How did you end up working in Switzerland?
I’m originally from Gdańsk, Poland, where I did a degree in music. After that, I started looking for a place to do a master’s degree. I met a Czech music professor who was teaching in Lucerne who told me he had a free spot at his music school. So I moved to Lucerne in 2000, and in the final two years of my studies I started working at the school as an accompanist and teacher. Later, I did a series of concerts at the Rosengart Collection (a Lucerne Museum).
But music takes up only half my time. Since moving here, I’ve also developed an interest in photography. I began by attending workshops and photographing concerts, then eventually launched a photography group called the Swiss Camera Club. I like the mix of the abstract and the visual arts.
What made you start your photography group?
When you’re a photographer and a musician, you often practise and work alone and I wanted to find a way of sharing my passion. So a few months ago, I set up the Swiss Camera Club by posting a couple of pictures on a Facebook page – and then it started growing really quickly. Now the page has more than 5,000 ‘likes’ and 3,000 members from as far afield as Asia, South America and Australia.
We’ve already had two ‘Meet-up’ events, including one in Lucerne which people attended from all over Switzerland. At the Lucerne Meet-up, everyone went out for two hours to take pictures of the city and then we met again to discuss what we’d photographed. The great thing about the group is that we have a whole spectrum of members — from absolute beginners to professionals.
Was it difficult to adjust to life in Lucerne?
In my case, I was very lucky and adjusted very quickly. Everything is clear, organized and functions perfectly here. People say Swiss people are reserved but I’ve actually found them to be very friendly.
To start with, I didn’t have any friends or family here, but the music professor I was in touch with gave me one vital contact who helped me to get all of my documents in order.
At first I didn’t speak any German or French – all I could say was ‘guten Tag’. It took me a few years to pick up German and a little longer to learn Swiss German. The fact that I spoke English helped – and even speaking Polish was a plus because it has similar roots to German.
Fortunately, the community of people involved in music here tends to be very international. In fact, I’d say about 90 percent of the musicians here are foreigners – and you’d have trouble finding a single Swiss name in the Lucerne Music Festival concert programmes.
Is Lucerne a good place to work as a musician?
From a practical point of view, Lucerne is a perfect place to work as a musician because there are so many people willing to pay to go to concerts. The city has a strong classical music tradition and people aren’t so interested in mainstream contemporary music. Hosting concerts at home and going out to concert halls are common social activities.
What’s it like working as a photographer in Switzerland?
Switzerland is great for photography because its German, French and Italian-speaking parts are so different – each with its own flavour and character. Most people who are into photography like variety, and it takes only two hours of travel to end up in a completely different environment.
What kind of things did people photograph on your trips?
Everyone has a different eye and notices and reacts to different things – that’s the wonderful thing about photography. Often, when we hold discussions after taking pictures, someone will say: “Wow, I didn’t even see that!” Also, the fact that our members are so international and come from such different backgrounds influences how they react to their surroundings. We are now considering organizing photography tours abroad in the home countries of some of our members.
At the last Meet-up in Lucerne, people had two hours to go out and capture the spirit or essence of the town. Only a couple of people there had never been to Lucerne before but most of us had never set out to photograph the city, which is completely different to simply living here.
Some people came back with overview photos – for example, a view of the city from a tower, with the Alps in the background. But one man came back with photos of a restaurant table and of the cobblestone streets because, for him, that was the spirit of the city. Another person came back with pictures of the faces of locals.
Do you have any tips for expats thinking of moving to Switzerland?
This will sound very clichéd, but my advice would be to follow your passions and find ways of getting yourself known. If you’re a photographer, then you could start by putting a picture up in a café. Here, people appreciate fresh ways of looking at things.