hi Marta! We met this year (2024) in my Portrait Studio thanks to the Cykl w Służbie Ducha i Ciała (Art in the Service of Spirit and Body Cycle) organised by the Sztuka Dla Życia (Art for Life) Foundation. You took part in a photo session called Portrait of a Woman, for women experiencing cancer.
Please tell us your story.

I got ill at the age of 31 and was diagnosed with breast cancer. At first I was given infusion chemotherapy and then underwent a mastectomy with the removal of lymph nodes. Despite this treatment, I still had some cancer cells in my body, so another chemotherapy was implemented, this time with tablets and hormone therapy. While I got through the first chemotherapy reasonably well – I lost my hair and was weakened, the second one swept me away. I was in pain and had numerous side effects, which I have been battling with to this day.
I was diagnosed in 2020, the treatment lasted almost two years.

You caught my attention with your openness, joy and courage – you wanted to photograph yourself in such a way that the absence of one breast was visible. Didn’t you hesitate at all?

I’ve had the idea of doing a portrait session for a long time, even before I got sick. Well, I didn’t do it at that time and I’m glad I finally got in front of the lens. I noticed on my friend’s social media profile a post from last year’s Portrait of a Woman session and an announcement about the next edition. I wrote straight away registering my desire to participate.
I had no reluctance. I knew that sooner or later these photographs would be published, so I came with a message for others. I wanted to tell women that they have nothing to be ashamed of. They are fighting a hard battle for life, they shouldn’t worry about losing their hair. Even the loss of a breast – reconstruction can be done, we have the right to do it and it can be fixed somehow. Life is the most important thing.
So taking part in the photo shoot – it took me 30 seconds to decide! – I wanted to ensure that even after such experiences, a woman still remains a woman, with all her femininity – her smile, her happiness, her passions. Appearance changes in life, I used to be very slim, then I weighed more, and now that weight will fluctuate too, because I’m on a strong hormone treatment. But I’m not going to hide under baggy clothes, being a bit chubby doesn’t mean you can’t wear a dress. If I feel good about myself, that’s the most important thing. Self-acceptance is important, especially as there are things beyond our control.

You sound like you accept yourself unconditionally. Has it always been this way, or has it only been your time of illness that has turned your attention to the fact that there are important things and more important things?

I didn’t have that before. I used to pay a lot of attention to how I looked and had trouble with it. But I have a feeling it’s because of other people. I had a hard time in primary school and then in middle school. I have a big burn scar, it takes up half of my chest. At the age of three and a half I spilled boiling water on myself and my plastic shirt stuck to my skin causing these scars as a result.
So I was rather scapegoated at school, I didn’t have it easy.

So we have had similar experiences. When I was a few years old, I pulled a pan of hot oil down on myself. I burned half my face on the border with my eye and my cleavage. The doctors told my parents that I would have a series of plastic surgeries because the scars would be considerable. By some lucky coincidence, my parents got hold of a medicine which, as a foam, solidified on the burned skin in such a way that no dressings had to be made. Changing them, and thus disturbing the skin, could cause scarring. The result is that, with the exception of a small mark on the clavicle, the rest of the skin has regenerated 100 per cent.
But leaving my experience, and coming back to you – both the burn and the cancer are the same side of the chest?

Yes. After the burn, the doctors said to wait until I grew up, mature and my breasts grew, because then a skin transplant would be possible. I waited until I was 15 to do that. And then, when I started to find out what it was going to look like, that the skin would have to be taken from my leg, I decided that I didn’t want it. That I accepted this scar and my appearance. I wore blouses with deep necklines, not caring about the comments of others. Definitely my self-esteem went up a lot.
Later, I experienced a shake-up of my self-esteem again, contributed to by my ex-husband, from whom I eventually left, for myself and my child.
At the moment, after my oncology experience and the loss of my burned breast, I don’t pay attention to the little things – the extra kilos, for example – I know what this is due to. It’s not my carelessness, it’s the result of treatment. I have my limit of kilos that I don’t want to exceed, but I also don’t tire myself out at the gym.

You mentioned that you decided to have breast reconstruction.

Yes, I have decided. It won’t be perfect, there will definitely be differences between the breasts, but that’s okay.

