Interview with photographer Ekaterina Vasilyeva
F-Stop Magazine: How did you first become involved in photography and what led to you working in this medium as an artist?
Ekaterina Vasilyeva: A serious interest in photography arose in 2009 during my two years of residence in the United States, in Alabama. Simple, amateur pictures of nature became unsatisfying to me. I often remember one random picture I made at the beach of the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. A couple walking along the beach among a lot of birds and the man suddenly raised his hands up and waved them like wings. At that time, I also realized that I wanted to change something in my life. Maybe even my profession. This time also changed my way of life essentially; I had more time to be alone with myself. Living in a foreign country, being quite closed off, helped me to find, I can confidently say now, my matter of life.
Photography gives you a chance to meet again with the world around you. The main arm of the photographer is his curiosity. Curiosity creates a collision and hence the desired contact. By the analysis of my own and others pictures I am more and more convinced how important is the closeness to your shooting objects, how important is the inner monologue with nature or a dialogue with the person portrayed by you. So that it could touch the unprepared viewer.
I use photography to surprise myself.
I enjoy working at the intersection of art and documentary photography. Telling the story of a real place, city or country I like to add to the basis a myth or legend, and perhaps something that happened only in my imagination. I think that the photographer has to have something from a magician.
F-Stop: The “Wonder-Full” issue of F-Stop Magazine includes images from your project “After the Firebird”, can you tell us about this project? What led to this project?
EV: I started the project in 2010 and it is ongoing. After the Firebird is about Andrushino, a small village in the Russian region of Pskov where only very few people live permanently. Statistics show that almost 25,000 rural villages disappeared over the last two decades, and sociologists say about the same number is on the verge of extinction.
My grandparents lived in one of these villages for most of their lives. My grandfather, in particular, used to be called a gypsy because he could predict the approaching of someone’s death. For himself, he predicted he would survive two wars uninjured; and that my grandmother would outlive him by exactly ten years. And so it happened.
Over the last five years I have been photographing the people of Andrushino, subconsciously looking for plain or covert manifestations of people’s magic.
F-Stop: Can you discuss your process for making these images or your creative process more generally?
EV: By profession I am a librarian-bibliographer. Maybe that is why before and during taking pictures I used to collect information on the location of my research, make the necessary notes, read some books and watch movies. Also I’m looking for words – nouns which will help me to focus and see things I needed. These remarks being edited later are becoming my accompanying text to the story – a kind of additional bridge between the viewer and myself.
F-Stop: What was the research you did for After the Firebird, were their particular books or movies or other things that helped you prepare for this particular project?
EV: For creating my story I was inspired by:
– Russian fairy tales and folklore, literature on Slavs mythology
– paintings by famous Russian artists such as: Viktor Vasnetsov and Ivan Bilibin
– Palekh miniature (Russian folk handicraft of a miniature painting)
– movies based on the books of Russian writer Valentin Ivanov (”Russ at First” and ”Russ Great”)
F-Stop: How do you choose what or who to photograph, what are you looking to capture?
EV: I want to see something beyond everyday life, filled with encrypted symbols. Or maybe just something that brings back memories and the atmosphere of a unique place. More generally, I’m always looking around for magic.
F-Stop: What do you hope people see or feel or perhaps learn when they look at your photographs?
EV: After the Firebird talks about the mystery and magic of the hidden world and the amazing discoveries that can occur in front of everybody. You need only to look around carefully. With the documentary style of my work, I strive to endow each photograph with a sufficient degree of strangeness and mystery. I think this is the most truthful reflection of my inner world and attitude towards the life. Despite the quite rational mind, the analysis of things and actions, in my soul I also feel the presence of a child whose mother often told and read her tales.
F-Stop: Do you have a favorite image in this series? If so, which one and why is it the image that speaks to you most?
EV: My favorite image is № 21. In this picture the man and the woman are both 75 years old. They have been married for 40 years. This picture for me is a visual embodiment of the words: “We shall be together while the death separates us”. For the series it is very symbolic in my opinion. When I look at the picture, I think not only about my grandparents, whose picture I can not take anymore, but mostly about the great importance of marriage in the ancient Slavs.
F-Stop: Are you working on any other projects currently?
EV: In March 2015 I started a long-term project devoted to Petergof road (St. Petersburg, Russia), more precisely to its current state, identification specifically of the Finnish Gulf southern shore cultural landscape and the presence of some peculiar Russian tragicomedy landscape (see image below for an example). I want to see my native city’s nature through the example of a small, but important area, and through the eyes of a citizen of the 21-st century. I want to look at the changes that have happened to it during the time I have lived here, and finally to understand for myself whether I agree with these changes.
Petergof Road was founded in 1710 as a path connecting St. Petersburg with Country Imperial Residences: Strelna, Petergof and Oranienbaum. It primarily was created as an integrated system of the landscape and the architectural seaside of the imperial residences, private mansions, gardens and parks which is perhaps unique in the world. By order of Peter the Great the plots, uniformly sliced along the road on both sides, were distributed among the nobility for their estates, and the resulting huge architectural ensemble according to Peter’s original idea had to ”overshadow” the famous road from Paris to Versailles. At that time it was a new look at the relationship between man and nature. Nowadays where once integrated, the landscape-urban metropolitan area system has collapsed; the onslaught of the city brings harm to the aesthetics of the landscape. The most valuable Manor ensembles, which were once a symbol of the harmonious coexistence of a man and the nature has disappeared.
To my regret, I cannot do only one project at a time. I have in mind a few more parallel projects and do a few at the same time. It’s my nature and there’s nothing to be done about it. The second of my long-term new projects are the ‘’Neva. River for people. People for river’’. The pictures explore the themes of the relationship between the people and the Neva River (near St. Petersburg, Russia). On the one hand the attitude of people to the Neva River with each year becomes more and more aggressive and consuming. On the other hand there is no doubt in the words that the people living in the Neva River valley love their river and instinctively want to see in the surrounding landscape not only natural resources necessary for their physical existence, but also a source of aesthetic pleasure.
F-Stop: What photographers or other artists inspire you?
EV: Alex Soth, Lucas Foglia, Aaron Vincent Elkaim
For more of Ekaterina Vasilyeva’s work: www.ekaterinavasilyeva.ru