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Hamilton Exposure

For the last few months, the Hamilton Store has been generously furnishing the set of urbanicityTV on Cable 14 with various Hamilton-themed artifacts.
The centrepiece of the set has become a large photograph on canvas — a different image for each show. Each time we taped an episode, I found myself mesmerized by the photographs that kept showing up — all by the same photographer: Mike Kukucska. His work depicts Hamilton’s industrial landscape beautifully; with long exposures, blurred lights, and stunning clarity. We connected over Twitter, and were honoured with an interview. This is the work of Mike Kukucska.

1. How did you develop your style? There are a lot of long exposures, night shots, urban/industrial landscapes.
I stumbled onto my style I’m afraid to say…and it came from two directions. I don’t remember how or why, but I came across some remarkable Milky Way photographs taken with regular SLR cameras while searching for something online at work. I was hooked and immediately had to research gear and technique on this amazing subject. Growing up with Star Wars, Star Trek, Close Encounters, you name it…the thought of being able to capture the heavens so effectively with the camera I already owned proved too enticing to ignore.

Secondly, my style was largely determined by work schedule. I run an entertainment fabrication company in Dundas that keeps me hopping, and my wife and I have three kids. I didn’t want to end my workday and skip time with them by heading out snapping photos, so it worked out that “daddy me-time” started after 9 PM, which suited me just fine because I am a night owl. Clients know not to bother calling my shop before 9 AM…not if they want to talk to me.

Good clear dark skies are a must for this type of photography and I found myself head- ing towards Lake Erie on a number of occasions during the spring and summer. There is something really special about staring up at those skies on a quiet warm summer night and I found that when the clouds were too heavy or the moon too bright, I would stay much closer to home and experiment with what the city had to offer and apply what I learned out in the country. My techniques were the same, bring a good tripod, set the camera shutter open for 30 seconds and let the glow of the city work its magic. My first outing around town was Eastport Drive facing the factories and I was not disappointed. Over 30 seconds, the fire, the glow off of the water, the smoke made for an incredible scene…one that you could never appreciate with a quick look or a fast snapshot. From there I ventured further into the city and haven’t stopped.

2. Why do you take pictures? Who is your audience?

I take pictures because I want to, not because I have to. I have a day job, so that takes all the pressures off of my photography. It recharges my batteries, it allows me to unwind, it gives me an excuse to explore and learn and it has gotten me out to places I would have never thought of going to and I find that if days go past and I have been too busy to grab the camera and snap some shots, I really feel it. It can be minus 30 (and we all know it has been) but when I’ve got to head out, I’ve got to head out. I’m convinced that is the case with most photographers…beginner to professional.

As for my audience, I have certainly never given that any thought. In fact, I never considered I had an audience. The vast majority of my photos wind up on various Facebook pages and viewed by friends, but I now have my own website (www.mkimage.ca) and I have works being sold in Hamilton at The Hamilton Store on James St North, and interest is definitely building, which is very exciting.

3. What makes a great photograph?

A great photograph stops you in your tracks…even for a few seconds. Not in a shock-value kind of way, there is enough of that garbage out there, but in a way in which you stop and look at something or someone differently. To me, it’s a simple as that. The trick is to learn the fundamentals and then have the passion in order to repeat that wonderful shot more than once.

4. How is your work evolving? What’s next for you?

I love learning, I love researching, I love experimenting and planning and I love cool gear and gizmos. The internet alone is exposing me to photographers all over the world doing incredible things and will all of that in play, my work can’t help but to evolve. Where it goes, I have no idea. I really had no plan when I started and already the journey has been extremely rewarding.

As for what’s next, I have just booked a solo weeklong photo adventure to the Pacific Northwest this summer to capture some truly remarkable mountains and Milky Way skies. Lake Erie is nice, but it’s time to spread my wings a bit more.

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