F-Stop Magazine: The Portfolio 2019 issue of F-Stop Magazine features your project “Whale hunters of Chukotka,” can you tell us about this project? What led to this work?
Vladimir Sevrinovsky: I spent many years exploring different nations of Russia. Chukotka was always one of my primary destinations – Chukchi’s culture is legendary even among other Northern nations. They are not only living in a very harsh environment. Russians tried to conquer them for more than a century – and failed. They entered the Russian Empire nominally, without any taxes. Unfortunately, alcohol has almost destroyed them, so I want to preserve what is left of their formidable legacy.
There are two big groups of traditional Chukchis – reindeer herders and sea animal hunters. In 2017 I traveled to Pevek town to explore reindeer herders. In 2019 I received a proposal from Arte TV channel to produce a documentary about Chukchi whalers. Of course, I gladly agreed. To do reconnaissance I arrived to Saint Lawrence Bay in Chukotka before the cinematographers and used extra time to make this photo project.
F-Stop: Can you discuss your process for making these images, or your creative process more generally?
VS: Usually I try to integrate as much as possible into the ordinary life of locals to explore their culture and create a story. The same thing happened in Chukotka.
Before my arrival I befriended via phone the leader of local sea animal hunters. He took me on a journey along the shore of the Arctic ocean to distant villages – he had to urgently deliver new boats for the local branches of the community before the passage is closed by ice. The majority of pictures were taken during this trip, the rest – in his brigade and in the villages where whalers live.
F-Stop: How do you choose what or who to photograph, what are you looking to capture?
VS: When I became a photographer, I already was a journalist. So I always search for a story. I think good stories bring harmony into our chaotic world. When such a story leads me to new discoveries, it is great happiness and almost a religious feeling.
My major goal was to show Chukchis not as an exotic tribe, but as people quite similar to us, just in a different environment. I wanted to show universal human feelings – love, compassion, pain – both my own and those demonstrated by the locals. Whale hunting is very controversial in the modern society. I wanted to keep this controversy, but also show that traditional hunting is very different from the ruthless industrial whaling. Chukchis consider whales as their relatives and show them a lot of respect. They never kill a whale just for fun or money.
F-Stop: I am curious, do you think your background in economics influences the photographs or projects that you create?
VS: Economic knowledge doesn’t help much, but the whole process of writing my thesis was extremely useful – it gave me an important skill of knowledge structuring and scientific exploration. I just apply it in different areas – ethnography and sociology.
F-Stop: What do you hope people experience or feel when they look at your photographs?
VS: Usually Northern nations are shown as exotic, picturesque and funny people. Chukchi nation in Russia is an eternal subject for jokes about naive savages. I wanted to show the dignity and strength of these people who survived for centuries in the environment which would kill any European in few days, but also the tragedy of losing their culture and the great threat for their existence from the modern world and particularly alcohol. I hope that the way to preserve this nation exists and can be found before it is too late.
F-Stop: Are you working on any other projects currently?
VS: Now I concentrate on my long-term projects in the republics of the Northern Caucasus – Dagestan and Chechnya. I hope to finish in 2020 my stories about Dagestani Shias, Caspian Sea poachers and Caucasian carnival traditions – and also write a couple of books.
Also published on Medium.