Petr Hricko is one of the most interesting figures on the recent photography scene. His photographic style is the first thing you will remember about him. Dream-like pictures with a blue undertone, levitating people and objects. Mystical photos of the Icelandic nature and other places which will draw you in.
Petr, what was your life like before you started photographing? What did you enjoy doing?
I think that my life has been full of action since I was a young boy. Everything mostly revolved around skateboarding, cool parties, and an infinite amount of experiences. I’d say that I used to be more sociable and I felt good when there were people around me. I enjoyed going to music festivals, clubs, and especially the cinema. I often went to see a film twice a week. I actually had a stab at theatre, too. I was a member of a local community theatre group and I was even quite successful when I took part in a monologue competition. Back then, I played Herostratus. That was a perfect role for me... Later, I started working on Karel Hynek Mácha in free verse but then I fell ill. It took quite long for me to recover and I didn’t manage to get back to playing again. My youth was wild but I’ve made the most of the good things, which has helped me find the way to who I am now.
How and when did you start photographing? Was it before the era of digital cameras?
The first person who introduced me to photography was my Grandpa. He had a Flexaret and on his trip to
Russia he even got me my first camera – Smena. I mainly used it to take pictures at Balaton where we spent
most of our holidays during the totalitarian era. I’ve recently found the photos and I’ve realised that
street has been my style since I was a boy. After that I went through an idle period and put my camera
aside. From time to time, I shot skateboarding by my analogue compact but I actually didn’t even touch
a camera for years. And then I had to face the unpleasant double health problem and in 2003 I found myself
in the Motol hospital in a rather bad state. I happened to have a rare illness thanks to which I was also
diagnosed a kidney tumour. It was a shock for me but after the surgery there was a radical change. Thanks
to a friend of mine I held a digital compact in my hands for the first time. I started clicking and clicking,
shooting everything around me – so at first it were mainly pictures from the hospital. As soon as I could,
I bought my own mall digital compact and an analogue reflex camera. That was the moment when my interest
in photography turned into a passion. I am a very sensitive and empathetic person, so I photographed everything
that had an impact on me – both positive and negative. In the hospital I made a lot of sad pictures, but
that’s what life is like. After that, taking photos basically became a part of my everyday life. During
my treatment I did mainly street and then I got to like portraits and also started shooting my beloved
Thanks to my work of a geodesist I got to interesting and sometimes also depressive industrial places which gave me an opportunity to take a lot of interesting pictures. Several years later I gave up my job due to lack of work and money and I decided to try out working as a “freelance photographer”. At the beginning it was very hard and I often struggled to make ends meet. I got my teeth into it and came through years of taking pictures at proms for a thousand crowns, company parties where they treat you like muck, and weddings where you get paid a chicken feed. After two years of scratching out a living and working occasionally, I bought a better reflex camera and two glass lenses for the money I’d made. My philosophy has always been not to try too hard to get somewhere. I’ve never sent my portfolio to anyone. I wanted the clients to find their way to me and it has been working for years now. I’m ever so grateful and thankful for it every single day – for where photography has got me and what kind of work I’ve had the opportunity to do. I am actually thankful even for the proms and parties because that’s where I’ve learnt to work with people and thus shape my personality. I think that personality plays a very important role in the job of a photographer. I’m really good with people and enjoy working with them.
Now let’s talk a bit about the equipment you use for taking and processing photos. I know that you don’t care about it so much but our readers might want to know what camera type and brand you have. What cameras do you use? What is your favourite lens? What do you find important about cameras?
These days I use Canon 5d mark IV and my old 5d mark III is my spare camera. The lenses I use are Canon eF 50 mm f/1,2 L Usm, eF 24 mm f/1,4 L Usm, eF 11−24 mm f/4 L Usm, and eF 70−200 mm f/4 L Usm. The fixed fifty is my favourite because on full frame it is the closest to a human eye. I also like the 24 mm one very much. I generally do not work with zooms a lot. As for a telephoto lens, I sometimes use it when I am in the countryside and want to capture a detail or a close-up of an animal. I used to like the super wide 11–24 but you get tired of it quite quickly and get back to classical focuses anyway. The list of my cameras also includes Leica Q which is a perfectly universal camera with a fixed summilux 28 mm f/1,7 ASPH lens. I take it everywhere I go and use it daily. It totally works with landscape, portraits, street, as well as the crazy stuff of mine. It’s my dream come true...
