Portraits

Birgit Krippner | Wellington, New Zealand

Brigit Krippner is an award winning photographer, born in Austria and has lived in New Zealand since 2003. Her specialty is capturing candid images using only available light. She has exhibited internationally and her works have been published in media like New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NZ Life & Leisure Magazine and many more. 

In 2015, Birgit was the recipient of the Team Lee Award for photojournalism, at the Missouri photo Workshop in Perryville, with her project 'Unexpect the Expected', Small Town Cop. In 2011, Birgit won an award at Grand Prix Terroirs d'images in Paris, France.

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Hello Birgit, thanks a lot for getting in touch with Women in Photography. Can you tell a bit about yourself and how you got into photography?

Hello Nicole. Since childhood, photography has been a big part of me. I am dyslexic, and expressing myself in visual ways seems to be natural to me, maybe the best way for me to communicate.  As much as I have an extroverted side, I really see myself as an Introvert and as a loner. Being on road trips on my own, traveling to exotic places and putting myself outside my comfort szone are elements which my camera is able to capture. This helps my friends, family and audience to understand me better. It helps me to understand myself better.

After finishing a master degree in Graphic Design, I started working at a design studio in Vienna. Soon I realized that this is not where my passion is, and still, I continued working as a graphic designer some more years. In 1995 I moved to NYC where more and more I picked up my camera to photograph my surroundings. When I moved to New Zealand in 2003, that was when I started needing my camera, relying on it, and when I started developing my own voice by making pictures. About nine years ago it was, that I first used the words ‘I am a photographer’. This was a milestone. About at the same time I designed my own website for photography, and I manage having my first solo exhibition in Wellington at Photospace Gallery. One thing lead to another and over years I became a photographer. 

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What does photography mean to you?

This is a big question, since it is not one thing that photography means to me. There are many different photographers out there who approach their photography from all kinds of angles. A lot of their work does not speak to me. When photography starts crossing boundaries, maybe by breaking rules - then chances are, that I will start paying attention to it. Some people are amazing photo journalists, which I very much respect and appreciate. And some of those photo journalists become superb in showing different dimensions to their pictures. Removing oneself from being too literal, showing poetry in your images and becoming figuratively, that is what I am striving with my photos.

You submitted photos of your latest project called „Smitty“. Can you tell us something about the project and how did the idea came up?

In October 2017 I was accepted to Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey’s photo workshop in Brooklyn, NY. About six months before that, I was introduced to Smitty and thought that he would be a person who I would enjoy getting to know better, and to photograph. One thing led to another, and Smitty opened up his doors to me. He welcomed me into his world as a musician, as a man who is passionate about all he does. I put a lot of time, thoughts and emotions into this project and the feedback which I have receive really was mind-blowing. A lot of positive comments from people around the world.

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What is your creative process when you work on a project, like „Smitty“? 

It all starts with a conversation. At the beginning I don’t introduce my camera to my subject. I find it important, getting an understanding of who the person is, who I am about to photograph. Equally important it is, that my subject gets an understanding of who I am. Only then, my subject and I can start our calibration together. Smitty and I became friends during this process, which not only brings an assignment to a different level, it actually exceeded what I was hoping for, and the photos seem to reflect this curious and positive feeling. 

When you plan a new project. What are you looking for? 

More often then not, a new project is approaching me, not the other way around. How I live my life, being open minded, challenging my comfort zone, and stepping into the unknown and excotic only makes curious situations come to me. My projects get me excited. It can be almost anything that gets my attention, but photographing people definitely is what I enjoy most. I love capturing low light situation, especially twilight/low light. This means that my camera is constantly on its limit. Aperture fully open, ISO on as high as bearable, and shutter speed on as long as my hand allows without creating shakiness. 

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You shoot with Leica cameras using only available light, which gives your photos a fantastic cinematic look. Can you tell us something about your post processing ? 

