His recent road trip along the entire length of the Oder River (Odra) was a dream come true for photographer Mikolaj Nowacki. He followed the river from its source in the Czech Republic all the way to the Baltic Sea. ‘ The Odra is the river of my childhood. I've been working on the Odra project since 2008. I mainly photograph people's relationships with the river, and also its wild beauty. I've sailed on the Odra many times, and I’ve long dreamt of driving a car along it, stopping whenever and wherever I feel like and taking photos. I finally managed to do this in July and August.’ He used the LUMIX G95 to document his trip.
Mikolaj has lived close to the river since he was a child. ‘My first memories of the river are hikes with my parents, when I was five, along a narrow path on an embankment that was half wild, on the edge of Wroclaw, Poland, where we lived. Later in my childhood I used to walk with my best friend to the wonderfully wild Opatowicka Island, to play, talk, and just enjoy the wilderness.’
He was a keen amateur ornithologist when he was a teenager. ‘I used to walk or ride a bicycle many kilometres along the river searching for rare birds. This was when my sensitivity to wild nature developed, and around this time I began to dream of travelling down the river on one of the many barges that went up and down it in the 1980s.’ The river is part of his DNA and was an obvious choice when he was looking for a long-term personal project to photograph in 2008. He has travelled the river by barge many times. ‘I love being with a crew of old sailors. When I’m on a ship, it feels like time stops. Simply being close to the river makes me feel free and safe.’
During his recent trip, he photographed in all kinds of weather and at different times of the day. ‘Besides photographing in beautiful light around sunrise, sunset and dusk, I also enjoy taking pictures in the rain. It gives the photos a special mood. The heavier the rain, the better my pictures! To take these images I have to use special gear such as the LUMIX G9 and G95, which are very well weather sealed.
Lenses like the amazing Leica 10-25mm (the equivalent of 20-50 mm for full frame) f/1.7, and the Leica 12-60 mm (the equivalent of 24-120 mm) f/2.8-4.0 are incredibly helpful. I once photographed for two hours during a heavy rainstorm over the Mediterranean, near Naples, Italy. I was completely soaked, but my camera, the G9, worked flawlessly. On my road trip along the Odra, I had a chance to photograph nature during heavy rain on my beloved Opatowicka Island. The G95 and Leica 10-25mm f/1.7 worked perfectly in the downpour.’
Next to being splash and dustproof, Mikolaj also likes the compact size of the LUMIX G95. ‘It's very comfortable to hold, which is a very important factor when I shoot for hours, as it prevents my hand from tiring too quickly. The autofocus is incredibly fast and accurate, and it produces images of superb quality. When I shoot streets my first choice is the LUMIX 20 mm f/1.7 (the equivalent of 40 mm). For reportages, I like the versatile Leica 10-25mm f/1.7 (f/1.7 along the whole focal length, wow, man!).’ Mikolaj stumbled on great scenes and special moments, but also saw devastation. ‘When I arrived at the source of the Odra in the Czech Republic, I was devastated by the scale of the ecological catastrophe.
I knew the place, because I’ve been there twice since 2014. I expected to see beautiful, mystical woodland. A few solitary trees were the only survivors of a forest that until recently surrounded the source of the river. All the spruces in a 25,000-hectare area in the military zone near Libava have perished due to the annual droughts caused by global warming.’ Sometimes photography is about being somewhere at the right time. ‘I was photographing the Mills Beacon on the end of the breakwater at the entrance to the port in the town of Świnoujście. While I was waiting a young man suddenly dropped to his knees and proposed to his girlfriend. Sometimes you just get lucky.’
Mikolaj Nowacki was born in Wroclaw, Poland, in 1972. From 2004 to 2011 he worked as a photojournalist for Poland's most influential daily newspapers, Gazeta Wyborcza and Polska the Times. He has won numerous awards and has been a finalist in Polish and international photography competitions such as Grand Press Photo and BZWBK Press Photo, SWPA World Photography Awards, NPPA Best of Photojournalism and Paris Photography Prize (Px3). He has been a LUMIX Ambassador since 2015.
Visit Mikolaj Nowacki`s Ambassador Profile