At the roots-


The original statek U Kořínků, Prague-Vršovice

– a notion that is at the same time metaphorical and literal. It is elemental, visual, and organic.

Just about anyone can summon a mental image of tree roots. Above ground trees symbolize life, growth, and are the very embodiment of natural form and beauty, but they cannot exist without a healthy, robust root system. Roots can symbolize memory and a strong affinity with what or who has come before. Roots can also be the place you call home. Something that is “deeply rooted” is a characteristic that defines a person in the most intimate or essential ways. Roots are like also like people in that when many grow in one place, they tend to interconnect and intermingle in ways that are sometimes predictable, but often unexpected. It's a simple symbol which represents a range of ideas and feelings that are not necessarily easy to capture in words, but which is more than what it might seem from only one viewing.

My pictures are, I hope, similarly unaffected. The strong connections I have to my family and our history – including our near-total extinction during the horrors of the Holocaust – are always with me: these bonds inform my sensibilities in the most fundamental ways, and definitely influence how I take pictures. They help me look past the surface in order to understand the individual qualities of people, and to get to grips with a place or thing. I’m at my most natural when I see and get to know people in their own environments and elements, where they are their most natural. Through these very personal interactions my own roots continue to grow through the earth and outward to into the world.

To honor my family’s ancient roots in Bohemia (in what is now Czech Republic), I have reclaimed the name of one of my great-great grandfather’s 19th-century estates in Prague: U Kořínků, Czech for “At the Roots.” Our logo is a pen-and-ink drawing done by my father; it is an impression of a Linden tree – a tree with almost heart-shaped leaves that is ubiquitous in Europe and revered in Bohemia & in the mythology of many Slavic peoples.

Levi Günstling, photographer
Levi Günstling

For digital photography I use Canon equipment. I shoot on film with a Canon New F-1N with Canon FD lenses, and an original, c.1957 German-made Kodak Retina IIIC 35mm film camera. I use Ilford and Kodak film.