Thank you for your kind comment on the cinematic look of my photos. For post processing I have been using Adobe Lightroom for many years. I used to convert my pictures to B&W, which I found Silver Efex Pro 2 works really well. Over the last couple of years I have been confronting color photography. I vey much enjoy this change, but saying so, I find color photography more difficult to make it work, than if in B&W. My specialty is low light, twilight, photography. In Lightroom I make sure that the different light sources which I show in photos go well with each other, and that the white balance reflects in a way how I want it to be seen. I might bring out the contrast. On of the world’s best photo editors told me four years ago, that I should not crop my photos. I took his advice and hardly crop my pictures at all. 

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Besides your work as a photographer, you are the judge for the international „I-shot-it“ photo award. What are you looking for when you judge work from other artists?

Sometimes a photographer submits a photo to the I-Shot-It competition, which breaks the rules in a way that is difficult to put into words. I find it important that a good photographer is aware of rules, which need to be followed in photography. Only then, a good photographer can become a great  (or even exceptional) photographer. This can happen in breaking rules of photography. Framing, seeing light, being sensitive of what you photograph, how you want to show it, and also post production. These are all elements which are which are extremely important to create a potential good photo. The bottom line is, there is no formula on how to become a good photographer. My thoughts on this are, follow your heart, keep all your senses open, and have your camera with you as much as possible.

 

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The photography industry has changed a lot over the past years. What advice would you give female photographers who want to start a career into photojournalism?

I am not sure if I’d be a good person to give ‘advice’ on this, but I would like to share some of my insight. I find it important to be as much informed about other photographers in the industry as possible. To be aware of which photo projects have been done in the past, and who is the photographer who did that project best. If you decide on repeating a project which was done by someone else in the past anyway, make sure that you have your own way how to do this. Create your own voice and style as a photographer. Be authentic. Get strong in your vision and don’t give up easily. Believe in yourself, surround  yourself by photographers who you look up to, and share your work with them for critique. Be honest to yourself and be honest to others. Honesty will reflect in your work.

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Next year you will give a 2 day workshop on Smartphone Photography in NYC.  What can your students expect from this workshop?

I am rather excited about running this Two-Day-Smartphone workshop in NYC! This workshop on Smartphone photography will be the first of its kind, which I will give. I am looking forward to it since there is so much to be forwarded. With today’s high end smartphone cameras, a photographer can shoot the cover of a magazine without a professional camera needed. And this is happening! It does not show anymore, if a good photographer shoots with a smartphone or a ‘real’ camera. This line is getting thinner, and smartphone photographer is only getting stronger in the future. I have been asked to consider running a workshop in smartphone photography, so I will give it a try. If people will sign up, I might use this model in different cities and countries. 

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Tell us a little bit about the photography scene in New Zealand. Are there any female photographers you could recommend?

New Zealand has a vibrant scene of art, photo journalism and all kinds of photographers. One of my favorites is John Crawford, whose work I find superb. John covers a lot of social issues and he has a poetic approach in how he shows his work. When it comes to female photographers, I very much enjoy Lottie Hedley’s work, especially her photo project on Curling in New Zealand. There is a playfulness to this assignment of Lottie, and how she uses color I find rather special. Lottie is based in Auckland. Fiona Pardington, Yvonne Todd, Marti Friedlander, and Ans Westra are wonderful and influential female photographers, who are living in New Zealand.

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Website: http://www.birgitkrippner.com
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/birgit_krippner/ 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/birgit.krippner

Sarah M. Lee | London

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Sarah studied English Literature at University College London (UCL) in the late 1990s and trained herself as a photographer.

In 2000 she was offered a freelance position at the Guardian and has continued to work for the Guardian and Observer ever since. Sarah is specialized in portraiture, features and the Arts and interested in all photography that focuses on people.

