Aśka Plata moved to Kilkenny five years ago to make it her home. She is a photographer, journalist and tutor, who studied for most of her life in her native Poland.
During her studies of Political Science and Social Communications, Aśka travelled back and forth to Ireland a lot. She felt a strong connection with Ireland, so she decided to move here.
Two years ago, she established her own photography brand called Cottage Studio. Cottage Studio is a one-person business that offers photography services, teaching and web design. The idea of photography business materialised as the result of her education and experience in Media Production, Visual Arts, Multimedia, Film and TV.
Here is a glimpse into Aśka’s world…
While studying Political Science and Social Communication, you focused your studies on the history of the women of Ireland. Why?
I wanted to be an advocate for women’s stories that were overlooked by the mainstream history of Ireland. Growing up in Catholic Poland I noticed that the major stories centered on male political and religious leaders. I missed women’s representation.
Then I researched that it was also an Irish problem. My idea was to address those missing chapters. I was conferred with a Masters Degree in Political Science and Social Communication, with my university professors laying the foundation for the work that I do today.
What were your findings about these women?
Incredible stories of the first female activists such as Anna Parnell who was behind the Ladies Land League and who can be an inspiring character for the present housing crisis movement. I also discovered Irish republican revolutionaries, Irish suffragettes - amazing women who made a real social change.
So what do you believe Anna Parnell would have done with Ireland’s current housing crisis?
She would be on the streets campaigning for the right to housing as a basic human right, protesting against forced evictions, mobilising people to stand for a political change.
Your further studies and work experience have shifted to media. Why?
Media, including TV, film and photography, are a powerful game-changer. They shape the way we see ourselves. I realised that, for me, media was the place to be.
For three years, I worked as a journalist in a professional film and TV studio in Krakow city learning a craft and image from the best video editors and camerapersons. I was the author of the 12-episode cultural programme that introduced viewers to the music and art scene in Krakow. I enjoyed interviewing people and then cutting the raw material the most.
My journalist background helps me with photographing people. In each field, you need to be a bit of a psychologist for them to open.
You visited Ireland several times during your studies. Why settle in Kilkenny?
I wanted to continue studying in Poland while working and traveling during summer breaks in an English-speaking EU country. I chose Ireland.
When I came to Kilkenny for the first time, I knew it was a place for me - vibrant, compact and friendly with beautiful surrounding countryside.
I moved to Ireland in 2015 and studied Media Studies in the Ormonde College of Further Education here and decided to settle in Kilkenny and continue my media journey.
After receiving a certificate in Media Production, I had an opportunity to work on editing documentaries on gender and migration issues.
I upskilled myself in media field by finishing additional courses. Professional photography came very naturally to me.
Your business Cottage Studio offers vibrant portrait and product photography. You also teach photography. These days we all think we are photographers with our smartphones and selfie sticks! What can you teach us budding photographers?
Your photographs don’t need to please every human being on Earth. Just don’t be afraid to take pictures. Train your eye by taking images of your friends and family. See where the light is coming from. Explore new angels. Go for a photo walk. Find your theme. Show your vision and don’t give up.
You seem to be fascinated with education.
Yes, education is the pillar of happy society. I had an opportunity to teach photography as part of the Community Education Service run by Kilkenny and Carlow Education and Training Board (ETB).
The Education and Training Board provides courses in association with a variety of groups such as women’s groups, disability groups and community organisations. It was a fantastic collaboration which I hope to continue.
With so many businesses having to sell their products and services online, you can really help them with brand photographs. After all a picture can paint a thousand words.
Yes, definitely. With Covid-19 many businesses move their sales online and want to improve the online presence and sales experience.
Professional product or food photography helps to build the reputation of a brand or company and engage customers. Also a new, professional headshot can prove a great asset when seeking a job and updating your LinkedIn profile.
Businesses unfortunately have more time on their hands, so for many it’s a good time to get off the hamster wheel and take a clearer look at their brand. They need to question their messaging, in order to increase sales.
Look at their content on their social media and on line, question is it making them stand out from all the noise on line? This is where I want to help.
Kilkenny’s iconic business woman Kathleen Moran has being mentoring you on the Local Enterprise Office Mentor Programme. How has she helped you?
Covid-19 has directly affected some industries more than others, including the scholarship and photography industry. As a new, small local business, I sought support. I am already a member of Network Ireland, a progressive networking group with a branch in Kilkenny.
Kilkenny’s Local Enterprise Office (LEO) offered me the Mentor Programme that is open to both new and existing businesses located within the region.
The role of mentor is to listen, advise and provide direction. I was very excited to find out that my mentor would be Kathleen Moran! She understood my ambitions and goals very well and helped my business get through those first, most difficult stages of the lockdown.
What’s her greatest piece of advice?
Have a plan, trust your talents, and show them to the public.
Your portfolio is broad and your ethos is all about inclusivity, by photographing people of different cultures and communities, empowering women and LGBT+. What are you trying to define through your photography?
I want my work to be an expression of my appreciation of beauty, diversity and strength. I try to show that there is a personality behind the business. Being an advocate for inclusivity, I work with diverse clients.
Inclusion also means that everyone feels equally valued and respected.
But the most important mission of my business, Siobhán, is fun! I simply love what I do and always look forward to new projects.
I find it a great joy to discover the beauty of the world through the lens of a camera.
Aśka specialises in vibrant colour portraits: people, family, fashion and headshots. Aśka also offers product and food photography for websites & social media for businesses and trading individuals. www.cottagestudio.ie