Méta-Morphosis: cinematic still photograpy at its best

Exposition Méta-Morphosis

My friend the excellent D.O.P. Stefan Nitoslawski, who received the prize for best direction of photography at Hot Docs in 1999, also works with experimental and artistic photography, studying the anatomy and movements of the human body in evocative photographs. The beautifully textured result is reminiscent of Norman McLaren’s ‘Pas de Deux.’ I recommend going to his exhibition at the Cinémathèque Québécoise from September 17 to November 9. I asked Stefan a few questions.

For more info:


How did you come to create the photos?

Stefan : Through several years of experimenting. I started by wanting to explore portrait photography but the results didn’t grab me. Through playing around with ways in which to photograph people, I came to shooting with progressively longer exposure times. What fascinated me was that through specific movement I could achieve a new figurative form that radically departed from the form of the model that I was shooting. This kind of transformation now interests me.

What do you mean by transformation?

It is a shorthand term that I use to describe the change I’m trying to achieve within the images. Movement in photography doesn’t interest me per se; I’m not trying to capture a movement blur. What I’m trying to get is a shift in the human form that will jog the viewer into looking at people in a different way. Basically, through these images I want to evoke an interior state of being. I’m interested in what is going on inside a given person. The way in which we see people in our daily live is one way of seeing them. The classic snap shot is great at capturing that outer expression. I am trying to record a different reality and, in a sense, reflect on issues of perception.

It looks like the images have been manipulated by computer.

There is no manipulation. I construct the images though working out a kind of choreography, with the model that creates the various shapes. Lighting is critical as with any film or photo situation; it helps to highlight or hide certain aspects of the form. With exposure I control the layers of movement and it’s degree of deconstruction.

Are you photographing the model or are you using the model to create an image from your own imagination?

I think it’s a bit of both. No one model registers the same way. With certain models there seems to be an interesting transformation but with others it is difficult to get something to occur. No one moves in the same way, with some it’s interesting with others it is less so. So, for the images that I have retained, I feel that there is an important component of the models spirit in the picture. On the other hand, my perception is also important. The ideas for the images come from my imagination and I create a movement sequence to achieve that form. Then, during the exposure, I’ll direct the model to highlight rhythm, energy and amplitude of the action.

Is your exhibit at the Cinémathèque an installation?

Yes, ways in which to represent the transformations have evolved beyond the photos. I have always imagined how I could get these still images to move. The Cinémathèque gave me an opportunity to do just that. So with traditional animation techniques I’m sequencing several hundred images into moving shots. The result will be a projection that will be running in a loop. Chantal Dumas, an electro-acoustic artist, will be creating a soundscape. So, along with the design of the exhibit space, we are trying to create a more immersive environment to explore how we perceive ourselves.

Thanks to Jorge Bustos-Estefan for help with this blog.

Published by

Magnus Isacsson

As an independent documentary filmmaker I have made some fifteen films dealing with social, political and environmental issues. Previously I was a television and radio producer. I was born in Sweden in 1948, immigrated to Canada in 1970. I live with Jocelyne and our daughter Béthièle in Montreal, and my older daughter Anna lives in Toronto.