You use external flashes for some photos. There’s usually one flash used as a backlight, am I right? Do you plan to work more with external flashes?
Fomei started supporting me two years ago. I get lights from them but so far, I’ve always managed with a single light. I’m not the type of a photographer who puts flash everywhere, I rather prefer natural light. But to make use of the opportunity I’ve been given, I play with flash from time to time. Flash helped me a lot when I shot Gripens for Saab in Iceland. It created the right atmosphere for some of the visuals. Right now I have Digitalis Pro T400 TTL and it is a great help.
What does postproduction of your photos look like? Do you have to sit behind your computer for a long time or is there any efficient procedure you have developed?
I’ve been taking photos and postprocessing them every day for years, so I have fine-tuned the process. I try to cut down the time I spend behind the computer as much as possible. The crazy stuff and levitation were very time-demanding, but I’ve got much better at it. If you think ahead when taking the picture, you can save a lot of time in the postprocess. I’ve been using one preset for years and I do my best to use it accurately. Each picture has a different light or is taken by a different camera. I can’t just select the photos, use a preset on all of them and declare it done. I often hear people say that they think it works like this but they couldn’t be more wrong. I always find it amusing.
Your photographic style is easy to recognise: a blue tone, classical telephones, TVs, mirrors... How did the style develop?
It all started with a TV I once found next to wheelie bins and a pair of Vans shoes which I shot for Freshlables long time ago. I started to use the old TV in pictures instead of my head and to simply shoot it in the countryside. I wanted to draw attention to the fact that being outside is the best programme I know and to indicate my attitude towards TV broadcasting in general. Over time, the TV totally fell apart, so I’ll have to put it together and put in on display somewhere. It’s a legend for me. And it’s basically the same with the other things you’ve mentioned – I collect old phones, I come across old mirrors and my idea is always the same: to put them back into life at least for a while by using them for some kind of an interesting photo. These are things which have been here for years, people have been using them and now they are supposed to go to the scrapheap? For me they are great and a lot of them decorate my flat. And as for the Vans shoes, I used them for my first levitation. It was in the mountains in snow. I prepared eight short sticks, set the scene thoroughly and placed the shoes on the sticks. At that moment I realised that this kind of shooting could be fun, I started working on it and produced quite a lot of pictures a week. I always needed some kind of a story or a clue to build on. When there is something hanging in the air for no reason, then it’s not any good. It was a lot of fun and I definitely enjoy getting back to it. I think something up from time to time. Thanks to my imagination, both my head and my notepad are full of ideas. I draw inspiration from the streets and nature alike. Every day, you see a million situations and you can elaborate them some way. I like pushing the boundaries, that’s why I’m coming up with visuals which are more and more complex. The photos I see as the most important for me today are those which enable me to draw people’s attention to something or to help someone – those that can touch your heart. They do not need any special effects such as levitation. It’s all about what the picture makes you feel.
It is well known that you go to Iceland several times a year. What is it that attracts you so much there?
When I went to Iceland one summer, I fell in love with it immediately. I think it is the atmosphere which impressed me so much – it is dark, full of an unusual energy, and if you’re looking for somewhere where you can be alone, it is the ideal place for you. Of course, I’m not talking about the tourist places, that’s a rather sad issue. I think that the deluge of tourists Iceland is facing now is much stronger than three years ago. That’s why I’m trying to go to desolated places. Thanks to my friends who live in the island I know amazing hidden places. I’ve found some of them myself and I won’t tell anyone about them. I like Iceland the most in winter. It’s true that it is dark all the time, there’s a snow storm every now and then, but the atmosphere is so strong... Right now, I’m finishing my first book. The pictures in it were taken in Iceland during all seasons of the year. I think that everyone will understand why I love the island once they’ve read the story. It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t turn an inconvenience into a great inspiration.
