Award-winning Cork photographer: It’s a great feeling to have hard work pay off

As we continue our series of interviews with the winners of the Network Ireland West Cork Businesswoman of the year, MARTHA BRENNAN catches up with photographer Anna Groniecka
Award-winning Cork photographer: It’s a great feeling to have hard work pay off

Anna Groniecka (Anna Groniecka Photography) Winner of the Creative Professional Category in the Network Ireland West Cork Businesswoman of the Year Awards 2022. Picture: theheadshotguy.ie

ANNA Groniecka has always been interested in photography, taking pictures with her disposable cameras on every school trip growing up. She even still has photos she took of landscapes at home in Poland when she was just 12 years old.

“I never really thought about making it a career because we’re so conditioned into thinking that you can’t make a business out of your hobby. We’re told we have to get married, work from 9 to 5 every day, and that there’s no money in art,” she says over the phone from her home in Clonakilty.

“I worked in logistics for eight years and when I had my son, I stayed home because child care was so expensive. I already had my camera and all of the lenses and over the months, I started to make contacts and began working with new types of photography. 

"I just practiced on my friends and myself. I never went to school for it, so I built my own style and taught myself.

“Eventually, I actually went to a shoot as a model and I told the designers and stylists that I could take photos and asked if we could do something together. It all just started growing from there.”

IN FOCUS

Now, with more than 15 years of experience under her belt, Anna works across commercial, fashion, weddings, corporate headshots, and portraits, and is one of the most respected in her field in Cork.

A wedding photograph taken by Anna Groniecka.
A wedding photograph taken by Anna Groniecka.

She’s even been recognised by Network Ireland West Cork not once but twice now, receiving the branch’s 2022 Businesswoman of the Year Award for Creative Professional.

“I still can’t believe it. I was so shocked when they called my name, I couldn’t even give a proper speech. I’m used to being behind the camera, I’m never the main person in focus. It was weird having the roles reversed,” she says with a laugh.

“It’s a great feeling to have your hard work pay off though. I obviously wasn’t doing it for the awards, but it’s so nice to be recognised.

“We were all doing so much work behind the scenes over the past few years. It feels like everything is coming back to life.”

The news has only added to a crazy summer for Anna, whose schedule is packed full of weddings, events, and product shoots. While she’s looking forward to the holiday she’s booked for herself in October, the chaos is welcome after the past two years, when her job was deemed “non-essential” during lockdown.

While it’s a blow for any professional to hear that, Anna took it in her stride, working on product shoots for online shops when it was safe to do so. She also started hosting online business events, interviewing professionals via Zoom and asking them for their advice and expertise.

“I thought other people might need some help too, so I chatted with people like a skin expert, a social media marketer, and the owner of a sustainable outdoor adventure shop to share their insights. It was quite interesting because it wasn’t just talking about business but also how we can improve, in terms of social media, sustainability, and more,” she says. “I always find something to do.”

A photo taken by Anna Groniecka of writer Louise O'Neill.
A photo taken by Anna Groniecka of writer Louise O'Neill.

OPPORTUNITIES

In the end, the extra free time ended up being a blessing in disguise, as Anna finally had the time to go back to college.

She first started a degree in business management in 2009 but had to push her studies aside after the birth of her two children, Ben (aged 8) and Olivia (aged 10). Two weeks ago, she graduated from MTU with honours.

“When the pandemic hit, I saw that I could use the opportunity to study online from home. I looked it up and it was the last day of enrollment and I said now or never,” she says.

“It was a bit challenging trying to study while being a single mum but the breathing space with work allowed it to happen.”

Anna already had a level 8 degree from Poland, where she studied social studies, originally wanting to work as a psychologist. She arrived to Ireland in 2006, two years into her studies, and took a gap year to work. After falling in love with Cork and deciding to stay, she started to fly back and forth between Ireland and Poland for classes, while working in EMC on top of it all.

“I was only 21 when I arrived, I still remember one pub in Cork that didn’t want to let me in, I looked so young,” she says.

“I had come with a friend from work. I had just passed my driving test and was looking to save up to buy a car and my friend said he was going to work in Cork and asked if I wanted to come. I was like ‘sure - where’s Cork?’.

“I had only planned to stay for a little while but I felt so respected by my employer and the balance was so much better. It was such a different life. I just loved it so much and I’m here 16 years now.”

A photograph taken by Anna Groniecka of her daughter Olivia.
A photograph taken by Anna Groniecka of her daughter Olivia.

A SUCCESS STORY

The key to her success, she believes, is her ability to work across all genres.

“I have a very creative mind. I can have 10,000 ideas in a minute. I think when you do the same things over and over, your mind starts going into repetition mode and you start producing the same stuff,” she says.

“When I mix editorials and fashion shoots, I think it helps me to be more creative when I shoot weddings. It all works together.”

THE STRUGGLES

After all of these years as a self-employed photographer, does she still feel like her art is her hobby?

“Years ago, I was told that if you do what you love, you won’t work a day in your life,” she says.

“But to be honest, when you’re running a business, you still feel like you work.

“I love the creative process, I love taking photos, I love connecting with clients, but there are parts that you won’t necessarily like when it comes to running your own business, like bookkeeping and marketing.

“I’m very passionate about photography, but I’m not necessarily passionate about bookkeeping. It just has to be done. Your passion and your love for what you do keep you going.”

And even as a respected businesswoman, Anna does still have to put up with people who think she should be working that 9 to 5 job she was taught to want.

“People still ask me where I work full-time. I was even asked when I was photographing a wedding, standing there with heavy gear all over me,” she says.

Anna Groniecka took a photo of her son Benjamin.
Anna Groniecka took a photo of her son Benjamin.

“When I was in my 20s, I didn’t fit the bias about what photographers looked like. It was thought they were generally men in their 50s. I was told that I was never going to make it. It’s not as bad now but you can still see it sometimes.”

Her advice for other women who are trying to break through such glass ceilings?

“If it’s your passion, don’t worry about anyone else.

“People will try to shoot you down but those people are afraid of reaching for their own dreams,” she says.

“Try to make loads of connections, be persistent, be resistant and just go for it. Work hard and it will pay off.”

Anna goes forward with two other winners from the Network Ireland West Cork awards, to the national finals in October. See EchoLive.ie for interviews with the other finalists.

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