In 2011-2012, she shot most of the commercial portraits to accompany Coldplay’s MX album and tour. Her work has appeared in many publications and places, including the covers of TIME magazine, Billboard, Rolling Stone, The Sunday Times, Intelligent Life and Vanity Fair. She’s also an official BAFTA Photographer and an official Ambassador for Leica Camera. 

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Hello Sarah, I admire your portrait work a lot and so it’s a huge pleasure to interview you for Women in Photography. You actually studied English Literature. What has finally brought you into photography?
I came to photography relatively late in that I was given a camera for my 18th birthday, a Pentax K1000 with a 50mm 1.6 lens. I didn’t have a specific interest in photography until this point but once I’d learned how to use the camera I became quite obsessed. Unfortunately, film and developing film was quite expensive and I was a student with an extremely limited budget. So my opportunities for learning and developing my new skill were frustrating limited. Fortunately, someone, I can’t remember who but I’m forever grateful to them let me in on the secret that if I started working for the student newspaper I’d have an unlimited supply of film and access to a dark room with printing materials. What I couldn’t have known was that the student paper in question was being picture edited by Abbie Trayler-Smith and other photographers on its roster included Ed Alcock, Dom Tyler and Christophe Tweedie so it was an unbelievable hothouse. Not just a place to learn, not just to print (which I did) but also to grow and develop as a photographer. In effect, it was a second university experience running in parallel with the literature degree I was also doing. Unquestionably I “graduated” from this experience into the career I now have in that it was the Guardian student media awards which introduced me to the Guardian’s then picture editor Eamon McCabe, who on the strength of the portrait I’d taken of the novelist Iris Murdoch, offered me a job. 

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Was it clear for you that your work would focus on portrait photography?
Yes, if it doesn’t sound horribly pompous I’ve always been interested in the long tradition of humanist photography. I’m interested in people. I like people. It would never have occurred to me to have a career that didn’t involve portraiture. That would be unthinkable to me. 

What is a good portrait photo for you?
To me a “good portrait” is one which is honest. One where there is obviously a honest connection with the sitter. Obviously composition, light use of colour [or if you’re working in black and white; texture and tone] matter enormously but all these things, in my opinion are to be used by the photographer to service the emotional connection with the subject and to capture that moment of honesty. Without that all the technical brilliance in the world is meaningless and a “portrait” just becomes an advertising image. But where those things work together you have incredible magic. Think for example of the famous Arnold Newman portrait of Stravinsky - one of my favourites that I hope illustrates what I’ve been trying, slightly clumsily, to say. But also there is something very deceptive about the simplicity of some the best portraits there seems to be so little to them, but it’s all in the incredible understanding between the photographer and the subject and the photorapher's skill in knowing exactly how to capture that. Think how powerful Wolfgang Tilmans portraits are, but how bad so many of the imitations of them are! I’m in danger of waffling, but put as simply as I can: good portraiture is entirely dependent on honest and emotional connection. Without that all else is lost.

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Let's talk about your latest project called „Tender are the Nighthawks“. Can you tell us something about it? 
“Tender are the Nighthawks” is a new series I’ve been working on mostly though not entirely exclusively in Camden and North London where I live. The title gives clues to my inspiration for this project in that it references both Keats “Ode to a Nightingale” and Edward Hopper and I’m trying I suppose to capture that strangely specific still point in the turning world between the very late night and the early morning when the city is at it’s quietest and the very very last stragglers are coming home from their night outs alongside the workers who have to get to work just before the dawn. I love the way the bus system in London is so democratic, used by everyone. All classes, all ages all socio-economic groups and races of people. It’s cheap and crisscrosses the entire city. I’m interested in tone and mood, and looking for the things that unite us, moments I suppose that emphasise our shared humanity, in a city that is hard to live in. Moments of tender melancholy are what I most hope to catch. I’m not sure I always manage that, but it’s what I’m trying to do. 

