Are Russian photographers free? Some are.

26 Sep

Though Flickr I got a message from an editor of an art magazine with dual seat in London and Berlin (unlike Rome and Berlin or London and Paris pairs, this couple sounds surreally odd). She was nice to ask me  seven innoxent questions, a few were about nature of photography while others about Russian-ness or how it is perceived by others (the fair lady did not ask if  Russians guzzle vodka down from a garden hose though), but I thought I’ll post my answers for all to see because in some ways, like relationship between film  and digital (or lack thereof) could be of interest to those for whom photography is of interest.

Hi Amanda,

Thank you for noticing my pictures and please accept my apologies for responding so late or rather later than I should have had but alas I did not get the message in time. You see I was on a vacation. From the Internet that is. I got tired of checking my email 45 times per day and thought for one it would it would be great  if I could get disconnected for a while. Yes I know Internet is a great money making platform (even I make some money off it now and then and have plans for a few Internet-related ventures) but from the personal standpoint it is both a horrible way to waste one’s not so precious time as well as a  major productivity drag.

Though I am not hoping to make your magazine edition, let me answer your questions one by one (though I thought at least some of them were somewhat  biased, questions I mean, not my forthcoming answers, which are not) but let’s begin: better late  than never

1. 1.Your photography is very characteristic and different. What do you think has influenced you most?

I am just trying not to pay much attention to established rules as I enjoy experimentation in general, be it experimentation with cooking or with photography. Though perhaps when it comes to cooking my operational freedom is more restricted by national traditions, be those French, Austrian or old Russian, and is thus more reliant on the repositories of collective wisdom stored within confines of classic cookbooks, than would ever be the case of photography with which I am free to do pretty much anything I please.

Among photographers who influenced me most was perhaps Sergei Varaskin (, he is not well known, controversial and yes, Russian or rather he lives in Russia. I discovered his creative genius just a few months ago.  As I understand in his real life he is a civil engineer of retirement age .

2. 2.Do you experiment with many different cameras? What do you see in analog photography that digital photography lacks?

Because I collect cameras the natural urge for me is to try them out as well, to resurrect them to their former photographic selves if not to their past glory. That is a sentiment that a few historic gun collectors might share because manyof them have the urge, the itch, to shoot old pistols and rifles and whatever they’ve got in their collections that when put to use belches smoke,  produces noise and even expels gunpowder propelled projectiles. Similarly to old guns (and God knows I like guns) finding ammunition for the old junk can be challenging while firing ancient pieces might even be dangerous both to the experimenter and to the spectators. It is less dangerous with cameras at least as far as the experimenter is concerned.

Digital photography is too naturalistic and plasticky. I think digital photography (done with quality say expensive equipment) enjoys almost absolute advantage over traditional film in a number of areas where naturalism is either the greatest value or is of substantial value: say in such rewarding genres as pornography as well as in commercial and product photography.  I am going to quote or misquote a flickr user who wrote something to the effect that digital photography did to film what silver-based photography did to traditional painting around 1860s or so, namely it freed it. Liberated from the restraints of naturalism and of need to emulate naturalistic ideals,  film photography can now aspire to reach the expressive heights which  were off limits to it  just a decade or two ago in the dark era when quality “mattered” most. Now a decent midrange DSLRs like the Sony A900 never mind the heavy artillery of the top end digital Hasselblad caliber, even in the hands of  neophyte rookies, deliver “quality” that less than 20 years ago was imaginable,  attainable on a consistent basis and deliverable only by the most experienced lavishly outfitted squads of pros backed by teams of fearless assistants .

Thus said I don’t believe that  the digital image taking, processing and all the marvels of the photoshop artistry on one hand,  and the real photography, i.e. classic silver based photography and wet processing on the other are related lest are identical. To me these two are different media that should not be confused,  judged by or even placed within the same categories. For example,  the value of a traditional silver-based black and white print   is to me much greater – by virtue of its material alone and skill that went into the producting a wet print – than a digital ink printout from some Epson device. The equation is similar as to way  a unique oil painting created by an artist (paintings manufactured in painting factories in China is a different category altogether) carries greater appeal never mind the value than a shiny reproduction from a color photocopier.

3. 3. Do you prefer to shoot emptiness and portray still life rather than the typical portraits? Who do you enjoy photographing?

I am an entrepreneur or perhaps  self-employed is the label that I would  be most comfortable with affixing to myself.  Thus I am not a professional photographer – a pro  is someone who does what he does for money and I don’t because  at least  in the domain of the photography I am freed from  financial restraints or considerations a professional would have to deal with. I am a private person who does not believe that life is or should be an exhibition. So the photos I take of my kids or of my friends are not for public display.

4. 4. How do you think that living in Russian is making you different as an artist?

I don’t live in the Russian Federation. I do spend a few months per year in St. Petersburg and it is too bright and excessively  unjustifiably foolishly cheery for my taste. In the summer months especially,. Russia – or that part of it –  is also pretentious in a garish sort of way never mind all the phony ostentatiousness and the fake luxuries of the Thieving Class on display over there and the loss of culture that by now seems almost irreversible.

5. 5.Many of your photos are melancholic and empty, do you see this is as part of Modern Russian?

I don’t quite understand the question or rather I hope I don’t but if I were you, and if I am getting it right, then  if  I wouldn’t commit the folly of transposing mostly meaningless photography of a middle aged man on cultural environment of today’s Russia which I’d assure you is though at this point seems utterly hopeless is not at all serious (well, that was once said about Vienna, somewhat unjustly though in a different and more serious context) and is now far more melancholic and emptier than the emptiest of my pictures are albeit even that place is not as depressing as the Swedish cinema. Though now pretty much extinct Swedish cinema is hardly a “place”

6. 6.Do you think people in Russia are really free or live under a disguised dictatorship?
I don’t think the dictatorship is in any way disguised.

And of course you can be totally free under a dictatorship. As an artist you should know that.
It benefits if the said dictatorship is of low taxation nature and does not care about artists as well,.

7. 7.How free do you feel as a Russian photographer in the whole wide world, and how important is communication with the outside world for you or your work?

There are three issues:

Firstly, I am not a Russian photographer. Strictly speaking I am not. But I am also a Russian photographer in an unusual way and I have bagged some unique experiences and possess an unusual amount of cultural insight. I am free.

Secondly, as a habitually failing entrepreneur I am looking for  venture capital partners, new contacts and people with whom I could develop a few projects and make a few bucks in the process or build up a business  or two – that would be good.   I realize that  this sort of considerations are irrelevant to any true artist. Look here, Mozart or Rimsky-Korsakov would have composed music regardless of whether they got paid or not, received favorable feedback or not (they often did not), if their creations were protected by copyright or not (they were not) and if they were online (they were not) or offline.  I think that for an artist at least too much communications is a bad thing. An artist must be able to work alone oblivious both to the world around and disinterested in the world’s opinions, prejudices and reactions.

Thirdly, for me personally, as for a hobby photographer, the Flickr has been an source of both inspiration and enlightenment not merely because I got occasional feedback but because I learn from the work of others, sharing is a mutual and  rewarding experience.

Once again thank you for asking for my opinion.


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