Photographer Andrej Palacko has been devoted to reportage and artistic documentary photography for 30 years. During his professional photographic career took thousands of pictures from cultural, artistic and political life of many countries in the world. He worked as a professional photographer not only in Slovakia, but also in Germany. Recently, he is being more interested in Cuba. His reportage and artistic perception of the world which can be seen on his images, is based mainly on the inner sensitivity, in terms of detail and recognizing the uniqueness of the particular moment. Andrej Palacko is not a man of sloth; his work is an expression of feeling for the visual perception of the world and man in it. He has that gift to mediate his perception to others mainly due to genes inherited by his parents. When the gift meets diligence, taste and need of sharing work with others it can results in a great thing. Andrej is opened to new challenges and specific needs of the media, agencies or individual wishes. He has hundreds of published reports, photographs, and images previously unpublished in his archive. He has captured many personalities from the cultural, artistic, sporting and political life (Fidel Castro, Joe Cocker, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney and others).
What were your beginnings in photography like?
I`ve started with photography because of my parents. Mainly thanks to my father, who participated as an advisor in production of the military movies and I often went with him to see how these motions are done. Thus, he directed me to pictures making. It was in the house of pioneers (now the Presidential Palace) where I firstly learned how to make pictures.
Did you study photography?
I graduated high school. School, high or the university, gives you only theoretical knowledge, but the life will make you a photographer.
What do you still enjoy in this field?
I have been already in for thirty years. I still like to capture historic moments that will never come back and which will serve to the future generations for decades to make them aware who we were and what life did we live here. What bothers me is bad social situation of people, especially of young generation. I’m trying to point out this problem, that the world does not have the right direction.
I’m shooting everything, but I am particularly interested in backstage theater and opera, street and its atmosphere. I always try to seek for beautiful things and nice personalities in the country I visit. I am trying to emphasize good things. And it`s the exact opposite in Slovakia. It’s my home country and therefore I try to point out problems.
Until recently you have been using analog camera. Why?
Last year I was in Cuba for the sixth time and for the first time I took DSLR. I bought Nikon D4. I have been shooting for over 25 years mainly with Nikons. In last years mainly with Nikon F3 and I have a lot of accessories. Why do I shoot on film? Film materials last and can be archived from 100 to 200 years. Last time I took pictures in Cuba with digital camera and then I stored them on my HDD. In the last year four HDDs just crashed and if I had not had several photos archived the historical materials would have been permanently lost. This time is so synthetic. Materials that are placed on Google, Facebook, etc. are not sufficiently safe. There can be some conflict and radiation will erase everything. More and more photographers are coming back to analogoue.
Which celebrity you took pictures of is the most interesting one? The most likeable?
From Slovakian ones, certainly it was Peter Dvorsky. I was his home photographer. I can say that Dvorsky are gorgeous, wonderful and nice people. I actually took pictures of him everywhere, in the National Theatre, in opening of his club in Bratislava where I exhibited about 120 photos in the foyer. People after concert were walking by and all photos were taken. Then they came to Peter Dvorsky and to me and asked for our signature. I have beautiful images of Eugen Suchoň (Slovak classic music composer). Now is the 15th anniversary of the death of Eugene Suchoň and I must say I am disappointed with the approach of the Ministry of Culture. I have decided that I will not provide any pictures of our celebrity to Ministry of Culture.
From foreign ones, it was mostly Les McCann – jazz pianist, really nice person. Another one is Cras Mambri, who was in the sixties the world figure in Opera. I photographed her with Peter and Miroslav Dvorsky in Vienna. I met her when I was shooting the world`s greatest opera scene Aida. There were 1200 performers, elephants, camels and giraffes. Cras Mambri was very nice. At each meeting we hugged.
How it was with your departure to Germany?
I left two months before the revolution. Of course, my beginnings were in the kitchen where I was washing dishes. I went to language school year and in the evening I was working in the Italian restaurant. I learned to cook many interesting dishes there. I also tried to work at the bar. It was the school of life. Today’s young people are missing this. The lack of experiences.
