It’s great if young people can do what they want. Photo Academy by Woont x CIKE


The successful start of graduates in professional life depends on several factors. They gain an advantage if they can start to verify the acquired knowledge as soon as possible compared to their less experienced colleagues. But what happens if they get twenty years of know-how just like that, and for free?

We wanted to help people, the city, and ourselves

We decided to conduct a survey of the professional needs of people from various areas of the cultural and creative industries in Košice. We asked them what they lacked, needed or what they would change. From all the answers provided by the survey, we identified, in particular, the need to provide young people with space to improve their communication with the client or the use of modern technologies and the latest trends that would lead to their better application in the market. When Invisible Mag was created, its main point of interest was photography. We decided to prioritize young photographers for our projects instead of using the one-time services of professional studios. We, therefore, created the Photo Academy, where we provided them with space and cooperation with professionals and access to modern technology. In cooperation with the Woont production studio, we managed to pass on twenty years of professional experience to seven young starting and experienced photographers.

Studio Woont participated in our mentoring program Escalator. Thanks to that, we knew their professional level, and we wanted them to pass it on to others. The deciding factor was also that they have the largest studio in eastern Slovakia with the latest technology, which is really important for the quality work of a photographer. Considering the results of our survey, we wanted to work not only on the participants’ technical skills throughout the program but also on effective communication with the client and soft skills.

The Woont studio was able to guarantee this thanks to its extensive portfolio of large clients such as Orange, Volkswagen, Forbes, Slovenská sporiteľňa, magazines Eva and Emma, band IMT Smile, and many others. Thanks to all this, we were sure that they would best explain to the participants how to make this craft at the highest possible level. Our photo academics learned both theory and practice, and their main clients were Invisible Hotel and Invisible Mag; CIKE created both projects.

We did not choose the best or the worst

Almost 60 photographers applied for the Photo Academy, from which we chose seven (but not the best ones) to maintain a high-quality and intensive individual approach. After creating a scorecard, where the lighting, composition, work with space, and aesthetics were evaluated, we awarded points and invited 20 of all those applicants for the first round of interviews. We intended to create the most homogeneous group not only in terms of skills but also in terms of personality. Therefore, we did not choose the best or the worst, but a group of participants for whom Photo Academy would be most beneficial.

It was important for the group of photo academics to function, so we also focused on their personality profiles. We wanted to maintain an individual mentoring approach to each participant and point out the importance of teamwork, which is essential for their professional growth. Last but not least, we announced at the beginning that after the end of the Photo Academy, one of the participants would be offered a contract for long-term cooperation with CIKE.

Selected participants, who received advice from mentors throughout the year, gained unlimited access to top technology and professional studio, a client for whom they could work, and relevant feedback on their work were: Kornely Petrus, Maja Bodnárova, Kriss Torjai, Matej „Džagy“ Miterko, Viktória Janov, Dávid Hanko, and Denisa Hancová.

In addition to participating in the Photo Academy, several of them have also cooperated with well-known and lesser-known names. For instance, we can mention Matej “Džagy” Miterko, who was part of the team of photographers of the largest Slovak hip hop festival, established video collaboration with the Woont studio, collaborated with 6ix9ine, Pharaoh, Hahacrew, Jungle Label, and participated in the filming of the series One Day With. Kornely Petrus’ portfolio contains collaborations with designers from Kyiv Fashion Week or Don’t Take Fake Mag. At the end of the program, CIKE offered two participants, Maja Bodnárová and Dávid Hanko, to photograph a six-day festival of media art – Art & Tech Days.

Intensive workshops and real orders

Photo Academy consisted of 10 workshops inside the Woont studio, but also outside it. Between the individual workshops, the participants also received homework assignments, which were then compared in groups. One of the best experiences was the lighting workshop, which turned Woont into a carpentry workshop for 2 weeks so that the mentos could create a custom setting. Photo academics were able to understand the principles of lighting and create different atmospheres quickly. In addition, they were also able to try working in an artificial environment and communicating with professional models, a make-up artist, and, last but not least, working with state-of-the-art lighting technology.

