Interview with photographer Ekaterina Pavlova
Work from Ekaterina Pavlova’s project ‘Mother’s Diary’ is featured in Issue 117 – Black and White. The diaristic, visual exploration of her hopes and fears pertaining to her personal experience of motherhood are cathartic, reflective, and painfully honest. Pavlova’s brave work lays bare her reality in stark contrast to what she previously considered as the commonly held stereotypical ideal of motherhood.
Cary Benbow (CB): Why do you photograph? What compels you to make the images you create?
Ekaterina Pavlova (EP): I came to photography very accidentally, in 2014. This choice was unconscious. My husband was working as a wedding presenter at that time. One day, during a conversation, he suggested that I just become a photographer to work together at weddings. With the money from that wedding, we purchased equipment, and so my creative path began. I believe that consciously photography became a part of me. At the end of 2020 a certain personality change for me occurred, and my attention shifted inward.
Previously, I constantly participated in some kind of race, looked at photos of my compatriots, and I wanted to shoot the same way, or process the same way, or own the same technique. I was chasing the image, the money. I filmed people thoughtlessly, hanging only my ideas about how they should look, what to wear and what to convey… I am quite an ambitious person and a risk taker. I’ve always wanted to be the best photographer in my environment and in my city. I challenged myself, studied a lot, completely thoughtlessly!
But in 2020, I met a woman who radically changed my view of the world. She had cancer, and I took photos for her blog. She shared her life, principles, wisdom and experience. And then, one day, she told me that she was under the influence of hypnosis and saw her previous life. I couldn’t believe it, but I was interested in this topic. She advised me to read Michael Newton’s book “The Journey of the Soul”. I have to admit, this is the first book I’ve read with excitement.
I am telling all this because my real creativity and the theme of motherhood are connected with this story. So, I felt that this topic touched me to the quick, and I wanted to somehow reflect my experience gained from the book in photographs. That’s how my project “Souls” was born, my first conscious project, where I didn’t shoot mindlessly, I transferred all my emotions, all my feelings into these pictures. It was then that I realized that photography is much more. There can be a whole story, a whole world and a universe in one frame.
CB: What do you want readers to know about your ‘Mother’s Diary’ project?
EP: When I became a mom, I realized that the topic of motherhood is in some sense taboo. It’s hard for all moms, but no one talks about it or shows it. Many are afraid of condemnation. I went through this stage, not everyone understands my work, it is periodically criticized, and sometimes I am associated with a person with an unstable psyche because of this, or people say that everything is very bad in my life, since I shoot on such topics. But all this is very funny and not true. I’m not afraid of judgment! I’m not afraid of being misunderstood! The only thing I’m afraid of is that my shots will go unnoticed.
Photography is my way of talking! And with my project I want to say: “Dear, dear women! I know, I believe it’s hard for you. I believe that maybe you don’t have support, that you don’t sleep at night, crying from fatigue and loneliness. I know you’re worried about your changed figure. And I want to say that now you are more beautiful than ever! You’re not alone. There are many of us, and we are not alone.” I want us not to be afraid to seem weak when we want to declare fatigue. A woman, especially a mother woman, is a real force.
However, in my experience, I can say that my productivity has increased tenfold. I manage everything: to take care of children, work, study at the academy, work on projects and deal with some everyday issues, without the help of a nanny and grandmothers.
CB: Artists frequently address human feelings of anxiety, depression, and fears. Your work is dealing with very personal issues. Let’s talk about the idea behind your images submitted to this issue? How do they relate to your other projects?
EP: To be honest, before the birth of my second daughter, I absolutely did not want to shoot on the topic of motherhood at all. This topic was completely uninteresting to me, and I did not see the point in it. This is a completely new branch in my work. It all started with the fact that I was wondering if all women experience the same thing as me? is there something wrong with me or is it normal? And I started looking for women with children and offering them a photo shoot. I asked them to write me a page from their diary and share their experience of motherhood. So the first part of the “Mother’s Diaries” was born.