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The pictures of „Tender are the Nighthawks“ are very powerful and intimate. Each picture tells their own story. It must have been very difficult to shoot in a bus or from the outside without being recognized. Can you reveal us some insights how you did that?   
For a photographer, buses can be a bit of a gift in that they tend to be lit on the inside in a way that to my eye can make them seem like moving Hoppereque diner windows, each one with a vignette or framed tableaux of city-dwellers absorbed living their lives. And thank god in Britain we have entirely opaque bus windows unlike in many other countries where the glass is darkened to combat the effects of the bright sun - not a problem we face that often! Though I’ve discovered the 88 Bus is hopeless for this project, the lighting just doesn’t work, the shadows it creates are all wrong, my heart sinks when I see it approach... In terms of working candidly, that does create its own issues. I’ve shot all this work on a Leica M Rangefinder with a 50mm lens usually open at f1.4 or f2 in very low light. This means I have to be pretty accurate with my focusing. There can be no ‘shooting from the hip’ secret guesstimating with my framing or focusing. This can be challenging when you are trying to be discrete at 3 am at a bus stop…. So far I’ve got away with it. I very much subscribe to the asking for forgiveness rather than permission school of candid documentary photography. I do often explain what I’m up to after the fact if I’m spotted and someone says something. There is no point being confrontational as a woman alone on the street in the middle of the night [carrying an expensive camera]. Often sympathetic eye contact and apologetic smiles help me get away with it... Also at that hour my subjects have been drinking and aren’t that sharp or aware of their surroundings/ sneaky photographers which can help me too... Technically I find focussing on something very near the subject when they aren’t looking gives me a head start for speed so that I can be quick on the rangefinder when I do want to focus, so I will often blatantly focus on their shoes and then when I feel ready to reframe more boldly…  

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Was there a certain „trigger“ to start „Tender are the Nighthawks“?
One of the first photography books I ever bought was Tom Wood’s phenomenal “Bus Odyssey” and it certainly sparked an interest in photographing on Buses. I also love Bob Mazzar and Nick Turpin’s recent work though I very much hope this doesn’t feel derivative. Personally I feel the buses are big enough for all of us and there are much more people out there being inspired by them all the time... It has always felt like a series I’d like to do to be honest since I started living in London, it was just a matter of when rather than “if”.. I can’t quite remember what started me off, but I call it “prowling” now and I’m very much in the middle of this series now, I definitely haven’t got it out of my system yet.

Besides your personal projects, you work as a photographer for the Guardian. What advice would you give young female photographers who want to start a career as a photojournalist or in the publishing business?  
Oh god, the hardest question of all! The industry has changed so much [and not really for the better] since I started 18 years ago. Pictures seem to have been devalued. Clients pay less for photography. There is the dreadful culture of “exposure” etc. What I would definitely advise for women starting out is an extension of what I’d advise anyone, and that is to always try and remember the value of your work. Do never work for free, or for exposure. If someone wants you to work for them then they want YOU and your work, they will also, as a rule, be willing to pay [even though they may try to claim otherwise]. I’m not for a moment suggesting money matters more than art. But knowing your work has a value is very psychologically important and it is also extremely important if like me, and like many other photographers, you don’t have a private income. Because if you don’t earn from your work you quickly stop being able to work as a photographer. And following on from this I would say for women don’t be afraid at calling out sexism where you see it, or the sort of everyday discrepancies that shouldn’t be there but are. It can be hard at the start of a career to do this, but if you do it when you see it and feel it I think it sets a tone about who you are and how you yourself would like to be treated. Also, and this applies to all photographers, use whatever works for you TO WORK for you. I’m always amazed when I see other photographers work because I just couldn’t do what they do. I can only really do what I do. But that’s ok, I’m me and I’m trying to learn and improve all the time as me. But it took me the best part of 15 years to be ok with this. I spent FAR too long being hung up that I wasn’t all the other people I admire or am in awe of. That way madness, and, worse, lack of authenticity lies. 