But no scar removal?

No, no, it’s already my trademark! It makes me stand out, that’s who I am.
I feel sad when I see women trying to cover up their imperfections. While I was being treated, sitting in the hospital waiting my turn, I met a lady in the waiting room, about 70 years old. I had an uncovered bald head and a T-shirt that showed the absence of one breast. The lady (I later found out that she had undergone a double-sided mastectomy) came up to me and asked – how come I wasn’t ashamed, that I was sitting completely unbothered and not covering myself. I told her that for me it’s nothing terrible. On the contrary, it is the result of the fact that I am fighting for my life, that I have stood up to this fight. Then we saw each other again, this time she came up to me and hugged me and thanked me for being able to look at this case and herself from a completely different perspective. She pointed out that maybe she wouldn’t cover herself up so much by drowning in wide clothes anymore, that what others say might not matter.
Yes, because it’s not those others who are fighting, it’s me who was fighting, the lady was fighting and that was the most important thing. And not the stares of others.
Sometimes I wore a kerchief on my head, always some fancy one, with big bows, in flowers, foxgloves. I wasn’t hiding, I didn’t want to be a grey mouse, I wanted to feel good and use the situation to add colour.
I was only sick for a moment, I told myself. What you have in your head has a colossal impact on how the healing process goes.

My impression is that you now draw your self-esteem from inside you, rather than conditioning it by what’s on the outside.

Yes, but there’s no denying that the illness affected relationships. It tightened the bond with my friends and my sister but it also verified many other relationships, quite a few people left, my relationship didn’t survive. Well, my appearance turned out to be more important…. But I know that I won’t be with anyone just because I have to (because I might not find anyone else anymore), but because I want to. I have a few more kilos, I feel good about it. I look the way I look.
I started to fulfill my dreams, I took my illness as a warning not to put anything off. I recently returned from a trip together with my sister, we had never done this before.
My 16-year-old son has gone through an accelerated course of adulthood, sometimes he feels different, but it doesn’t bother him. We are both different.

I saw on social media that you are running a fundraiser for your cause. Tell us more about it.

I used to think I could handle everything myself. Life has verified that. Illness is one thing, but it’s still important what happens afterwards. I have to have regular checkups and I’m constantly on medication. Chemo has ruined my teeth, which I want to heal.
Therefore, I decided to set up an account with the Alivia Foundation and run an oncology donation, thanks to which I do not have to worry about money for necessary expenses related to the consequences of the disease. I am grateful to the donors for these contributions.

Marta thank you very much for your honest conversation and I wish you all the best.

Marta’s fundraising link: onkozbiorka.pl/marta-stachowicz

I work sometimes with clients who were disappointed with their cooperation with the previous photographer and were not satisfied with the result of the photo shoot.

Photography is an absolutely democratic field, it can be practised by anyone and at any level of commitment – occasionally, as a hobby or professionally. You don’t need any school or certificate of qualification to practice this profession. In fact, everyone takes photographs.
So, how can you find the perfect photographer to work with?

Most often clients come to me through recommendations. They already know who I am and what I do. Nevertheless, I make sure they have seen my portfolio.
I work in a certain style and convention. This doesn’t mean that I can’t shoot differently, it just means that my style is what I do best. If you see my portraits and you like them and you know that it is something you want, the chances of me meeting your expectations increase.

You don’t have to know anything about photography of course, the like/dislike category is already a good start. The reception of photography is always correlated with our sense of aesthetics and taste, so the chances of you being satisfied with the result are bigger if you simply like the photographer’s work.
But it’s definitely worth checking a few things before you order a photo shoot.

Creating my brand and running my photography business professionally, I take care of my development, high quality of photographs, professional cooperation with clients. This is the sum of experience gathered over a dozen years of practice.
So check the experience of the photographer you want to cooperate with, how long he/she has been on the business.
Of course, everyone started out once and you can’t build up professional experience any other way than through practice. It’s a known fact. But it’s just good to know that you are entering a cooperation with someone who has had a few assignments in a particular field, not a few hundred.

