Seeing the big picture: fashion maven gives it her best shot
Agata Stoinska moved here knowing no one, now she is one of the country's top photographers
Before moving to Ireland in 2003, photographer Agata Stoinska knew little if anything about Ireland.
"You guys were booming at the time, and looking for architects. So I thought 'OK, that sounds easy, I can stay there for a while'. I basically checked if it was English speaking, if I could get a job. Read a couple of novels about Ireland. None of them sounded any good, they were like 'Jesus Christ these people keep drinking twenty-four seven.' I came here and I was like 'oh my God that's almost exactly how it is'."
Born in Poland, she had studied in Chicago for a year, and unsuccessfully applied for a visa to return to the States on completing her studies in architecture and photography.
"I only came by chance," says the 38-year-old now with a laugh. "Because I didn't get my visa to the States, so it was like, where is the next English-speaking country?"
On moving to Dublin, she found work in an architect's practice, also commuting back and forth to Poland for photography work. "After two-and-a-half years it was fairly hectic and I had no private life so I had to make up my mind about what I was going to do, and decided to go ahead with photography."
Now, she is one of the country's most successful fashion and portrait photographers, as well as the founder of three offshoot businesses: D-Light Studios, Maven 46, an online shoppable magazine, and Blow, a limited-edition fine art photography publication, with three issues a year. Established in 2010, it has garnered numerous industry plaudits.
Her first photography job was one which "no one at the time would take" she laughs, a hair competition, which ended up winning several awards. By this time, she had met her future husband, a New Zealander working in the same architect's practice. Sadly the couple have since divorced, but remain on friendly terms.
Agata opened D-Light Studios in early 2009.
"I found this building and I thought this would be a perfect space for developing everyone's creativity. It's not just for photography, its exhibitions, performance," she says of the huge warehouse space located behind the Five Lamps in Dublin, which was a home to pigeons and dead cats when she found it, she jokes. Her original investor, a developer, pulled out at the last minute.
On losing her backing, she called "every single friend of mine and asked 'OK, I know you don't have money but do you know anyone who has money?'" she laughs.
A business plan, an Enterprise Board grant, and the support of friends and colleagues kept the project going. Now, the studio is home to everything from aerial performers, to a recording studio, Agata's two magazines, photo shoots, launches, exhibitions, video productions and films.
It hasn't been a completely straightforward journey. "I had one unlucky moment where the studio got robbed," she recalls. As it was the morning of a photo shoot, all her photography equipment was packed in the studio. "It was heartbreaking. I was probably the only photographer in Dublin with an iPhone as a camera, nothing else."
The support from the photography community was immediate. "People who normally would be my competition would call and say 'listen I have spare equipment, or I'm not using my equipment this week if you need it for anything."
She decided to use the enforced slowdown to take some time out, travelling for almost eight months in America, Central America and Colombia, at first with a friend, later on her own.
Travelling on your own is "the best thing ever. Over the years, we think that we know who we are but actually we are mirroring other people's expectations. So after a while you're not really sure who you are, because you act differently in front of your parents, in front of your friends, lover, or at work. And then you build up out of those little reflections of yourself. When you stay on your own you don't have to do it, and suddenly you're not sure which role you should play. So you have to look really deeply inside you and figure out who you really are. It's amazing, it's great to rediscover yourself."
She now practises yoga five times a week, and meditates every day, an essential wellness plan in the face of running several businesses.
Maven 46 launched in 2015, with co-founder stylist Tanya Grimson. It's a fashion lifestyle and beauty platform in the form of an online magazine. They are shortly launching a membership area, which will offer personalised content based on preferences you have shown and a questionnaire.
Both her magazines, Maven and Blow, began as passion projects, originating during the recession, when the upside of a dearth of paid work meant more time to focus on creative projects.
"They are babies of mine. Sometimes someone says 'oh, you don't know, you don't have kids', and I'm like 'I know, I have three. And they all want to go to university, so I need to make money'," she laughs. Maven46.com
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