Living Archive Project is a dialogue between two artists about photography, intentions, interpretations and memory.
Every week one photograph from the photographer’s professional photo archive is chosen to start a conversation between maker and researcher, investigating the concealed power of photography.
The Living Archive Project is a dialogue between the artists Ola Lanko and Irina Popova about photography, intentions, interpretations and memory. Irina Popova worked as a photojournalist in Russia and moved towards autonomous art, expanding her interest in photography as a medium. Ola Lanko is an artist and researcher whose main interest lies in the investigation of photography as a medium and the importance holds today. Both of them are interested in changes that happened in the medium and are eager to initiate a dialogue about it. To do so, Irina gave her whole photo archive, which comprises thousands of photographs, to Ola in order to get another perspective on her artistic practice and re-think the possibilities that taken photographs have. Every week Ola chooses one picture from Irina’s archive both artists reflect upon it. There is no specified outcome to the project; Ola and Irina don’t know what will come but both are curious to find out. The Living Archive Project is process-oriented and can be adjusted, shaped and changed. One clear idea remains: both artists are willing to find some answers about the modern position of photography and believe that in a dialogue some answers might be found.
I: Photography is a weird practice of trying to catch the tail of reality. But in the end you stay only with a tail. And this tail, a photograph, starts its own life, loosing its origins. Photography is not equal to reality at all.
O: It’s interesting that you mentioned that photograph starts its own life, especially if we introduce a viewer into the maker-photograph relations. The viewer makes the gap between the origins and the actual photograph even wider. I see the archives as a source of these tails, where a lot of valuable information about photography and the photographer’s intentions are collected. On the one hand we have a maker and on the other an observer. And a photograph between them.
I: I’ll take the role of the photographer and you of the observer.
O: It’s better to call me a researcher. I will try to take an other role than observer, which will be more active. However I believe that every observer should become a researcher, looking at the image more carefully, trying to get the most out of a single picture.
I: I am curious about the way you will look at the photographs I’ve made and even more curious how I will look at them in this context.
O: I propose that together we can provide a two-sided perspective on the same image. I believe in the power of one photograph to convey enough information, to make an attempt at analyzing the image itself, to understand your intentions.
I: I am personally involved in the situation, so of course my perception will be very different from yours.
O: I will look at the photograph you’ve made and reconstruct the situation when image was taken, while searching for the reason the image was made and sharing my interpretations.
I: I will remember the situation and with what intentions the image was made.
O: I establish rules for a dialogue between us, the maker and the researcher. Every week I choose one image from your archive that I find interesting to reconstruct. There is no connection to particular moment in time, personality depicted on the photograph or any other criteria that can locate image in any kind of system. Every image is analysed independently from its original context.
I: I agree.
O: In order to eliminate the subjective influence of the maker, you can have no influence on the choice of the photograph and you confronted with a selected image to comment on. My choice is based on several criteria that I consider to be important for a photograph. These criteria include singularity, authenticity and aesthetics. These will be no negotiation about the choice. We both write about the image reflecting not only upon obvious elements in the image, but also touching upon the historical value and modern context.
O: I believe that re-thinking the archives and bringing them back to life sometimes can minimise the necessity to make a new picture that would carry the same information. I wonder if you feel the same way. Maybe there is no need to make new photographs, but is it enough to explore those that have been already made.
I: I think this might very well be the case.
O: Interesting that you, Irina, keep saying that you don’t remember the images you’ve made. It is something I didn’t think about when we started our conversations. I was thinking about it and I can see another reason for that. As I mentioned earlier the actual appearance of the observed situation can be so overwhelming that it becomes impossible to ignore and there is an uncontrolled desire to capture the moment. At that moment it seems necessary to do so but in the end, as I can say from the fact that you don’t remember the images, act of photographing the moment was more important than the result. I think that this is also the case with this picture. It seems impossible to resist the magic of light. This beautiful warm layer of sun was a reason to take this photo. It binds the picture together, it creates the atmosphere, emphasizes the facial expression of the girl, sends us to the painting tradition and evokes the emotional reaction on the photograph. There are enormous amount of studies dedicated to our perception of color. Warm colors evoke emotions ranging from feelings of warmth and comfort to feelings of anger and hostility. But their perception is bound to emotion rather than a rational reasons. So maybe it is not that strange in the end photographer doesn’t remember all of the pictures he takes. As everybody else he emotionally perceives his surrounding but the only difference is that he takes a picture when he feels an upswing. By keeping it though he confronts us with existing of the image and even if it was made impulsively and never ment to exist now it is here living its own life, independently of makers intentions.
I: This time I’ll be even more ruthless to myself. I don’t remember making this photo, but it looks like it was cut out of the magazine “Burda” or “Liza” in the 1980s or 1990s. This time I start seriously suspecting that you just bully me and those are not my pictures. Nice sunset, though. It would be good to use in romantic movie. To sweet, though. A perfect vacation. Even the sweater of the girl tells about peaceful enjoyment. The one thing that breaks this atmosphere - a small video camera in her hands. Why people can’t enjoy things any more? They are restless creatures. The guys on the background do something - probably, prepare their fishing equipment. They are busy with practical things, so they can’t get a broader overview at the reality. But the girl stands with the camera, and this separates her from this landscape more than unites with it. We are loosing things every day and every minute by trying to record them. In the end you get a load of files which you never look at, instead of a real impression, and this is very sad, I think. But I’m doing the same thing. My reasons are slightly different - I can’t enjoy the pure reality, it just doesn’t occur to me.
O: Previously you said that you couldn’t remember the photograph I chose to discuss. You didn't know why, where and under which circumstances you made it. I found it interesting to think about. It is of course very normal that you can’t remember all the pictures you took. There are so many in your archive! But I noticed that when you were talking about the picture without a memory of it, the way you did was different. It is a very difficult task to take a step back from your work and look at it without preconceptions. I am convinced though that it is a very useful skill to be able to distance yourself from your work. So by choosing this one, I wanted to find another anonymous image which probably wouldn’t be remembered. It is clear to me why this photograph was taken at that moment. The play of light, shadow and color, their special combination create this mysterious setting. The house in the background is observed from inside the forest. The photographer’s point of view is not clear, and it seems like the picture was taken from a higher spot in relation to the ground. The trees on the foreground create a black frame about the house; the contrast between them emphasise the glow. The central composition directs the attention to the center where part of the house is hidden and we slide down, with our sight, to the goalpost. The existence of this image manifests the power of the moment, when the instinctive reflex to keep it takes over the reason to take the picture. That is why you don’t remember making it. I think that the image explores an involuntary desire to preserve something that will pass away, but at that moment seems so beautiful. And photography, one says, is able to freeze time and give the moment eternal life. At least until the print would vanish or the digital file would be lost.