My first years in the profession I worked as a photojournalist. Since then I have covered a great variety of subjects, so I feel I could shoot in many areas of photography. However, I am a fan of specialisation.
Investing in the specific photographic equipment, improving skills, gaining experience by concentrating on a narrower branch of photography all mean that over time a photographer is seen as a specialist in his/her field.

So if you want to do a photo shoot of your products, find a photographer who specialises in product photography. He or she will be able to manage photographing, for example, shiny, reflective objects, and will have ideas and materials for arranging the scenery. A portrait photographer, on the other hand, in addition to technical skills related to, for example, studio lighting, should also have interpersonal skills – be able to create a friendly atmosphere and good relationships as these skills will affect your comfort on set.
Each field of photography requires to put accents in a different area, so choosing a specialisation is conducive to the pursuit of mastery.

And finally, it is a good idea to talk to the photographer first, either by phone or in person. A good relationship is important. If you feel that you understand each other well, the conversation is productive and the collaboration will deliver what you expect you can proceed to discuss the details.

Conclusion: portfolio, experience, photographer’s specialisation and good energy between you and photographer – pay attention to these elements before you decide for a photo shoot.

When I have a few negatives to develop, I order the chemicals and work in the darkroom.
To my surprise and disappointment when it turned out that I wasn’t able to order Tetenal black and white emulsion…. this company has stopped producing it.

Despite the changing times, analogue photography is still going strong. Just because more opportunities and tools are arriving doesn’t mean it’s the end of old techniques. It just means that we have more possibilities and tools.
Even so, there is sometimes some turbulence among manufacturers of analogue photography supplies, some items disappear from the market, others return.

This time, sadly, Tetenal. Their products have never let me down, which is important when it comes to this delicate matter of developing negatives.

Sometimes I hear the question – why do you still want to work in the darkroom? I’m fascinated by this form of image creation.
I’m using this method for my long-term One People Story project (you can read more about it HERE).

The medium-format analogue Hasselblad is often the only camera (not counting my phone) I carry with me. Photographs are taken spontaneously, in response to an interesting scene or character or an intriguing situation. Unhurriedly and without pressure.
I also take photographs, as part of One People Story, for a specific commission. For example the Faces of JazzArt series, portraits of musicians taking part in the Katowice JazzArt Festival. Or photos I took in Veszprem, Hungary, during an artist residency that was part of the European Capital of Culture Veszprem-Balaton 2023.

What I like most about the whole process of creating analogue photography is slowness. For me, is to keep the balance in response to commercial photography, where I operate within a strict timeframe. And complete freedom in form and content.

So how do I do it?

The Hasselblad is a camera that makes 6cm by 6cm squares, on film (in my case monochrome). So on one film I have 12 photos available.
I usually take one picture of a person/situation/scene. It’s a bit risky, but you have to admit that I give each frame a lot of care – light measuring equipment, precise framing – but it can also happen spontaneously, guided only by my intuition. Both ways usually do not fail me.

When I have a few negatives made, I develop them, which I always do myself. I don’t like to outsource this process, there have been times when the negatives have been scratched, badly washed or with fingerprints.
I don’t need a darkroom to develop the negatives, all I need is a special piece of fabric, forming a sealed tent in which the film can be safely pulled from the spool and wound onto the spool of the correx. The correx is a container, also impervious to light, in which I make chemical baths to develop the film.

I pour the prepared mixture – that is developer (I worked with Tetenal Ultrafin) and fixer (Tetenal SuperFix) mixed in the right proportions – into the correx one by one. First the developer, then stopping the development with e.g. water, then the fixer and finally a longer rinse in water to get rid of any residual chemicals. The whole process usually takes about 45 minutes.

Afterwards, the film needs to dry. I just hang it up and wait until it is completely dry.

There are two ways to go at this point. Continue the process of making photographs in the darkroom (enlarger + chemicals + photographic paper), or use a hybrid solution of scanning the films and printing the photographs.
I worked many hours in the darkroom making prints myself. This is how I created my first portraits or city photos, between 2001 and 2006.
Nowadays, I choose the second solution. I scan the films – always with the original frame of the negative, so it’s always a full, original frame, work on them tonally in Lightroom, then print.

