Conversation with Iwona Biedermann

Last week, I had the opportunity to talk to Iwona Biedermann, photographer and owner of DreamBox Foto Studio and DreamBox Gallery in Bucktown. We met in her gallery amidst her current show of Irena Siwek’s incredible ink drawings and paintings. When I got to the gallery, she had taken out several of her photographs from her various series. I was astonished by the depth of her photos from the inner lives of nuns to an old Jewish cemetery in Monologue of the Lens. She also had amazing portraits of children and  piano playing veteran with one arm. Her work gives me chills.

My first question to her was what drew her to photography. Her response blew me away: “Photography communicates, connects, and reveals. It is a universal language. I was drawn to it from the beginning when I got my first camera… Photography became my melody. I follow the sound of each frame and the rhythm for me is like the language of poetry  Photography  is very close to reality. It collects memories. Memory gives a sense of place where we are and where we belong. Photography is an extension of my understanding and connector of the world around me.”

Her work has concentrated on religious communities in the US and Poland. We talked about her incredible series Beyond the Veil about nuns living in a convent. She talked about how she was in Krakow and saw a nun standing by the old cathedral holding large keys. She took two photos and was “intrigued by it.” During that time, she was asked to photograph at one convent.  Iwona Biedermann felt that she had begun the project before she really knew it. She became fascinated by the story and asked the Polish Museum of America for an exhibition. The Museum facilitated connections with different orders since it was necessary to gain access to these worlds. She also began collaborating with Laura Husar on the project.The best way she got to know them was to live in the convents for several days. She described, “It’s a vanishing world. The number of nuns is growing smaller and they are growing older.” She also explained, "I saw them as women who made a choice to serve God by serving others through contemplation and action.” It’s truly a magnificent series. She manages to convey the beauty and fragility of the world. She focuses on a rosary here, a group of nuns playing cards there.

Iwona Biedermann talked about another incredible series Coptics in Chicago, which is a series of photographs about Coptic baptisms in Lake Michigan. The series started when she happened to come across upon a baptism when she was walking along the lake.  Coptics from all over the midwest meet early in the morning before sunrise for the ritual every year. One challenge with the project was gaining the trust of the community since she was not approaching it from documentary standpoint. Now, she says that if she doesn’t make it, they miss her. She believes, “It’s a beautiful ancient ritual… We are all born of water. The symbol of water is something I’m really interested in. Water is a subject that I come back to.”

In addition to her own work, she runs DreamBox Gallery and DreamBox Foto Studio. She told me that the idea came to her in dream. It was a place where she lived and worked. She registered the name at City Hall in that very week. DreamBox Gallery and Foto Studio opened up in 2003. The Gallery shares the space with the coffee  house Cup & Spoon  since 2014 and collaborate under the name WOW Frequency. They have poetry events, open mics, and much more.  The mission “to provide alternative exhibition space for emerging and established artists in Chicago. The mission is to create, inspire, and be inspired by cultural links between artists and their creative currency. Word. Image. Idea.” It’s a wonderful asset to the neighborhood and the city.

You’ll have to check out her work at the website:

The current exhibition by Irena Siwek has been extended to June 30th so you should definitely check it out!