I: This image is too green to be true, I don’t remember it again, and this confuses me again - would I really have taken effort to press the button if I knew that I will never remember it anyway? It reminds me of RUssia, the houses, but it’s too green for Russia, like some southern landscape, somewhere in Spain. But still, it is Russia, I can see those houses and the football field. It’s like in a weird dream, the house is like it was a mirage, some sort of imaginary landscape. The trees look pretty real on the photo, but in my mind it’s all other way round: the house must be real, and the tree - unreal. I’m an urban child, I see the houses much more often than the trees, and they make me wonder much less: what kind of object it is? How was it created? How does it look and what kind of inner life and philosophy does it have? The trees are something out of the ordinary, and on this images they can’t be combined, they are not allowed.
But I remember. I think, it’s Mendeleevo, a weird place, one of my favorite places. There are a few high towers in the middle of nature. People say that when they come close to the house, they can smell the presence of human beings: cooking something on oil. Smoking weed. And when you go further, you feel only the smell of the trees and the earth.
The combination I can almost feel while looking at the picture.
Photos make you explore place and put the things you would never notice without the camera into your memory. Even if you can hardly remember the shot itself.
O: Let’s see, where shall I even start here? A description would be the easiest way to begin with. A young woman is lying in the grass. Her face is partly lit with sun dividing the space in to darker and lighter areas. The girl’s face remains in the shadow and only the contours of her cheek and highlights on the hair are visible. Attention is drawn to her curves, because of the light, the front part of her body is dark, but not too dark so it is still possible to see details in her clothing. These light conditions create an exciting game between the viewer and the depicted girl. It triggers curiosity even despite the fact that the whole situation of this picture is quite unusual. The girl’s dress doesn’t belong to this time; it is the Soviet military from the World War II. Images that we know from that time fulfill certain visual expectations. Usually these are in black and white, they are not of very good quality and depict less casual situations. When I look at this picture, I realize that it couldn’t be made during the War. The color, depth of field, digital noise and sharpness quality point to the fact that this photo was made recently. The girl is posing, she is aware of the camera and of her appearance. She is taking a classic posture, her hat is neatly placed next to her hand. Because of her unnatural posture she looks exposed and vulnerable – the photographer is in charge. Through the tension in her body I can see her obedience, it seems she would do a lot to please the photographer. The relation between the model and the maker is a very interesting topic to explore and it forms a big part of photography itself. Here the photographer is a sculptor taking an active role constructing the image using all the tools at his disposal to create a different world on the intersection of times, intimacy and exposure facilitated by photography.
I: It’s all about being patriotic. Sometimes it becomes really “over the top” - and ridiculous as a result. Not often you have a chance to show it so directly as on this image. The photo was made in Minsk during the celebration of the “Independence day” of Belarus on 3rd July. Somehow everybody was concentrating on the Soviet times and the Victory over nazi Germany, though it was not the Victory day. Probably, it’s the strongest spot which is used by the propagandists on any possible time - as the argument of the regime.
I have now very much difficulty with this kind of propaganda, but I still question myself how to deal with it. Enjoy? Ignore? Laugh? Hate and claim? I think, laughing and looking more attentively and curiously will do. When an event organized, it is expected that all its visual elements respond to the main idea, but sometimes the reality speaks better for itself, and being good photographer means - to pass all this fake and to discover some hidden truths, which are sometimes in the small details. And a beauty, of course, which is not always obvious. I think this picture lacks some element of telling when and where it was - and bringing another level of irony. Maybe a mobile phone, or something from this time...
O: I am trying to imagine if I would witness this situation not through a photograph. I am sitting on the ground and a strange man is trying to reach for me with his hands. He is approaching to me so I can smell his odour, alcohol mixed with sweat. His broken left arm in almost touching my hair, his right arm is reaching for my shoulder. I can see his bad teeth and scarred face, he’s been in many a fight and I bet that those weren’t very noble fights. I am happy that his movements are limited because of the broken arm that is held by the bandage. It is daytime but there is still nobody around who can help me. What does he want from me? Why does he want to touch me. I have nothing I can give him. Please step back, I feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. I bet that it is not a very nice situation to deal with in reality. I wouldn’t probably enjoy it at all and would try to find an escape as soon as possible. But that’s not the case here. I look at the photograph. Save and cosy yet realistic. Photograph gives an opportunity to contemplate the event. I can stop for a moment and look at the details which wouldn’t be visible under other circumstances. The situation on this picture is so close to me, but at the same time very far. I am excited and curious about this man. I want to look at the details of his cloth, his teeth, his broken arm, imagine his smell and make up the story of his life. The photograph provides more than fruitful environment to explore the situation because it can’t harm or attack, but still can get you very close. And most importantly, you can always stop looking and escape. That is a privilege one doesn’t always have in real life.
I: This is something in my photography I shame myself for. I even can’t explain why I do this, it’s a kind of sophisticated voyeurism, when the subject realizes that he’s being watched with a camera, and a photographer has no specific aim - like to reveal a secret or receive a forbidden pleasure. Maybe the explanation can be that a photographer wants to be non-obtrusive, but also it can become sneaky, cunning. And the result is a spoiled image, a missed shot, where there was even no effort made to make a shot of the face, properly composed and lighten.
Maybe photography here is the wrong medium. It could very well be a great video, or even sound, or even sound later transformed into a text, and a text later transformed to a drama play, this is a known form of performance.
Of course, at the moment this interaction with a person was the most important for me. But interaction itself is not enough, otherwise I would have been just a cheerful, talkative person. The most important is to leave a trace, to transform this interaction to some product, and maybe to save myself from this intense interaction (I don’t want to listen what this person tells me, that’s why I prefer to concentrate on the image. The image shows the wounded hand, then the rest - worn-out clothes, bad teeth, scar on the lip, and finally the blue sky which gives a hint that everything is happening somewhere on the fresh air far away from the city.
No need to ask me what had really happened, or what this person told me - I’ll never remember it. Now I feel a pity that I didn’t make records (or just didn’t have a tape recorder). It could be a story about the treasures, or a story as a treasure itself. Maybe at the moment I thought that it’s the most important in the world and I’ll remember it all, but it never happened.
I only see my fear now. I see through this photo that I was afraid, even scared of this man.
O: The actual distance between these two is not very big, they are standing close, yet so far from each other. This imbalance between what I see and what I feel surprised me and I think that photography plays quite the role in this. So I decided to choose this photo to find out what exactly caused the feeling of distance. There are two aspects of this image that can be discussed. The first is what is being photographed and the second how it was done. I’ll begin with the subject. A man and a woman are having their meal while standing outside. They both are focused on their plate; plastic cutlery asks for high level of concentration, it’s bending and food tends to fall off the plate. I can see that the woman only has a spoon, but is trying to eat something that is meant to be cut in pieces. Her gaze is focused and a little annoyed. It looks like there is a struggle but she is not explicit about it. The scarf on her head refers to her religious submission. There is also something strange about his clothing, the high black and outdated jacket makes me think that he is a priest. The building in the back looks like a monastery, with typical architecture for an administrative building orthodox church. If they are monastery habitants, the distance between them, which struck me, makes sense. They are quiet, focused on the inner quest and service to God. They are together, but at the same time they are not, kept with their inner thoughts. But what has photography to do with it? When we look at the framing, it is possible to say that photo was made from a distance using a long-focus lens. The objects depicted with it seem magnified, but still distant. That is what is happening here and what creates the feeling I get. But in this case, the choice of the lens strengthens the subject’s appearance, it stresses people’s inner state and transmits it to me in a beautiful and transient way. There is a feeling that is facilitated by this lens which I can’t immediately rationalise, but it definitely makes my experience of this photograph complete.