Printing the One People Story series is an important part of the whole. I chose acid-free paper for this project, a completely matte cardstock that beautifully accentuates the softness of these photographs and gives the drab blacks.
I print the squares in a 10 cm by 10 cm format and keep them in a Black Box, produced especially for this collection. If I want to gift a square to the person portrayed, I pack it in a black envelope with the project logo, also produced especially for this series.

Despite the digitisation, I attach more importance to showing these photographs in person than online. I have created a one-photo gallery on my website and I update it every other Monday. What for? At the moment there are more than 250 photographs in the collection. No one can handle clicking through such a number 😉 It’s better to focus on one image and see a larger number on exhibition. I also slowly feel ready to show this story in a book.

Again, I invite you to visit the project page HERE, you can take a look at the portfolio and see two videos. Go ahead!

What about chemicals then?
I work on Ilford negatives, so I decided to try out the chemistry of the same manufacturer. I am currently waiting for the shipment 🙂

In my previous text on self-acceptance (link) I focused on the asymmetry of the body, especially the face. I showed something that is completely natural, but arouses a lot of self-criticism in people.

That text I started with the sentence:
“What are the most common words I hear when clients cross the door of my Portrait Studio? I am unphotogenic, I don’t like myself in photos, I hate photos.”
I want to develop this thread.
Because these are the words that are usually said in the beginning. After that, it only gets worse.

What a snout.
Square head.
Fat cow.
Sorry, unfortunately I’m terrible photo material.
My best time is over.
Poor nose.
Unfortunately I have to look at myself.
Jeeeez, I’m round.
I have a pizza-like face.
I won’t smile. I hate my smile.
These shoulders are a nightmare.
I look like a four-door wardrobe.
My hands I have to hide, I have terrible nails.
Unfortunately I have one eye higher, it looks bad.
Wouldn’t it be possible to improve these ears? They’re ugly.
What a belly! I look like I’m pregnant.
Unfortunately there is nothing I can do with my hair, a tragedy.
I don’t know what can be done with me. Rather nothing.
The photos are great, but me in them – terrible.
Well, unfortunately I have a difficult face, I don’t know how you can deal with it.
I’m not a model.
I don’t like myself with my hair down.
I look like an old man.
I fucking can’t look at myself.

And I could go on and on.…

I often feel helpless when I hear such words. They are not covered by reality, the objective one. Interestingly, whenever I work with a team and the participants of a session have the opportunity to see their colleague, they react completely differently, much more favourably, they point out shots they like, I hear admiration and approval. And often the comment: well you’re great, but I’m terrible.

Sometimes I feel angry or even sad that people speak so badly about themselves. Imagine talking to yourself like that every day. You repeat these ‘truths’ reassuring yourself that you are right. You see yourself this way, you don’t accept that it could be different.
This lacks tenderness, gentleness and understanding of yourself. An acceptance of weakness, an acceptance that sometimes you feel better and sometimes worse. There is no connection with your body.
Instead, there is ruthless criticism.

Tiredness, hectic daily life, lack of time for yourself, for sleep, for sport, poor food, clumsy outfits.
All these things affect how you feel, how you perceive yourself and, consequently, how you talk about yourself. I’m far from giving advice and I will not do so. I don’t judge these behaviours. I know that they result from experiences, cultural and upbringing influences, lifestyles. Instead, I dream that people look at each other more gently, that they give themselves some time and tenderness.
That’s probably why it’s a priority for me to make the people who visit my Studio safe and at ease as I try to create a friendly environment to at least minimise the frequent discomfort of being in front of the lens.

I have this quote (I can’t remember whose words it is) prominently displayed in my studio: “Practice speaking well of yourself”.
And with that I will leave you.

Photographs: portraits of women were created in my Portrait Studio – including Magda Daniłoś an advocate of ‘Be afraid but do’ and self-kindness. The portrait of the man was taken for the Kosciuschko brand in the space of the Porcelain Factory in Katowice.

Hi Edyta, welcome to my blog! You’re involved in coaching, facilitation, leadership, and provide training for businesses.
You are active on social media and regularly share your knowledge and experience. How do you find ideas for topics and motivation to be systematic in what you do?