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How do you prepare yourself when you are on an assignment, for example, a portrait shoot? How important is the atmosphere between yourself and your subject? Do you give your subject any direction? 
I approach every shoot differently. I prefer a loose approach and to try and respond to each situation organically and be open to each shoot as it unfolds rather than come with an idea of how it will be. And yes, the atmosphere between myself and the subject is HUGELY important!! I try everything I can to make that work. It doesn’t always happen, but as a rule I find I enjoy meeting and being with pretty much all types of people and find that aspect of this job an enormous privilege. Hopefully, that comes across and makes that atmosphere a bit smoother to start with. Though as I said there has been the odd personality clash and then it’s made the resulting shoot nothing but painful! 

Is there any photographer who has influenced you as a person or your work?
God, too many to name. I hesitate to say anyone’s influences my work because I wouldn’t dream of saying the names of the people I admire alongside my own work. I bloody wish my work showed their influence. But in no particular order, and no doubt missing several important names off this list, here are some of the photographers who are always top of my list:  William Eggleston,  Saul Letter,  Cartier-Breson, Vivian Maier, Stephen Shore, Polly Borland, Jillian Edlestein,  Jane Bown, Helmut Newton, Tim Walker, David Hurn, Martin Parr, Sean Smith, Abbie Trayler-Smith, Laura Pannack… Actually, the list goes on. This is an impossible question. Thank the gods. 

Final question! When you need to choose one of your favourite pictures you took. Which would it be and can you explain to us why?
I’m not sure I’ve taken it yet. But of what I’ve done so far. It may be my first proper published portrait. The one I took of Iris Murdoch back when I was both a student and a student photographer. She is still my favourite novelist, and one of the people I’m most delighted to have met. But, it is also a portrait that literally changed the course of my life. I may well have stayed an amateur photographer and had my life go in an entirely different direction had Eamon McCabe not seen it and made an impulsive on the spot decision to offer me a job. From that my entire adult and creative life has unfolded. Something for which I shall always be entirely, endlessly, grateful. 

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Micky Modo | London

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When did you first become interested in photography?
As a teenager. I was a bit of a rebel trying very hard to express myself and eventually through photography I found myself.
I was very much into alternative music which provided me with a lot of inspiration. Art was also a big influence: Frida Kahlo, Gustav Klimt, Modigliani, Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso, Tamara de Lempicka, Francis Bacon to name a few..and of course other photographers like Paolo
Roversi, Sarah Moon, Richard Avedon, Tina Modotti, Edward Weston, Man Ray, Henry Cartier- Bresson, ... and films .. Fellini, Orson Welles, Antonioni, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Tim Burton.

I discovered your work via Instagram. Your women portrait series is terrific and the pictures are very strong! How did the idea come up to start a project about Women?
I was working in Milan and just met with two talented ladies Claudia Nesi and Daniela d’Ortenzi, style and make up @ Pervinka. They had an interesting background working with fashion designer Romeo Gigli and we immediately clicked. We decided to create a series of portraits of women that went beyond fashion. Strong women, interesting and talented women with a definite style.

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Some of the images look like Frida Kahlo, Marlene Dietrich and Audrey Hepburn. Is there a connection?
We wanted to take inspiration from the past, from Art, History and Culture but we wanted to recreate a modern version of these characters: Tina Modotti, Frida Kahlo, Elisabeth I, Tamara de Lempicka and the Marchesa Casati all have a definite style and they are strong, independent and talented women.

Do you have a certain workflow when you start a project like this?
Well, I normally do but this project started as a personal project and then took a life of its own. First, the portrait of Tina Modotti won the Women in Photography International (WIPI) Award and got published in the 25th Anniversary Book in the US. Then as a series, they won the IPA (International Photography Award) in the Fashion category. The project also got published in Stile In and Vogue.it

I then decided to take it further and create art pieces for each individual portrait in collaboration with Italian graphic designer Spire. The art project was very well received and took us to various exhibitions in Italy and in London. The art pieces are now on sale online at Saatchi Art, Fine Art America, Rise Art and LumiArts.