I: Ola, almost every time you send me you choice that makes me wonder: why did you choose this? But the next question is - what made me make this image? Was making it absolutely necessary? What did I achieve with this image? Digging into the archives is a reason once more to look critically at your own work.
Each year there are millions of photos being created. I started with film cameras, but after a few films I got digital camera - it felt like gaining economical freedom. Being able to create thousands of images, out of which you can choose the real one.
The moment of choice is not easy, though. You have to see thousands of images, out of which you have to select a few. The other ones are just garbage, raw material.
Reality gives us an enormous source of inspiration and possibilities to transform it to our own work. But you have to have a very pure and concentrated mind in order to make a real serious project. At the moment that I’m still scattered around, making pictures without any purpose, just to keep on the surface of the reality, just to keep observing.
This image was made on some religious celebration in a monastery near Moscow. We went there with a photo school, so every one wanted to make the best images to get on the exhibition which was organized later. We were brought there to make a kind of religious propaganda, we even got the press badges with the icons of Jesus and Maria on it. But the religion itself looks pretty unpolished and weird and gives a lot of material for interpretation. I’m not religious, so I tried to keep distance from all this. I met a lot of Orthodox in my life, and often they were more suspicious, self-assured, dogmatic and even aggressive, than the normal atheistic people. So it made me critical about the whole issue.
O: I’ve noticed that on almost all the selections I make from your archive you react quite personally. You remember when it happened, under which circumstances, and how you felt at a particular moment. I wonder if that’s the conversation I would like to have about the photographs from your archive. I wonder not so much about the past but about the meaning and the impact of a certain picture in the future. Last time I tried to confuse you with an image, which you even didn’t recall making. So you can tell me about the this weird experience of looking at the image you took, but don’t recognize it. I would like to bend our conversation towards a more general talk about photography and its magic force. I think that we definitely are touching upon these questions but I think that sometimes personal memory takes the upper hand and forms a distraction for development of new thoughts. So I thought I’d choose this image which seems so impersonal, technically a failure, but still it is kept in the archive. I can understand why you’ve made this picture. The depicted situation is appealing to capture. Young men are in front of a train helping this friend to get up from the tracks. Even though the image is blurred and unsharp, I can still recognize what is happening. It is exciting and scary, because we know what might have happened, but it is also safe, because of the unfocused picture, we can’t get rid of the feeling that we are looking at the image. Here, the focus reminds us that it is only a photographic representation revealing its limitations and imperfections. On this photo, the moment is right, the timing is right, the situation is interesting and exciting, but it is not enough. The camera is a mechanical device, which should be mastered and warns to be handled with care and attention, otherwise it has the power to spoil a potentially good picture.
I: Moscow: 6.44 − 9.25
Tver: 9.46 − 12.36
Bologoe: 17.45 − 18.22
Okulovka: 18.23 − 18.58
Malaya Vishera - St. Petersburg 19.57 − 22.40
If you take a short distance suburb train, than within one day you are in St. Petersburg. You can do it absolutely for free any time of the year even when there are no tickets to the normal trains.
Punks and hippies, football fans and skinheads, invalids and alcoholics, the homeless and the crazy, and an old grannies whose pension is stolen for drugs. You see the couches full of those people and you think: who am I in this motley crew?
The travel is always an adventure, no matter how tired you are, it's not just getting from point A to point B.
Russia is big, but maybe when you're on the road, the God doesn't count this time and you can live a bit longer...
This photo was made occasionally, when I had just a second to take my camera out of my bag. The guys jumped on the rails because it was the only way to avoid the controle. My act of taking photo was not like giving an evidence of the crime, but more learning how to survive in Russia. This was a foreign view, a bit amazed, but at the same time I can admit I also have done this jumping, too. And I can say that it gives as much fun as photography. Especially when you take photos of something secret, not quite approved or allowed, and you get away with it amazingly easily.
O: Three rusty street poles and a pile of white concrete plates against a bluish grey background – that’s what I see when I look at this picture. Symmetrical arrangement and classic composition create a balanced and stable environment to look at the image. The principal of the golden ratio is kept and indisputable. The bright spot in the middle is the center of attention; it is slightly above the middle pole, just enough space to emphasise the contrast between the light and dark areas of the concrete plates. Horizontal lines are perfectly parallel as well as vertical. There is almost no movement in the image; it looks lifeless and frozen. It is not strange though that it looks frozen: if you would look at it from a different point of view, it would fall apart, the composition wouldn’t be so perfect, so the image would be less special. I found this image in the archive and it was so different from the others. Usually there is more social context involved, and there seems to be more urgency, emotion and passion. This photograph introduces another type of passion, less articulated and more subconscious. Here it is purely about this moment when all the forms come together and form the composition. Regardless of their content, forms create another dimension where they act by their own rules, the photography here is able to capture these relations. Sometimes everything falls into place, light and colours are perfect, lines are straight, there are no distractions whatsoever. As a photographer with a trained eye, you notice it and automatically make the picture. This seems as a reflex rather than a well-thought action. I was really happy to find this image and decided to use it as a moment of rest from the complex and heavy issues you pose in your work, so I could better understand how you see.
I: Ola, to be honest, I don’t remember making this photo (again!). It doesn’t give any clue where or how I made it, what motives I had, while making it, what happened before or after. The way the pavement is made makes me guess that it was in Amsterdam, even near the center, maybe Jordaan. This is the place where I used to walk very often. Probably I used photography as a means of protecting myself from the overwhelming reality: when you pass everyday the same route, you stop seeing and stop being excited about the things. Sometimes I get myself protected from the people - if I get tired of their presence, from their talks, I just put myself in the parallel world of pure vision. I saw here a perfectly balanced geometrical composition, almost a caricature on Malevich or on photography of Dusseldorf school. Usually I am against meaningless in photography, lack of social problematic, but in this case I wanted to use the seaming meaningless as a refuge. The light on the objects and grey background reminds the sky before storm, and it makes a composition a bit parodical also on classical landscape paintings of the 17th-18h centuries. But maybe it’s a pile of concrete constructions, and nothing else.
