It’s 2011. Damian Chrobak stands in a crowded train station in central London. People swarm the platform, racing to their next stop.
Just above the bustle of the crowd, he catches a pair of dark eyes staring at him. It’s an advertisement for the Royal Opera House. He snaps a photo.
“It’s like visual harassment,” he said.
Chrobak moved to London in 2004 for a fresh perspective on a deeply personal passion – street photography.
His latest series is centered on “consumptionism,” an idea that wanting and spending controls us. Wedged into the routine of daily life, his subjects often involve advertisements – specifically, those that have the power to isolate.
“You almost feel like you’re being pushed really hard to do something,” Chrobak said.
But it’s not just ads that Chrobak notices. He feels like someone, or something, is always watching him. Sometimes it’s a set of cartoon eyes peeking through a sports coat. Other times, it’s a one-eyed Kate Moss peeling from the side of the building.
During breakfast one morning at a small cafe in East London, Chrobak looked up to find Al Pacino on the back of a T-shirt holding stacks of cash, his lurid eyes hungry for blood.
“It was once again, a connection to pop culture and consumption,” Chrobak said.
His interest in photography began in Poland. A professor encouraged him to make the move to London to develop his talents and to find a new space to work in. Chrobak says moving to London helped “free his mind.”
“What you need to know is what you want to shoot; the place doesn’t matter,” he said.
After the move, Chrobak took a class on black-and-white photography at the London College of Communication. He shoots most of his photos in grayscale.
Chrobak doesn’t consider himself a “professional,” and he prefers it that way. He works part time at a photo lab three days a week, and he also teaches a photography class for a Polish community.
His photos are mostly shot on the weekends, or on his way into work.
“The most important thing is to always have your camera with you,” he said.
Chrobak has taken around 80 photographs for the series, but he doesn’t feel like this particular project is finished yet.
He has hopes of traveling to New York for its lush backdrop of consumer-driven images. He isn’t picky, though. He believes he can shoot photos anywhere.
He says meaningful photographs depend on the artist, not the location.
“It’s the attitude of the photographer,” he said. “The things he can notice that no one else can.”