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In 2008 you won a collaboration with D della Repubblica in Milan and worked with fashion designer Romeo Gigli. Had this collaboration have an influence in your photography?
Absolutely. D della Repubblica gave me the opportunity of getting published and make myself known. Romeo Gigli is such a great talent, a true artist. He and his team believed in me and he gave me the freedom to interpret his new collection.

How important is it to hear your inner voice as a photographer?
Very important. I always try to listen to it and follow my instinct.

You work as a full-time photographer. What advice would you give young female photographers who are starting to become a photographer?
To be flexible and diversify within the industry; never stop shooting personal projects; network!

Are you already planning other photographic projects?
Yes, coming soon..

Final question. Is there any female photographer you admire?
Sarah Moon, Tina Modotti, Diane Arbus, Mary Ellen Mark, Cindy Sherman, .. 

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Daria Amaranth | St. Petersburg

Hello Daria, thank you for submitting your beautiful portrait series. Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
Hello, Nicole! Thank you so much for your attention towards my works, I really appreciate it and I can say that it is great to me to be published in such an inspiring magazine dedicated to women:) I was born in Russia and I live here as well. I am enchanted by different spheres of art – singing, literature, cinematography, music, painting, perfumery art but only photography has become the main field for expressing something important to me.

How did you get into photography? Did you have any formal education in photography or are you self-taught?
I took some photography lessons two years ago, but then there was a long break and only last summer I realized that photography is exactly that kind of art in which I have much more inspiration concerning possibility for self-expression and I began taking pictures more often than before. So most of all I am self-taught but I think that works of great artists and photographers are the best teachers.

What do you like about photographing people?
People faces can reflect silent stories without words, they help me to convey magic, mystical, melancholic atmosphere and also depict my own vision of unconscious life and beautiful, strange, unknown aspects of imaginary reality and at the same time the real world of confused feelings, fears and hopes.

Your portraits are very poignant and very well composed and each seems to tell its own story.  Where do you get your ideas from?
Thank you so much) I get inspiration from movies, paintings, songs, literary characters – ideas come to my head one by one in an abstract way and then I see the contours of future photo-shooting. But very often ideas come unconsciously and after that I visualize different stories and symbols which I get from my imagination. I really think that some secrets and mysteries shouldn't be solved because their disturbing beauty and mysterious charm are much more important that the key to the riddle.

How did you cultivate your sense of composition?
I think now that this is something intuitive, but I believe that my love towards painting and cinematography has played a big part.

Do you think simplicity is often more important than complexity?
Yes, I do so, but I can also think – which can sound quite paradoxical — that something that seems to be simple is much more complex and deeper than may look like at the first sight. This kind of complexity which is hidden among simple things is wonderful.

Do you have any role models that your photography is directing towards?
If we speak about some traits of character, emotions and atmosphere I can say that there's always some mystique mood and incompleteness that attracts my attention and which I try to implement in my works in a harmonious way. As for particular people, I have been trying to analyze my own preferences towards appearance of models which I photograph and I've come to conclusion that they always remind me of such dramatic, melancholic, clouded, surreal world in which emotions, feelings, vague and strange memories are turning into elements of reality. Sometimes I like another mood – the sense of theatrical expression (as for visual side) but the emotional aspect remains the same.

What inspires you?
Besides movies, paintings, books I can get inspiration from a woman's face as well, they can be so different and so inspiring. A face of this or that girl helps me to convey my idea in such a way in which I see it in front of my eyes – she's like an actress in a movie who creates the particular and necessary atmosphere for her heroine.

Are there any work of female photographers in Russia you can recommend?
The works of Anna Danilova are remarkable – her photographs look like paintings, colours are perfect and images are great to me.