O: I found this picture and it struck me, because of its intimacy that is captured and shared with me. We are allowed to look at a very private moment as long as we want. This moment is now stretched in time by virtue of photography, and invites us to look at the details without any shame, modesty or embarrassment. We are alone with this image, curious, excited and bewildered. The photo gives us the opportunity to satisfy our curiosity and slowly investigate the setting. I want to stress the speed, at which the photo is being looked at. If we would witness this situation in real life, as an outsider, we would probably be confused and wouldn’t dare look. I would dare say that only through the image we are able to contemplate the situation. Small details, the light behind the window, textures, the body posture – all of these elements are very relaxed and show a very safe environment. There is complete trust and surrender to the photographer. Everything is revealed and exposed, no detail is put away or covered. It is a very strong decision to make an image like this, I think. We know what happened right before image was made and we can assume that photographer himself is a part of the setting, even though he is not visible on the picture. The scene has two players, one is resting and another taking a picture. Apart from what I’ve mentioned before, it is interesting to think about the obsession with photography, if the first thing you do after being intimate, is to make a photograph. But that is another story, I guess.
I: Ooo, Ola, you're now touching the sensitive subject, and I hope really that our dialogue remains more or less private and not too many people read us :). With my photography I always try to push the borders of privacy, and it seems totally ok, until I came to the point to try to touch my own privacy, and question the norms of existence. Honestly, everything what happened to me after moving to Holland and getting married seems like a dream, as if it were not my decisions, and I just played a joke with my life. And it seemed to me that I still sleep and still can't wake up. It's not a bad dream, it's like actually sleeping without particular dreams or not remembering them afterwards. I think I lost my magic and I almost stopped photographing, too, because no subject seemed important enough. My photography used to be getting as close as possible into the other worlds. And that means giving up your world, at least for the time of photographing, living some other life, being somewhere else. After I got my own "real" life, it became much more difficult to get to the other worlds, it's a kind of a dependance. I finally got "home" that meant I stopped being a vagabond. And all I could was to document my own private life, breaking my own borders of privacy. Some photographers succeed in it, but I didn't. I have a need to separate "my own life" from photography. My photography has to happen somewhere else. And home must be a place where you return and rest from photography. And my personal relationships with my husband on the border with love and disgust shouldn't be questioned by being exposed to the photography medium. They are too fragile for that.
O: Writing these short thoughts, about photographs from your archive, I noticed that often I refer to the magic of photography. The medium has the ability to turn the usual into the unusual. By freezing the moment, the photographer gives the opportunity to explore the situation more precisely and carefully. But most important is to realize that there wouldn’t be the opportunity to look at a setting without the photographer’s action of making the photo. The situation would simply dissolve and remain unnoticed. But now we are confronted with this seemingly almost random moment, because we think that there might be a reason for photographer to show it. Maybe initially this shot was an accident and if it would be an analogous roll of 36 shots, this photo here could be the first or the last frame which probably was made only to be sure that the next one would turn out well. But this is not an analogous picture and the careful composition tells us that it wasn’t an accident. So I look further and my curiosity triggers me to think about what it was the photographer saw and decided to photograph this setting. I notice the red sweater in between the two dusters. It looks a little alienated from the rest of the environment and introduces, for me, a personality into this photo. I wonder if this was the the reason to make this photo. The geometrical composition dissected by the organic form of the dusters also seems attractive and pleasurable to photograph. But would it be it? When I look at a photo, I always think about the maker and his thoughts behind the image. I think it is an incredible feeling to discover them through the picture without the maker’s presence, speculating about his intentions and investigating the details. It is like a puzzle that can be solved, only by looking. But this photo, though, is the difficult one. I’ll stick with the red sweater as the remnant of somebody’s presence, who remains unnoticed and discreet, maybe even hiding behind the wooden panel.
I: Sometimes I get into a state of mind which is called hysterical photographing, when you have to take pictures all the time, forgetting why you need to take them. Exactly this I experienced when I got a pretty vague assignment to cover everything about one of the biggest and most influential universities in Russia. Actually the university has a nickname of the "shadow government" of Russia, it stands behind all the new developments towards aggressive capitalism in Russia, which I personally am not happy with, because I personally have pretty leftist views. But an assignment is an assignment, communicating with the power institutions is almost the only way to get money, and the assignment gave me pretty much of the artistic freedom to document the things around me. I used the opportunity as far as I could. I didn't intend to create a bad name for the university, on the contrary, I was working with PR department, and during the work I got a lot of sympathy to the intellectual life which develops in it's walls. But I could allow myself behave weird, photograph anything I saw without asking anyone for a permission, and I can say I was pretty rude in that, experimenting with the borders where officially approved practice of photographing can bring you. This photo is an example of such useless weird photo, made during a three days boring conference, where is nothing special to photograph, and exactly this makes you photographing all the time. I knew that it's not going to be used ever, it was made rather as an exercise - to sharpen your eye, and not to put down your camera. Maybe this red piece of cloth attracted me, between all these washing facilities. Now it makes me think about the uselessness of any effort in this world (such sad existentialistic way of thinking) - photography is pretty much like washing the floors. No matter how much you do it, the process of keeping yourself busy is much more important than the result.
O: This photograph is a nice example of how much information one single image can carry. Its composition introduces three different levels. The background with its far off buildings, a family in the middle and a shop on the foreground. The family in the center is the main hero of this picture, the surrounding tells us their story. The past, where the family comes from, the present, where they are now, and the future — doors that will open a world to something new, unknown and hidden from the viewers. The narrative is developing on different levels, following depicted elements. The story starts in an apartment where young family just moved in. The flat is situated in bedroom neighbourhood; such districts can be found in many cities. The architecture, setting and surrounding are similar all across the territory of the former Soviet Union. The family just moved into the new place and are busy renovating it. The couple looks young, but they already have two grown up kids. Seeing this can evoke thoughts about the social situation of the place, which is definitely a former Soviet country. The family looks neat, but modest. It is an optimistic image even though the place where they come from, the houses on the background, are quite frustrating. There is a spacious field where there is nothing. The distance between the apartments to the shop is big and they seem rather isolated from each other. But the atmosphere on the picture is quiet and peaceful. There is no protest or disagreement. The family looks very normal, adapted and not interested in the photographer’s presence. I think that the photographer’s role here is limited to an action of being in the place and touching the button. There are no interaction, interest, feelings or influence of the maker and the depicted family. Because of that, the image looks very dry, unattractive even, but that’s when the narrative comes in and the picture begins to live. We start to notice details, make up our own story and have an opinion about it. The photographer didn’t give us his judgement or emotional feedback, so that is why we need to ask our mind to make one.
