Russian documentary photographer Alexandra Demenkova traces her inspiration back to her travels with her father as a child. Though she says she’d never stage a shot, she has some of the most thoughtfully composed images we’ve come across. Emaho spoke with Alexandra who says she’d love to visit India someday!
How did documentary photography happen to you?
It all started when I came to study at the Photo Faculty in Saint-Petersburg in the year 2000. I studied there for two years and when I graduated in 2002 and later on from the University (Department of Foreign Languages) in 2003, I knew that from now on, I would be a photographer.
When and what was your first photography assignment?
To tell the truth, I don’t remember. It might have been an assignment from Interpress Agency in Saint-Petersburg or from Afisha Magazine around 2002. Anyway, those were just small assignments in Saint-Petersburg, not long-term assignments that can involve travelling or work with/about people.
What do you mean when you say “there is a parallel reality in a person’s life”?
In my text it refers to my journeys in Saint-Petersburg Region where I was born. It’s about the reality that I came to know and then explored, about this type of travelling (mental more than actual physical travelling) that doesn’t necessarily bring you thousands of kilometres away from home; instead, it makes you go inside and deeper into your own familiar territory and discover small, “inexistent” places and its people.
How does it reflect in your daily life?
It’s hard to say, but in a way it should not reflect in or influence my daily life, I want it to become and be my daily life, i.e. I don’t want it to be sporadic periods of photographing/travelling, but rather a continuous years-long process.
Which is the most interesting place you’ve ever travelled to?
Travels with my father were the first experience that triggered my interest towards new places and people. Every village I came across and where I stayed was the most interesting place ever the moment I was there. For me the place is always about the encounters I have there. It can be the most interesting and beautiful place, but without a human contact it would remain dead for me. If I should name the countries – these are Georgia, China and Cuba.
What are your interests besides photography?
I’ve wanted to do many things (and some of them I tried and gave up), but I’ve known they are not for me. The ones I still hope to do are writing and film.
Being a part of numerous exhibitions worldwide and a prize-winner at the Grand-Prix 2006; how does it feel having achieved so much?
You know, it’s not really about the quantity of exhibitions you’ve had (if it’s about the exhibitions at all), it’s about where they were and how many people saw them. I haven’t achieved much (yet). As far as the Grand Prix and The Best Press-Photographer 2006 Contest in Saint-Petersburg is concerned, it was a local contest for press photographers and I was proud to win it at that time.
Can you highlight more on your recent works and upcoming projects?
In 2011, I went back to the Mental Institution in the village of Neppovo where I first photographed in 2006. For me this was the most important thing I did during the whole year and I would love to go back there on a regular basis. For now, it’s important for me to go back to places and people I know, not to visit the new ones; to build on the work I have and publish a book.
Ever thought of experimenting in other genres of photography like fashion or fine-art?
Genres of photography are so mixed-up nowadays; naming a genre doesn’t bring you far in the understanding of a photograph. If your questions about fashion and fine art imply that it should be staged photography, involving any fictional/recreated reality, then I don’t think I will ever do it.
How do you connect to your subjects?
I don’t feel as a silent spectator of the world around me, neither metaphysically or literally. Nobody has taken from me the right to live my life and to be emotionally tied to the people I photograph and have a human relationship with them, which, in the end, might be far more important than photography itself… And, I believe photographs (in my case) can be real, only if this happens.
Tell us more about the book “Land. Country life in the urban age”.
It’s a book that accompanied the main exhibition of Noorderlicht Photofestival in 2010, which is the most important festival of photography in Holland. Every year there is a chosen theme, around which the exhibition is built up. I participated in its 2010 edition with a series from Tver Region in Russia made in 2007.
Do you plan to visit India in the coming years?
I would love to come to India and I had invitations from a couple of Indian photographers that I met and befriended at different photography festivals. But, somehow, it hasn’t happened so far.
Would you like to say something about Emaho?
I think it’s a great initiative and I’ve always admired people who can organise things and make things happen.
Interviewed by: Manik Katyal
Pictures by: Alexandra Demenkova