What is the biggest compliment you could be given for your pictures?
The words about mystery atmosphere in my works, the presence of meaning in them and their similarity of tones to painting, these kinds of comparison sound like music to my ears:)

Alexandra Bochkareva | St. Petersburg, Russia

Hello Alexandra and thank you for submitting your beautiful Portrait series. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into photography?
Hello, Nicole! Thank you too for your interest to my works :) I was born and grown up in Tashkent (Uzbekistan), now I live in Saint-Petersburg (Russia). From my early childhood I fell in love with art through drawing and painting. In the period of study years and work I forgot about it for few years, but after giving birth to my daughter I started it again with a help of my dad's "Zenith", my first shots were made on film.

How did it come that you mostly shoot portraits of redheaded and freckled girls?
I'm freckled myself, but it wasn't the reason from the very beginning as many peoply ask me. I just started to notice that redheads are unique for me - pale skin, bushy eyelashes, freckles, bright eyes – these all are very importrtant details of my portraits. My first freckled model was my sister, I love this type of appearance, so I’ve started to shoot redheads more than others.

In another interview you said that the models Polina and Alice, you work with, are kind of muses. What makes it so special to work with them?
Alice is  the fox, which worked with us :).  This was one of the most difficult and amazing shootings for me. It was very cold and windy weather, Alice didn’t want to play more than 5 minutes, but I tried to do my best, they (Polly & Alice) were very inspiring.

Your images are very well composed. How did you cultivate your sense of composition?
Thank you :) I even do not know, maybe this sense came with practice of drawing. I try to shoot from different angles, to select the most appropriate point of shooting – it helps me.

Do you have any advice for taking portraits?
Love what you do, don’t be afraid to experiment and get critique from viewers. Learn and practice today, tomorrow and ever!

What do you enjoy most of being a photographer?
I like that through photography I can express my own point of view about beauty, I work and collaborate with different interesting people, I build my own fairy-tale brick by brick. And it’s wonderful.

Do you have any role models that your photography is directed towards?
This year I have work a lot with Polina (Polina Partsevskaya, model, St-Petersburg). But I don’t think that I direct something special for her, vice versa, she's just one of the few who is emotionally and visually fits the most my ideas

Tell us a bit about the photography scene in Russia. Is there any work of female photographers you can recommend?
I can only say about the portraitists, because this genre is interesting for me. I like very much the works of Ulduz Bakhtiozina and Katerina Plotnikova, they are very inspiring.

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Irene Hälley | Zaragoza, Spain

Hello Irene, thank you for submitting your work. Tell us a little but about yourself.

Hello! Thank you for giving me the chance to do this interview. I’m a 21 years old self-taught portrait and lifestyle photographer from Zaragoza, Spain.

How did you get into photography?

Someday, I found a slow motion video made by some guys. I was impressed with the image quality, so I started researching which kind of camera they used and found out that for that work different photographers used the same kind of cameras. I realized that I wanted to do the same.

What does photography mean to you?

Disconnection and expression. I don’t think about anything else when I have a camera in my hands. I just capture moments, feelings... I would say that sometimes I try to tell a story through a single shot.

Most of your work are portraits… What do you like about photographing people?

I think that portraying people can somehow show the essence of each person. I like to see that essence when I photograph them; how they express themselves, how they talk, what they like, how they feel... I try to capture all these things when they’re in front of my camera. I love that.

Your portraits are characterized by their very minimal composition. How did you come up with it?
Well... actually there is no composition - nothing is prepared. Everything is natural, totally improvised. I focus on the subject and there are only few cases where I try to include more elements if they help me to achieve a better atmosphere in the scene.

Do you think simplicity is often more important than complexity?
I usually prefer simplicity, but I’ve seen very complex work that compositionally and conceptually I find very interesting.