I: This photo was made in a far away lost city, like all the proper photos should be done. Though on the “proper photos” you never should know where it is exactly - it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. On this photo I broke the rule and went a photojournalistic way - you can see letters “Kodinsk” on the building. But exactly because you see it and still most of the people have no idea where it is, it still gives you this feeling of being “nowhere”. I mean it’s not Paris, and it’s not other legendary city, it’s just in the middle of nowhere, it’s a place where you will have no idea how people can live there. A place which has no it’s own legend is a lost place. Maybe photography can sometimes play a role to create such a “legend of the place”. I mean, that people will immediately want to go there and to explore this mystery which attracted a photographer. But not in this case, I suppose. It’s a very ordinary photo, not the one which can create legends. There is a good light, a typical building with an interesting huge coat of arms on it, and some people pass a small shop. That’s it. Though some peculiar details like the colors of the building, the shop’s name and the posters on its wall.. The faces of the people and the things they carry in their hands make you wonder: what the hell is going on? The situation is not strange or absurd enough to make it a great photo you would give stars on contests. It is perfectly ordinary, but there is something itching, some kind of unfulfillment. Maybe the role of photography is to create this kind of existential questions, to wake you up in the existential way - with questioning those ordinary situations and ordinary faces which could be shot everywhere in the world…
O: When I found this photo it immediately caught my attention. It stood out from the rest because of its appearance. The facial expression, light, composition and setting all put together create an amazing atmosphere, overtaking depiction of the initial situation which comprises this image. It is a nice example of what a photo can become. Completely disconnected from the original context, it creates a never-existing universe of its own. I think that the most important facilitators of this surreal appearance are the hand in the foreground and the lighting. The captured gaze only makes the image stronger, empty and cold, conflicting with the warmness of the sun, it introduces melancholy and isolation. The color of the light is very unusual; it seems artificial and natural at the same time. Firstly, I thought that it was made with a flash, but I don't think so anymore. The light is very warm and diffused which wouldn't be so easy to achieve outdoors, using a simple flash. I guess the picture was made in the evening when the sun was setting and had a bright red color. What is important to mention here is that photography is of course drawing with light and this image illustrates well what this phrase exactly means. Every light situation is unique and it plays a huge role in creating of atmosphere of the whole image. In this case the unusual color of the light moves us towards the surreal nature of the setting. Secondly, the very strange position of the hand makes us wonder. It seems like it doesn't belong to the girl and could be the photographer’s hand. But we know that that wouldn’t be possible. But in the universe in which this image was made, it is. That's what makes photography so interesting. It freezes a moment, claims to have a relation to actual events, but in the end there are so many different simple possibilities and solutions to construct a new event totally unrelated to reality.
I: Photography is always a mystery or realization of the hidden dreams, or a wish of wonder. A wonder which you can’t explain or put in words. You press the button because you put there a certain expectation that the coming photograph will become afterwards something different, than the original reality was. Except that you want to keep an image of a person, you wish that a photograph will hide all the events which are not shown on the image but which happen «before» and «after» the main moment, even if they happen even in the imagination of the viewer. Every photograph drags around a trail of all possible «befores» and «afters» and all the possible meanings and interpretations. It’s not a good portrait, obviously. Because the photographer is too close, because the lens is too wide, it breaks the norms and conventions of making the portraits. The light is too harsh (a standard sunset combination of blue sky and yellow light), the background is too street and casual, not telling much. It might be as well an occasional passer-by, waiting at the streetlight, if not the deepness of the look and the closeness of the photographer. The photo gives a false feeling that a hand of the girl holding her face and hair, is actually the hand of photographer. That is the actual interpretation of hidden wishes and the magic of an image.
What happened in reality: we were in Uglich on a photo festival, and we had a day full of magic, and wandering through the city, and the small but symbolic events. One of such few days that fuel the rest of your existence, that make you closer to your dreams and to your reasons for existence. At the same time, it was full of uncertainty, full of idleness which is in itself disturbing for a workaholic, full of being «not here» and of tiring word- and image-games, which make in the end you unsatisfied because in the reality not much happened (or if something happened, you didn’t get it), and the eyes of the person you are with, are always wandering somewhere else, not here. And photography can only in a small scale express the strangeness of such days, to fixate a puzzle which you can (maybe) try to resolve later.
O: Recently I worked on a video, based on footage made by news reporters during the current protests in Ukraine. I was using their material to create a new narrative, by appropriating it and turning it into my own artwork. I wanted to create a more universal image of the revolution, erasing its original context and disconnecting it from its journalistic function. When I found this image in your archive, I was reminded of my own project. I was looking at it and was trying to think about the place and possible circumstances under which the picture was taken, but I couldn’t. I could only say that the situation is in Russia, or some other post-Soviet country, because of the hat the soldier on the photo is wearing. People are dressed warm and it is dark outside, so it was probably made in a country where this is possible, so Russia would fit the description. The tall building in the background tells that it’s in the center of a big city. So what we are looking at is a photo of a protest in a big city, that is all we know. There is no specific cause of this event visible, no reasons for a demonstration etc. In the photograph the situation became universal. I think it shows quite well the ability of images to generalise reality, by disconnecting situations from their original environment. Photographers create shortcuts, which people can easily understand and relate to. It is not interesting to know what this protest was about, because there will be another protest tomorrow which will look exactly the same, but it is interesting to think about protest in general, fantasise about the reasons and impacts social movements have. The ability of photography to generalise gives the opportunity to do so and makes it possible to experience the same image personally, attaching your own story to it.
I: People went to a square
Every New Year’s eve. They were against:
against Putin, against wars, against bureaucracy or corruption,
or just against, in general.
But what they stood for - nobody could explain that.
I went there
on my fifth month of pregnancy
with a big belly.
The 80-years dissident woman
dressed as Snegurochka (a girlfriend of Father Frost)
and someone else wore a mask of horse.
Suddenly the police started to push the crowd out of the square,
The human wave made many people fall. I tried to keep my belly safe, but I was squeezed in the middle,
finally I was on the ground,
and someone gave me a hand and pulled me out of this hell.
Suddenly someone started shouting «Putin is a thief»
and the crowd repeated it again and again,
until it lost it’s meaning in my ears
and became a children’s verse,
a Buddhist mantra.
Only for a short moment there was such unity,
The police caught some people from the crowd,
even some innocent old man,
and finally they took me. Accompanied with the flashes of the cameras
I went to the autozak
with officers painfully holding my arms under my back.
I still didn’t understand the meaning of this carnival.
And on the way to the police station I remembered this man
in the mask of a horse
and couldn’t stop smiling about it.