Inspiration changes depending on the moment in my life. However, I try to respond to life and social situations on an ongoing basis, in addition to some general idea about my message. Not necessarily to what is already being created online. I feel that these days the only guarantee for successful publications is to share one’s own experiences combined with knowledge. If we try to fit in with the ever-changing trends, we will always remain mere reproducers. So if something touches my heart, a situation surprises me, a thought comes to me, I edit it into a social media post. This is a guarantee of healthy inspiration and unconventional posts. After all, no one lives the exact same life as us. However, most of us struggle with similar issues. This is why sharing your own perspective is valuable to the reader.

It is quite easy for social media to teach systematicity by cutting off coverage regularly, so if I want my influence to reach more than 10 audiences, I need to be consistent. A good method is, of course, to write down your own thoughts. I have an inbox where I write to myself and from these most thought-provoking days, I can then create more and more posts.

My day-to-day work is as a leadership and communication coach, and I also work extensively in the areas of coaching and facilitation, but I do not limit my communication to these areas only. Social action for inclusiveness or youth advocacy activities also touch my heart, so automatically situations related to these issues become inspiration for thoughts, and these for further publications.

How do you make communication effective? What do you put emphasis on?

I think with images so I can’t imagine my communications not being supported by them. Usually, when I am trying to get across a message, the entry is accompanied by the most relevant image. Often it is some kind of graphics, which I more or less successfully produce myself when I have the time, because although it is not my area of talent, sometimes it is definitely my form of relaxation. The message of our thoughts should be clear. I always read half-heartedly what I have already written and want to publish. Whenever I failed to do this before, the entry has not been digestible. If something can’t be read with lightness, we will lose the reader before we get to the most important thoughts in our statement.

However, I consider authenticity to be the essential thing. To realise this, of course, I sometimes have to tap into the resources of my own courage, but nothing is as convincing as the truth.

We have worked together several times, both in my Portrait Studio (neutral background, minimalism) and in your office (space and context of the place), sessions co-created with your partner Ola Goc. How have these photographs worked for you over the past few months?

Going into our office to shoot had a completely different purpose than when we went into the studio. The beautiful thing is, in collaboration with you, you can tell the kind of story that these photos are meant to convey and then, these photos are the pillar that supports the statement. When I felt there was a breakthrough, I immediately made an appointment for a new portrait shoot and talked about how I see myself in this change. I know that the timeliness of photography is of paramount importance, but I also like photos behind which I feel there is a story, something more than just a pretty picture, for the media.

Photos from our early 2023 shoot have appeared in previews for podcasts, conferences, interviews and many publications until I finally felt it was time for something new and that those would slowly be moved into the category of memories. This is an area where I don’t like austerity because we judge everything first by its appearance, whether someone likes it or not. So my photos, it’s me, my work, my company, my competence – they have to be good!

What would be your advice to those who, while having a wealth of experience, numerous talents and knowledge, manifest difficulties in communicating their skills and presenting themselves to a wider audience?

Come out of the wardrobe. ‘Sit in a corner and they’ll find you’ is not applicable in this day and age. If someone has been gifted, has a talent, then in my opinion they should share it with the world. If we don’t go out to other people, we rob them of the opportunity to benefit from our knowledge. If someone has a desire to be discovered after death, then of course, staying at home with the talent is the best possible solution. However, if it is a talent that reveals itself in speech, for example, then we won’t be able to do much after death, and I don’t want to have the inscription on my tombstone, she had talent but lacked courage and self-belief because she waited for better days. There are so many great opportunities! Coaching, mentoring, training, therapies, YouTube, books – you can work through your fears. Fear is not a good reason to give up on your dreams.

What is most important to you in your professional life? What drives you?

I have to do what makes me happy – most of the time. Truth is the greatest value. If I feel real in what I do I don’t sell, and they buy. If I have joy in what I do, interacting with me is a pleasure for others. When I dare to communicate authentically with my clients at work, what I say becomes a breakthrough for them and for me. Authenticity, fun and consistency in action. When any of the factors are missing, I immediately feel some incoherence and have the urge to change. I fulfil my goals, I don’t think about retirement, I just think about how much I can do with the hope that I can do it for as long as possible. My energy is other people, in the right dose and proportion to silence and music of course.

Thank you for the talk.