Iceland seems to be an island where people stick together more. There is an unbelievable number
of bands, especially those playing electronic music (Björk, GusGus, Sigur Rós, Kiasmos, Johan Johansson
and many others). Do you know something more about that?
I see Iceland as a country where every other person is a musician. Music will accompany you all across the island if you pay attention to it – but not if you go there just to get likes and because it’s cool, which is a reason for many people these days. There are musical instruments in bars and cafés and anyone who wants to play them or have a jam session can borrow them. Once I flew to Iceland from Berlin and I sat next to a music professor from Reykjavík. She told me that almost every Icelandic child is encouraged to love music. I think it is great, even though I myself have never played anything. Icelandic music is very specific and a lot of people may consider it depressive and gloomy, but in my opinion it perfectly corresponds with the country. You can for example go to a tiny pub in Seyðisfjörður in the east and learn that Múm, one of my favourite bands, played there for 50 people the previous day. It’s perfectly normal there. Recently, I went to eat to a small buffet of about 5x5 meters. A lad came in, said hello to the owner, plugged in his combo and performed an amazing concert. There were just five of us, but the atmosphere... I was all goose bumps. The number of inhabitants is quite small, so you can meet music stars in the streets of Reykjavík really often. I once met Ros Orri, drummer of Sigur Rós, when drinking a beer in a pub...
Apart from travelling to the north, you also went to Africa not long ago. Where exactly did you go and what kind of impression did it make on you?
DLast year I had a job which got me to Africa. I travelled to Tanzania for a few days and I was in Arusha, the second largest city located about 100 km from Kilimanjaro. The following day I flew to the Serengeti Park by a small plane and took photos of animals there. I had a great guide and thanks to him I got to places where you don’t meet any tourists in Jeeps, just animals and incredible nature. From the very first moment I was full of respect and humility to the country. Shooting street in Arusha was just as adrenaline-pumping as taking pictures of lions in the park. The next day I got to the Ngorongoro crater which is inhabited by more than 30,000 animals. On my way there I got into contact with Maasais for the first time. But these were mostly those who are just after your money – they let your take a picture of them if you pay. I kept refusing this as well as visiting a Maasai village which was more of an open-air museum and everything seemed to be staged there and done for money. I think that the days that followed after that were the most impressive ones. I found myself in a gang of homeless children, I photographed kids at a Lutheran school and eventually, thanks to my guide, I got to a Maasai village. My guide was born there and he arranged it with the tribal chief who was 97 years old. They let me walk among the huts but there was no one there. A moment later, children started coming out and their reactions to seeing me were priceless. They laughed at me because I’m blond, they pulled my nose and so on. It was absolutely pure and honest. One of the Maasais showed me how they live there and where they sleep. It was strange. I stood there in goats’ poop and on straw, thinking how happy they are and that they do not lack anything. In short, what I saw there during those few days has greatly influenced me. It made me realise more how we waste almost everything, especially water and food. Africa is simply a different world and this definitely wasn’t my last time there.
You spend a lot of time in the countryside. The place where you live is actually in the former Sudetenland. What is the nature near the Czech-German border like?
You are right about the countryside, I actually go there every day. I live in Teplice and it takes about 25 minutes to get to the Ore Mountains by car. We have wonderful forests here. I love the atmosphere of the mountains and how vast they are. It is often misty here and sometimes it feels like a different world. I love the endless plains, solitaire trees, foxes, streams and, above all, the silence. During the totalitarian regime, the area took a battering. Thanks to inversions, there were a few trees left in the mountains but otherwise there were mostly tree stubs. Since that times, it has significantly changed and the nature has been healing. Unfortunately, there is always quite a lot of those who trash the forests with garbage. It’s a real pain in the neck, so I always take a bag for litter when I walk my darling dog. I like the Sudetenland and I don’t think I’d change it for anything.
I’ve heard that in the Czech Republic people go for a walk instead of going to church on Sundays. Does nature have a special meaning for you?