O: You mentioned the magic of photography. I’ve been thinking about it, what it is exactly, what kind of tricks and tools the photographer has to perform magic. The use of the flashlight, I think, can be one of these tools. The flashlight is something that almost never appears without a photograph. It is only a fraction of a second, but because of the photographic magic, it endlessly expands. The flashlight adds a very special appearance to the situation, which cannot exist without the photographer’s presence. The unnatural shine of the objects, the distorted colours and flatness of the surfaces caused by using the flashlight have a very remarkable effect on reality. There are much more of these tricks the photographer has up his sleeve. I will try to look at more of them in our further conversations. But what does this flash do to these two chairs and a plant depicted on the image? First of all, it detaches the objects from their environment. I guess that without the photographer not a lot of people would notice them. But now we’ve got a moment to look at the setting for a while and discover interesting details and traces, and speculate about the situation which caused this setting. I am not sure why these objects are placed together. I can hardly imagine that somebody would use them to sit on and have a conversation. I can think of a constructed set for a photo shoot or an interview. The red curtain could be part of a stage, but the wooden floor doesn’t look like a stage floor, the image is confusing and not clear at all even without raising the question about the photographer’s intentions to make it. Maybe this strangeness of the setting became the trigger to keep it as an image. The flashlight added even more of this atmosphere and introduced another reality, that is invisible to the eye, without any photographic tools.
I: This is a photo of the interiors in the Metenkov House of Photography. It comes to my memory a bit strange - it’s cut out of the context and looks pretty much like something from another universe. This photo looks like something which you can see on the photos of others and ask yourself «Where do they find such weird places and objects?». This reminds me of the completely other photography style - a bit kitch and chaotic personal diary where you put together random images of the random objects made by random cameras. Maybe it’s the flash that makes a photo look like something different from the reality, something like «not here». I didn’t find those chairs weird or interesting until I made this photo. Even afterwards - I didn’t consider this photo anything special until you showed me this. Maybe it’s a photo made by someone else, I can’t tell. In my photo I almost never use a flash. And also I usually concentrate on people and their emotions. Here I begin automatically imagine people sitting on these chairs and their conversation. Of course, these are the museum chairs and nobody is supposed to sit on them. But photography creates its own worlds, and the next time you are in Photography Museum and you see these chairs you should say: «They remind me of the images of Irina Popova». Reality tries to repeat the photography, to look a little bit like a photo - as much unreal as the photo itself is.
O: First I must say that on this picture is way much more to explored than I will mention. It has so many interesting elements which can become stating points for a lot of discussions. I will only focus on few due to the limitations we set for this dialogue. It is not very clear what caused depicted situation or where exactly it takes place. There are two people resting in the middle of a space which can’t be identified or even recognised. Graffiti on the wall and extra chair on the left confuses, if there would be a wallpaper or a window than we could say that we are looking at home setting. Presence of the graffiti here, I find very interesting, it represents a fictional world primitively drawn on the wall. It is two-dimensional construction of a better place. I think that an interesting parallel with photography can be made here. Graffiti gives a hint that the photo we are looking at is also a two-dimensional construction made by a photographer. I think that graffiti on the background exposes a true nature of photography. People and objects combined with a wall drawing, in the same frame, create a surreal setting. Depicted actions also seem strange and illogical.
Man is sleeping and girl is reading a book. Both of them are absorbed by a fantasy, alternative reality which is situated outside the room. They share same coach and partly blanket, this partitive sharing, which can be accidental but it is depicted in this way so we can’t know real nature of their relations, can mean that they don’t know each other well and are in the same situation because of other reasons. Time is very present on this image, they are waiting for something and this something wouldn’t happen very fast. People are relaxed so they feel safe and secure in this strange setting. Interesting detail is their shoes, girl is probably very neat and made at attempt to bring an order into this room which doesn’t belong to her. Both are totally careless about the photographer which makes him an observer and makes us believe in objectivity of this image. I like this picture a lot, it reveals parallel realities which exist integrally.
I: I photograph so often the people in different situations and positions that I begin to think: Is it not a realization of a hidden wish to have them as objects of possession? Is it not a lack of love which I try to compensate? Is this not an impossibility to come to every one and touch him/her or just say a nice sweet word? Is photography not a poison which spoils me from inside and blocks me from the direct contact with the people? Some wall which makes me always “someone else, who looks from behind the door for a stolen moment”?
This photo was made on the leftist Forum “Vostok” where people met to discuss the gender issues. Most of them were gay. I didn’t exactly understand my role there neither for myself, nor for the event. I was looking at the people as a kind of peculiar animals, especially because most of them spoke German which I didn’t understand. At the same time I was trying all the girls on myself: what if I was a couple with this or that one?.. The inner impossibility of love, or at least to love everyone you see makes me take the images as the only outcome of this fruitless and short connections. This scene took place in one of the last days of the forum, in the middle of some total mess and lack of private space and at the same time very chaotic and anarchic time structure, when nobody could explain what was exactly happening. And suddenly I see these two totally strange to each other and to me people taking a short moment of break, and I again break into this small world with no exact purpose. It’s not a part of a photo reportage about the event, not a try to make a memory “click” about someone you love, and not an attempt to make an “art” with clear concept or visual style. Maybe it’s just a “kind of magic”.
O: This image caught my attention for several reasons. First, the contrast in color attracts and makes me look in details. Color works as an eye-catcher and makes me stop. The first thing I notice are two red spots which look so similar in the beginning, but turn out to be so different in the end. Then I see a tree in the middle which divides the frame in two parts. On the left side there is grass and there is no trash around. Looking closely at the right part of this image, the story would go somewhere else than if you’d look closely at the left side of the image, leaving a portrait of the young girl next to plastic and boxes. The girl on the left looks sad and on the right is smiling. If we’d swap the girls, the image would change a lot. The photo of a sad girl next to the garbage would look more dramatic. In this photograph there are so many elements, the position and appearance of which could easily change the story. But let’s look at the image as a whole. The tree blends with the house into the background which makes the look of the tree more artificial, as if it were made out of concrete, the same material as the apartment building. The lifelessness of the tree and its remarkable likeness with city architecture mediates melancholy. The appearances of the girls, on the contrary, show that there is life and a future there. Different emotions on the girls’ faces propose multiple possible outcomes. Whatever the environment looks like, life goes on. I think that this photo somehow doesn't show a frozen moment, which photography usually does, but it makes me wonder about before and after. Something toke place between the girls before, that led to one happy and one sad face, but that’s not the story this picture tells. The expressions on their faces tell that they know more than I do about the actual situation and this photograph won’t tell me. It tells a lot of stories here but I keep wondering if that is what really happened?