It so happened that most of the time my husband works and he is practically not at home, I was lonely. I was sitting at home and couldn’t really go out and talk to anyone. I started a visual diary and decided that I would talk to him. So the frames with me and my children began to be born. I think I can’t express my thoughts very beautifully, so the photos say everything I would like to say. At the moment, I want to continue working on it and replenish it with photos, because children are growing up, filling their lives with new meanings and (laughs) challenges.
Also in December 2022, I went to the village where I grew up. My mother and grandmother live there, and they have a very complicated relationship. I found out that my mother keeps all my grandmother’s letters, I read them and realized that behind all this coldness and disagreements there is love. I invited them to be photographed. I saw them in each other’s arms. Mom said she couldn’t remember the last time she hugged her mom like that. I saw my grandmother’s tears, I saw how they held each other’s hands, and it cannot be expressed in words how important it is for me!
Thanks to my experience of motherhood and the topics I touch on, I am in a sense liberated.
CB: What/who are your photography inspirations – and why? If these photographers have qualities that you admire/desire — how does that ‘inform’ your own creative process?
EP: Not so long ago I read Marina Abramovich’s autobiography. I completely admire her fortitude and perseverance. Her experience is very inspiring. I also started studying international competitions, looking for interesting and in-depth magazines like yours. I study the projects that participate in exhibitions, and the winners. I’m trying to understand what motivated the author, what inspired him, as he thought. Probably nothing inspires like the person himself. After all, a person is an absolute treasure!
CB: Your work is specific to your experience as a mother. Do you feel your work makes a comment on a universal level, as well as the personal level?
EP: My project is 70% built from self-portraits. Working on it, I learn to accept myself in such a state, and in such a body as I have at this moment in time. When my kids grow up, I’ll miss it. My love, feelings, difficulties, experiences will live on in the photos. They will stay. In the future, I would like the project to grow into a book. I believe that women will find reflections of themselves and their motherhood in the pictures.
CB: Is it difficult to be an artist where you live? Do you feel isolated or involved in a larger artistic community?
EP: Yes, unfortunately, culture is not very developed in my city. All attention is focused in the capital. But where there are limitations, there is potential for growth, right? I’m looking for opportunities, I don’t think it’s a problem, although I still feel lonely and isolated. I’m not chasing trends and money right now, and not everyone understands what I’m shooting. I am also concerned about the situation in the world, and I was very worried that they would turn away from us… Fortunately for me, in the field of culture, on the contrary, we were given a helping hand, giving us the opportunity to continue to be part of the artistic community.
CB: Do you keep an actual diary or journal? If so, would you share a meaningful entry?
EP: I keep a visual diary and 2 children’s diaries, recording important dates and events that happened to the child. Unfortunately, there is not enough time for a personal diary.
From the diary of Yaroslava (eldest daughter)
6.11.21 ” Dima (husband) turned on the movie “The Red Rose Mansion” and Yaroslava decided to share her emotions with us.
“And I’m not afraid of ghosts, they don’t bite, they just fly and do only like owls “UUUUU”
8.03.22 Yaroslav’s clever thought “You don’t have to be the way you are. You have to be the one you need”
CB: What work are you currently working on? Any new projects?
EP: At the moment I plan to continue working on the project “Mother’s Diary” and start a new project “Aging”. Women are more vulnerable in this matter and react quite painfully to this process. I am interested in how women at different ages relate to aging, what they associate with, what images they compare with, what they are more afraid of.
Ekaterina Pavlova is a modern Russian photographer. She was born in Omsk in 1991. Ekaterina studied at Omsk State University named after F.M. Dostoevsky. In 2013, she graduated with honors from the Faculty of Psychology. Since 2014, Ekaterina began her creative activity in the field of photography. In 2020-2021, she shoots the first project “Souls” and in the same year organizes an exhibition in the city of Omsk. In the summer of 2021, she became the winner of the Vienna International Photo Award. Received an honorable mention at the ND Awards international competition. In 2022, she received an honorable mention in the international competition 35 AWARDS, as well as in the international competition Monovisions photography awards 2022.
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