The program also included a commercial photography workshop, which took place in a group in the room of the Invisible HotelGolden Treasure, where mentors showed participants how to think about space, light, choosing the right angle, fine-tuning details, or understanding the customer’s intentions and needs. They also participated in a workshop on photographing the workspaces and team members for business clients, which took place at CIKE. During this workshop, the correct communication with the client was discussed in detail, specifically on the examples of pricing, requesting discounts, setting deadlines, or delivering information about complications that prevent delivery on time.

Repetition, repetition, repetition

This was followed by a theoretical workshop focused on post-production. They gained important know-how to work as efficiently as possible and send photos to the customer without sending them both bad and good photos. After a joint photoshoot at the Golden Treasure room, the photo academics were given the task to take photos in small groups of the remaining rooms of the Invisible Hotel. They were to use all the knowledge they had acquired so far and later evaluate their work in a group. This activity pointed to their weaknesses as they could not put into practice what they had learned. Problems arose, for example, in a poor distribution of lights, failure of team communication, poor division of tasks, or poor selection of final photographs or their post-production. At the evaluation, they saw what they had to fix to retake pictures of the rooms. After realizing and avoiding the previous mistakes, the second photo shoot turned out much better, and the resulting photos were used for various promotional purposes of the Invisible Hotel project.

Each participant in the program also participated in the photoshoot for the Invisible Mag articles – the main benefits of this activity were mentoring and professional feedback. One of the great advantages of photography for Invisible Mag was a varied offer of topics that participants could choose from and meeting new people and thus gaining new potential clients. The culmination of Photo Academy was the last workshop of product photography for a book guide to the city of Košice – City Cracker created by CIKE.

From Foto Academy to Creative Industry Košice

The mentoring program was free for all participants because we wanted everyone to be able to afford it. We wanted to support young talents, but at the same time to gain something in return, and therefore cooperation was established with a real customer – us. From the entire Photo Academy, we not only gained valuable and reliable contacts with talented photographers, but as we announced at the beginning, one of the successful participants was offered long-term cooperation with CIKE. Our choice was clear for several reasons.

We chose Maja Bodnárová because, in addition to the smooth cooperation and perfect use of the acquired knowledge, we also considered her reliability and her 100% flexibility. Maja was often so proactive that we had to reject her and give space to other participants in some photoshoots. In addition, our partners from the Košice cultural and creative industries also enjoyed working with her. During the photoshoot for our Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs program, she herself decided to apply for the program and went on an exchange to Bilbao, Spain. Photo Academy also contributed to the professionalization of two reliable photographers – Viktória Janov, whose strong point, according to Woont, is commercial photography, and Dávid Hanko, whose strong compositional thinking made him a great reportage photographer. However, we also want to cooperate with other photo academics because not only have they demonstrated a commitment to their professional growth, but we have developed a special relationship with everyone.

“We hoped to find new external collaborators after the workshops. As we are a commercial company whose product is a photo for the customer, we try to meet his/her requirements as much as possible. Therefore, we also monitored the personal qualities and tried to cooperate with Maja Bodnárová. The results turned out as expected – excellent. In the future, we can certainly imagine cooperation with other participants, and we will be thrilled to see them during some collective photoshoot.”


When the conclusion becomes the beginning

We considered the entire Photo Academy to be a great success. We see a lot of sense in doing similar projects because we can get to know the participants better thanks to them. We appreciate the willingness of professionals to share their know-how and thus improve the quality of life in the city with the help of motivated young people.

CIKE is a team of people that connects different sectors and encourages them to cooperate. We want everyone to know that they are welcome to point out what they lack in the city regarding culture, the creative sector, or education and development itself. If it is relevant and within our capacities to change it, we are open to any activities that help our city.

Due to the success of this program, in 2019, we decided to organize a similar program for young graphic designers called DesignLab by CIKE x Milk. This time, we asked Martin Jenča from the well-known Milk studio in Bratislava, to be the mentor. His experience, responsibility towards the environment, and curiosity about how much he can share with others convinced us he would be able to share his know-how as well as Woont.