I: I was walking the fifth or sixth time around this small utopian Siberian city Kodinsk, in search for some images (though I knew that they are not going to be used in my story). The city was perfectly abstract and I needed to find a perfect balance between the typical and unique. And the typical was of course architecture, and the unique needed to be about the people. At the time I became pretty autistic and perfectly aware that my photography practice is received with suspicion. So the children playing in the yard could be the only perfect subject, without me having to answer too many questions and going into too many details. This girl on the left side of the image was a luck, if I can use the word. I found her crying under the tree, and she was so beautiful in her sadness. There was some drama, two other girls didn’t want to play with her and treated her badly, and she was not just sad, she was desperate about that and for her the world has stopped existing in that moment. That reminded me my own dramas which I had to overcome in the same age (and never came back the same). And my first instinct was to say that she shouldn’t be sad, that she was the most beautiful creature in the whole world, that the situation was just another sad side effect of evolution – the more primitive forms are eating up the most beautiful and developed forms of life… She was even sexy in this awkward posture – in the same meaning as the young models who try to copy the ugly duckling look. My second instinct was to make use of the situation – to put her next to the wall to the left from the tree, and make the images of this weird beautiful sadness and despair on her face. I was looking back all the time if someone adult doesn’t see me doing this and not blaming in pedophilia or at least something suspicious. Finally her two little offenders came, being curious about what was going on. I made one of them, a girl with a flat primitive happy face, stand to the right from the tree. Maybe I wanted to make a symbolic peace between the two with this image, but most probably it was an obvious comparison, with the obvious author’s sympathy on the left side, the side of the all sadness of this world.
O: O: From the very personal position of a photographer and intimate attachment with the subject, I decided that it might be interesting to introduce another way to deal with it; a photograph of a photograph. I think that because its mediated nature it becomes quite detached from the photographer. There is no way the maker could be involved into the initial setting, there is no interaction whatsoever. His interest was already depicted by somebody else, well preserved and kept in the album. The environment where the picture was kept adds new layer of meaning. We can see white sheets of paper where the pictures were glued on and got a title. The title "Festival participants are waiting for their performance" here can point at the actual event that led to this group portrait. This way of keeping photographs refers to institutional preservation rather than a personal memory. It can mean that we are looking at the album of some kind of organisation or club that keeps a documentation of their activities.
But I think that this photo introduces another interesting question. The possibility of the depicted situation. Nazis and prisoners are posing together in front of the camera. They look happy and relaxed. There are also a few people in normal clothes present. I can assume that this picture is a group portrait after some sort of performance; it shows actors and other people related to the event. Probably while playing, they would have different relations with each other. But we can see here that they change their roles in front of the camera. I think that this is a very interesting idea to think about. The portrait here shows a situation, that would be impossible without the presence of the camera. It never could have happened, but because they had to keep a memory about their performance and make this photo, a new narrative occurred. And the fact that this picture was kept by somebody for a long time – the typewriter capture tells us that it was made a while ago – introduces a new narrative where you become interested and decided to bring it to life again by re-photographing it.
I: Ola, this is not fair to choose a reproduction out my archive! Of course I made the shot, but it is about a photo of a photo (and a bad photo, by the way, with all these reflections on plastic, etc.). I was inspired by the idea of multi-vocal storytelling - when the characters have a chance to tell about themselves, to show their own documents and view on the world. So when I went to Siberia to shoot this story of culture organiser, I had a chance to use her own archive. Of course as a documentary photographer you can’t be a perfect observer. You’re there for too limited time, you don’t know too much about the story, and your head is too overloaded with ten other stories at the same time, as well as with your own private issues. While the characters have a full chance to perfectly document what they do and experience. They all have technical facilities (even those people in the remote regions have digital photo and videocameras and even access to the Internet). So what stops them to be a perfect documentary makers of their own life? I’ll tell you: the lack of a wider context, of a larger overview on their own existence. You as a «documentary photographer» have to be someone of a distance or of another background to see it in a different way, to catch the core of the story and to be able to tell it in the proper way. Maybe as an entomologist. For you the story has to be short and essential. And even more such it should be for the viewer.
This photo was a documentation of one of their rural events. They celebrated the «Victory Day» - with a short performance about the fascists and jews in a concentration camp. Of course everything has ended happily, and the audience was dying of laughter. I only ask myself about the role of this photo - the «jews» and «nazis» have made a memory shot together. And this is like a role game in itself, a model construction of the universe in a Matreshka style: a photo made by me was a reproduction of another photo. And it was a reproduction of the event. And the event was reproduction of the real events which were not funny at all. And I guess all this is made to overcome (at lease partly) the trauma of the past. And partly - to play on your feelings again with the transformation of the sharp topics. Photography (as well as all art) is as exploitative and manipulative as usual.
O: You made me think about the personal involvement of the maker in the situation that is being photographed. I found this image very interesting, because I could talk about the access to people’s intimate space that the photographer gets. Without the presence of the photographer it would be impossible for outsiders to witness this situation and even more to look at it so closely. As a viewer, through photographer's eyes, I become involved in a process. I stand in a kitchen, it is a middle of the night. It has been a long night full of joy and now it is finished. We were drinking, laughing, dancing and enjoying ourselves. The atmosphere was so relaxed and playful that one of the girls put on a boa. She was dancing and flirting with her girlfriend. The alcohol was helping her to undress, Slowly she became totally naked. We were looking at the performance and were part of the common ecstatic flow.
Now it is finished, it is too late, too many drinks and everybody is tired. It is time to clean up, move to bed and try to erase last evening from your memory. But the problem is that this memory has been captured in an image and became public. Erasing the personalities of depicted people and becoming a generalized portrait of a situation. Now this picture tells about how young people spend their time, about kitchens, parties or even about friendship, love, trust and vulnerability. One image like this is able to construct a narrative and make us imagine the situation before and after this photo was made. The details here, such as black underwear on the heating, help reconstruct the evening. The red feathers everywhere tell us that girl on the floor was quite active some time ago. The photographer was allowed to come very close and gave us an opportunity to be a part of the event. I think that the ability to feel involved in a situation through a photograph makes the medium so very special and incredibly powerful.
I: Ola, you hit this time into one of the most painful spots. I think the most difficult in documentary photography is to define distance between you and characters. So here i started my failure down, when I felt particular shame for my interventions and knew no reason why I was doing that. I was working in the time for Ogonyok magazine, which means that my life was full of news. But I also had to solve more casual issues like how to survive in a city like Moscow. So my ex-girlfriend proposed me to join a group of girls renting together an apartment in the far-away district Orekhovo-Borisovo. There were 5 to sometimes 7 people staying in the same 2-rooms (!) apartment, and all of the girls were obvious queer. Though there was no antigay laws at the moment or any actuality in this subject, I knew that I can’t loose an opportunity of making a great story, because living in the same space gave me a lot of possibility to be a witness. Of course, I missed a lot, when during some crazy parties or vicious fights I didn’t even leave my room, trying to stay safe and keep calm, to save my life from being a photographer all the time, even at home. On the other hand, I felt pain about every missed shot. But when I started photographing them, it was very difficult to justify what I was doing - more for myself than for them. I had still mixed feelings towards my ex, who was going into the lowest level of depression, alcoholism and self-distraction. As always, the main things you want to tell are not on the photos. I decided to concentrate on beautiful and very contradictory couple of sexy Irina and her club-goer and drug-user girlfriend. Though I lived there for almost half-a-year, this absent party was almost the only photo shoot which I had there. I was photographing how it was, pressing the button maybe every second, until the completely drunk Irina started dancing strip for me. I didn’t stop it, or make some other intervention, i just witnessed it, which puts the questions on my morality as a photographer. I think, photography is something immoral in it’s core, there is no way back to become a kind samarytanin. You change the lives of people in this or that way. A year later the lesbian commune has ceased its existence, Irina and other girl got married to men, and got babies. The rest of the members continued their lonely and chaotic way of life. And I don’t know which role my photography has played in it. I only can tell that I started separating these photos from my completely other shoots, and to make a joint story out of this a few years after the events. I think I could write a book about this or follow my characters many years later, making this or other story the main line of my own life, becoming a photographer more that a private person. At least photography sometimes can pretend to give some meaning to life.