Bratislava is totally plundered and chain stores destroyed its tradition. Tradition of cafeterias, wine bars and historic city that were here from Maria Theresa is totally destroyed. Bratislava is dead. Young should focus on traditions and return to nature. I prefer to go with my family to the countryside then to live in Bratislava. Bratislava has become a cesspool. If I compare it with Cuba there are no terrorists, criminals or mafia. Therefore, I am saying that it is an island of the planet. Of course there are problems, especially poverty, but the people have wealthy spirit there. Cuba belongs to the Cubans and Slovaks have nothing.
Let`s talk about Germany. What is the difference in work comparing to Slovakia?
The work is correct there, interpersonal relationships are correct, people are tolerant and especially the Germans are very industrious.
Why do you shoot in B&W? Do you develop them by your own?
All B & W photos I have developed at home. It was a bit difficult and not always easy. Vintage photo has its grain, its atmosphere. Today’s photography is very synthetic. Today, you can make a nice picture from the ugly one and skinny babe from the fat girl. This is not photography anymore.
Do you edit your pictures?
No, I have even never cut my pictures. The compositions on my photos are the same as on negatives. I also like to shoot details. My favorite lenses are 20 and 180mm. 20 mm lens for documentary and 180 mm for concerts and other details. By using 20 mm lens you have to go very close as I did when I was taking pictures of my dead friend Hugo Chavez.
What about the person photographed, does he/she accept you?
Mostly yes. In some cases no, but just in a few. I was shooting Fidel Castro on the tribune where not anyone has an access. It was a month before he was hospitalized, so I have got historical images. I was right behind Fidel Castro. Journalists are mostly downstairs but I was up.
I have one story with Gerard Depardieu. It was during a military parade. Depardieu came to tribune in a tracksuit. I had my lenses on earth together with my cigarettes. He said, “capitalism, Marlboro”, and I said, “Ich bin kein kapitalist, du bist kapitalist, du … Kohiba”. Kohiba is more expensive brand than Marlboro. And then he asked for money, so I threw him one peso. He is a big fan of Fidel Castro.
Recently you have received an award for a short documentary movie…
I prepared a documentary about the legend of world box Teofilo Stevenson. I was photographing and making a movie directly at his home. This document received an award at 30th International Documentary Film Festival in Milan. I did it on 3rd of June and couple days after Teofilo passed away. No one has such images. For instance Teofilo is dancing on some of them.
You shoot challenging projects, how do you finance them?
I have invested lot of money for shooting in Cuba. Now I plan to go to Venezuela, to document the construction of power plants. In addition, I will capture life in Venezuela and then I will make a huge exhibition in Caracas. I also plan to document the Dominican Republic.
In the past you took pictures of the gypsies’ community in Slovakia. Can you compare it somehow?
I have one such project now. I will go with a TV crew to do a documentary.25 years ago I worked as a photojournalist in Moro-revue. Once I went on a business trip to Humenne. Along the way I saw a gypsy settlement – Podskalka. Nice and beautiful. So I photographed and documented it. A colleague was closed in the car, he was afraid. I got quite close to them. After one month I returned to the village and brought 100 photos with me. All of them I gave away. Some of them they liked and some they destroyed. I would like to re-visit these villages. I would buy 5-6 cameras and I’ll teach the kids to take pictures. Then I will show photos from 25 years ago and their parents will find people in the photos. I want to awaken people to know the Gypsies, their culture, crafts and their soul.
Do you follow other photographers?
I have to admit that I have never checked other photographers and I have never criticized anyone. I did not have time for it. However, I have many good friends, photographers. But everyone has his job and nobody is arguing with anybody.
Do you train young generation?
If there was an interest from colleges, I would do lectures. I have a lot of experience that I would like to give to youth, not only about photography but also about life.
Did you shoot picture of your life or are you still waiting on it?
I want to photograph Fidel Castro with Mick Jagger together. My dream is to do an exhibition in London where I will present my idea to organize a concert of Rolling Stones in Cuba. It would be a concert of the century.