Nature is my second home, I often go there to seek peace and I do find it there. I gives me an unbelievable amount of energy and I do my best to pass it on. Large cities tire me out terribly and I’ve been trying to spend there as little time as possible lately. As I’ve said, I protect nature, I treat it with sensitivity, and nature rewards me for it in a way that can never stop amazing me. A lot of my photos were created the way that I appeared in a place where the atmosphere suddenly changed thanks to the sun, mist, polar lights, snow storm or rain. These are some of my most interesting pictures. It always takes only a while and I’ve been thinking that these may not be coincidences. It happens everywhere in the world. I’m not the type of a person who goes somewhere on purpose to shoot there. I’d rather say that I am in the right place at the right time. I love nature!
Do you come across some interesting “back to nature living” people and freaks on your travels? And do you have a story about a forest encounter?
I think that I see myself as the biggest freak... It may not be a standard thing to go to a forest on Sunday to spend a nice day there or to collect mushrooms and to meet a guy with a TV and hands full of equipment and a tripod. I’ve heard that some people do call me a freak. I find it truly amusing. Of course, I have met some interesting people but the person that has stuck in my mind the most is probably a man I meet regularly. He lives in a log cabin in the middle of the forest and every now and then he walks four kilometres to do shopping in the nearest village. When I asked him whether being in the forest didn’t frighten him, he didn’t have to think for a second and immediately answered that being in a city and among people is much more frightening for him. I understand him as I’m not much different myself.
Have you thought about living in a low-cost and environmentally friendly way in nature instead of travelling there and back?
That is exactly my dream. This plan has been in my head for quite a long time and I’ll start to work on my escape from the town soon. I live in Teplice, which means that the mountains are almost behind my house, but the calling of the nature is strong. Some of my friends are great architects. I’m sure they will help me design eco-friendly living somewhere under a mountain or even on it. It is a rather distant future, but it’s good to have dreams. I’ve already put in practice all the other ones I’ve had so far. In towns and cities, there are various waves. I am a very sensitive person and I perceive everything several times stronger. When I am surrounded by nature, I feel incredibly calm inside. I’ve often thought about living in Iceland where I really love it but I’ve realised that my place is in the Ore Mountains. Before I move in there, I will at least keep protecting the mountains and picking up what those who do not have enough respect for the place have left there.
A lot of photographers are feeding social networks as much as they can but with little success and impact. Your presentation of photos on Facebook and mainly on Instagram is quite natural, with no hustle. And maybe that’s how you’ve created a prominent profile which has a lot of international followers. What would you advise to other photographers?
That’s hard to say, everyone has their own style and approach. I think that there’s no sense in pushing too hard. It is important not to be bothered by the numbers. That’s something I often mock in my posts. I myself prefer profiles which offer quality as well as a natural approach, but I don’t follow many. Today’s Instagram is full of people who make technically perfect photos in beautiful places, they get thousands likes for it, but it is empty and you can’t shake the feeling that you have already seen such photos many times. Then there are people who take wonderful pictures, do not put there a ton of hashtags and locations, and it’s a joy to follow them. When I have time, I even like to meet them in person. The important thing is what you actually want from Instagram of Facebook. I’ve always wanted to spread a message, to broaden other people’s minds and maybe also to inspire them by my photos and behaviour. My approach to the social networks has been the same from the very start. I just let it flow, I don’t care about likes, the time I post something, the reach, etc.
TSo to present your photos you use the classical triad – your website, Facebook, and Instagram? Do you use anything else to present yourself?
That’s it, I use Instagram the most actively, I regularly post on my blog on my website and I spend the least time on Facebook. I’ve already deleted my personal profile and I’ve done quite a lot of cleansing on my profile with photos. To be honest – I don’t like Facebook very much and I’m heading towards deleting the page altogether. There used to be times when I posted a picture almost every day. Now it is about one a month and I only do it in weak moments. I don’t know why, but people on Facebook seem to be more aggressive, envious and begrudging. I generally see social networks as terribly asocial. There’s one more place on the Internet where I upload a photo from time to time: 500px. This way I can earn some money every now and then, people buy photos from me as if from a photo bank, that’s how the Market Place works. There’s no number of 500px followers. And that’s it, I won’t present my work anywhere else. The less time I spend with my computer and telephone, the better for my soul.
Facebook: Petr Hricko deleted his profile before the release of this interview :-) (author's
The interview was published in FotoVideo