O: “Real documentary image” is last thing that you mentioned. It is very interesting that you say that. I thought I’d look for a real documentary image in your archive now. It seems that there is a certain awareness about what it should look like. Defining a documentary seems an uneasy task though. I like the easiness of Dziga Vertov’s definition of documentary: “Life as it is”. But is this combination of words even possible in the context of mediated representation of reality? I say “reality” here, but only because I couldn’t find another word to avoid it. If I look at this image, I see a man behind a table; he probably just had his supper and is rounding up with a cup of tea. There is still food on the table, which points on the presence of a guest. Usually when guests are coming, much more food is made than needed to show hospitality. Half of the plates are empty. We can see that there have been only two people, so the other person is probably the photographer. The details on the image give the impression of a household somewhere very far from the intended spectator. The photographer shows us another reality, which exists some other place than we can imagine, facilitating our encounter with the other by bringing his photograph back from his journey. The photographer shows us what he saw and what he thought would be important to share. That’s why the details are important here, they tell us more. The tape on the window tells us about financial or maybe provisional difficulties to replace the glass. The darkness outside can tell us about the place where the house stands; there are no lights at all, so the depicted situation take place somewhere in an isolated place. The labelless jar on the table points at home-made jam and berry-picking. The toilet paper on the table says that no special napkins for cleaning are used. The red face of the man, the tea and deep darkness and preference for blue in the interior, highlighted by photographer’s film choice, tell that the situation takes place somewhere up north where it is cold and the sun stays up for only a very short time. While exploring this image, more and more details pop up and create a story about this man. The photograph becomes a story and the maker a storyteller. Story about if not “Life as it is” but at least “Life as it seems”.
I: This photo was one of my favorites from the project, though I didn’t see anything particularly strong in it, considering the "documentary photography" tendencies which I tried to follow then. Again, I can't say that with this photo (any of them) I undisclosed the story which I tried to push as an actual subject of this trip. I went to Siberia to the drowning zone - to see the people which were going to be displaced soon, and their houses which were going to be ruined soon (because of new a waterpower plant on Angara river). Instead of something dramatic I saw some casual life in the middle of the snow. This man took me with his car when I desperately tried to hitchhike in the middle of nowhere at almost -30 temperature (it was end of October). It turned out that he went to the funeral of his mother, and he really wanted me to document the event (because she was the oldest one from that village). It was not even the part of the drowning zone, but I went. This man sits next to the window on the day before the funeral.
The image was made with a Leica M8, which I was given to try by the Leica Moscow company. Everything was unfamiliar with this camera and it seemed like I made not my photos. I had a very distanced focal length of my lens, so that I couldn't come any closer, and I didn't know how to set the white balance, so I felt that those photos were made not by me. That's why there is such a blue-purple tint, not usual from me.
I also recall the Siberian food. I was four months pregnant when I did this story, and I almost couldn't eat anything. All the food looked and smelled disgusting, and they proposed me the freshly frozen liver of a deer as a delicacy. Bueeee. But the people were very nice. Being nice to each other is the only way not to die out in such freezing remote world. I think the Siberians can be really considered an apart people.
(p.s. Half of the people from that village have peculiar surname Rukosuev – and he, too).
O: If I look at this image, first I see a birch, highlighted by sun. In the end, I forget about the birch at all. The bright spot in the middle of the image catches my attention and my investigation starts. The sun leads me further through the image. I notice a sofa with golden pillows, a wildly patterned floor, a hidden TV. Here I realize that the nature is a standing structure in the middle of the room. Then I see a sound system on top of the image wall. My glance slides over to the green curtain and I notice a patchy jacked, a wooden plank with a note, an unclear blue-yellow object on the foreground, a backpack, a red flower and an office lamp. Now I am back where I began and I begin to wonder about this image. The room looks like a set. I was always curious about the appearance of an image on the image. The image here explores two the dimensionality of a photograph, determines a frame and refers to the constructed character the medium. The depicted situation in the picture divides the space into several parts. The objects that belong to the supposed picture, such as sofas and a backdrop; objects that have a relation to the picture, but should stay outside the frame, like the sound system, which is probably used to facilitate sound. This suggests that video shoots probably take place, two or more sitting places hint at a conversation or interview; the last group of objects belong to the place itself and have nothing to do with the set, such as the TV, curtain, jacket, which brings a certain mystery to the image, referring to somebody’s presence and backpack, which probably belongs to a photographer, carelessly dropped there and clearly not belonging to the place. The assumed division of the space explores the very essential feature of photography – framing. There is always a maker who limits the viewer in his way of looking. Here we can take a step back and explore details which usually stay outside the frame. To do so is not always possible, but it is important to realize that it is relevant for every image we see.
I: This is a strange and great choice, Ola! There is not much to see and still there is something hidden in this image. The fake landscape on the backside of the wardrobe in the office of an orphanage psychologist is really weird, Russian style. This photo was made during an assignment in Siberia, but was not a part of the assignment at all. I had to photograph a rural museum employee in Siberia, it was a revisit several years after the first story. I had a lot of pressure from the editor to make a genius story, which was going to be exhibited and published everywhere, and I was very short in time, so I had to shoot all the time, so that my finger hurt. At the same time I wasn't paid a cent for it. I had nowhere to live, and I hoped to stay in some people's home, as I had often done on previous trips, but this was not the case, so the local administration decided to host me in the orphanage (they shared the building with the museum). It was a very special place, but I had not enough time to reflect on the orphans' life. In fact, I even barely saw the children - I went out early in the morning and returned in the evening. And this was the only shot made there. It's a try to document and reflect on where I am and what I'm doing here. I slept on that couch, and you can see my coat on the left and my bag on the right. At first I slept on two those huge pillows filled with foam plastic particles, so I heard them creaking all the time, and the foam particles were falling out from the huge hall. I can say, I didn't rest at all, I was alert all the time and had four or five sleepless nights. And - I let photography into my life, I didn't have rest from it even when I returned "home". So instead of sleeping I was looking for the right moment for this images - when the light came to the room early in the morning. I didn't know even why I did it - probably because there was something Russian about it, and also because I wanted to catch this feeling of staying in such a weird place. I also made myself visible in my photos - the personal belongings of the photographer are not part of the "original" environment, so shouldn't appear on the real documentary image.