Was there a photographer or type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?
Of course. There are so many photographers around the world that inspire me in many ways. Artistically and visually I am very interested in the work by Rebeca Cygnus; the poetry of her images are magical. In terms of editing style and portrait, photographers like André Josselin, Robert Marcillas, Irene Rudnyk, Azulclaritocasiblanco, Pollography, Marta Bevacqua, Ezgi Polat, Alessio Albi, Miss Complejo... Their work inspires me a lot.

Can you tell us a little bit about the photography scene in Spain?
We have excellent photographers here. There’s no doubt that. A lot of young people are learning by themselves and doing incredible stuff in diffrent areas of photography. We have nothing to envy about foreign artists, but it would be great to have the same photography culture that other countries have.

What is the biggest compliment you could be given for your pictures?
When the viewer feels what I wanted to express and introduces himself into the image in the way I felt at the moment I took the photo.  That’s the biggest compliment it could be given. That is the final purpose behing all my work.

Dina Dubrovskaya | Saransk, Russia

Hi Dina, thank you for submitting your work. Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself.
Hi, thanks for having me! I am 25 years old and I am a self-taught portrait and documentary photographer from Saransk, Russia.

When did you first become interested in photography?
I started taking photographs about six years ago, when I was at university - I was really into self-portraits at the time. I guess that’s when I got interested and started looking at works of different photographers trying to recreate something I liked in my own pictures.  

What does photography mean to you?
Photography is a perfect way to tell stories. I have a long way to go before I learn to tell a story with a single portrait.

In your project „Instant yearbook" you are photographing the pupils of small village schools in the region of Mordovia. How did you come up with this idea?
I live in Mordovia which is a region located in Central Russia and my family initially comes from one of Mordvinian villages. When I was a child I used to spend every summer living in this village and I could see how different life was there. When I got older I didn’t visit so often, but every time I came I felt inspired to show what I saw, to transform my love for this place into something tangible. Then once I got a chance to visit the local school and look inside this little isolated world and see its few inhabitants. The kids were amazing – open and funny, bright and rebellious. That’s when I had the idea of visiting more villages and more village schools, taking portraits of the pupils.  

Can u explain us how different life is in small villages in Russia compared to big cities?
I am not going to talk about economic side of the question, I am just not a person to do it. In villages you more than ever feel the importance of human relationships, the history of the place and of the country is more palpable, everything is more naked and raw – these are important things for which I keep coming back to villages.

How does village schools differ from schools located in cities? In your description you wrote that some of the schools will be closed to the lack of students.
Yes, unfortunately it’s true – several schools I’ve visited are going to be shut down because there aren’t enough pupils. This is something happening all over Russia, not only here in Mordovia. Some of the schools I’ve photographed are really tiny having only about 30 kids as their students. I find that it creates a special atmosphere which I appreciate when I come to photograph. Everybody knows each other, older kids help first-graders, teachers are your next-door neighbors – they are all in this together. They always take pride in what they have and what they create and I feel so honored to be allowed into this little world.

Was it challenging taking portraits of children? Did you give the kids any direction?
I love working with kids and teenagers and I’m so used to it now that I am afraid I will have more troubles taking photos of adults J I usually try to photograph the kids exactly as I find them, though from time to time I suggest a place which is better lit. I talk to children a lot while I work, usually about their school life in general, about their interests, pets and friends. I tell them to smile if they want to and some of them do, but some (especially boys) prefer looking serious and businesslike. This always makes me smile.  

What is your goal with this project?
I always send the photos to the schools so they can have something like a yearbook, which is especially important for schools that are going to be closed soon, I think. But I’d lie if I said this was the main goal of my project. For me it’s all about discovery - travelling to isolated places and meeting new exciting people.

Tell us a bit about the photography scene in Russia. Is there any work of female photographers you can recommend?
I admire Russian photographer Olya Ivanova who works a lot with documentary portraiture, she’s amazing!

Do you have any upcoming projects that you like to share with our readers?
I am going to continue with “instant yearbook” for a while, but I’ve also been thinking about going back to my village and working on a bigger project there. Hopefully it’ll work out.