KT: Being a professional librarian-bibliographer, how did you get into photography?

EV: It happened quite late when I was 32 years old. I am a librarian and worked for three years in the library of St. Petersburg Medical University. Then there were eight years of work in the tourist industry, which helped me see a lot of countries.

A serious interest in photography arose in 2009 after my two years of residence at the United States in Birmingham 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 in 2006. A couple walking along the beach among a lot of birds and the man suddenly raised his arms up and waved them like wings. At that time I also realised 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.

I decided that after returning to St. Petersburg, I am going to study photography. It happened. Over the past 9 years, I’ve studied reportage, documentary, and contemporary photography.

KT: Your work is a beautiful mix of Russian folklore, mystery-magical-memories-myths along with lost-and-found archives. What appeals you to do the kind of work you do?

EV: What does attract me? First of all, I am attracted to a place (space, territory) and secondly to a secret or mystery of this place. And already someone’s undeservedly forgotten life can serve as a basis for solving as in the ”Shipwrecked” project, it is the found archive of a sea scout (symbolically considering that the UK island is surrounded by water) or the ”Bermuda Triangle” based on the found photos of workers from the ”Red Triangle” factory. Or, for example, a story about an extraordinary gift of my grandfather through a connection with his birthplace – the Pskov region and the search for the mystical in nature from the project ”After the Firebird”. If there is a place that attracts me, then surely sooner or later something magical will happen – a hint how I need to work with it.

KT: You have self-published beautiful books including “40 days of high and low tides (2016)”, “After the Firebird (2017)”, and recent one “SHIPWRECKED” (2018) which is about found negatives from the forties and early fifties of the 20th century made by an unknown boy from the UK. What do you like about photography in a book format? Considering all 3 of your books are handmade, please share the experience and difficulties of making hand-made photobooks?

EV: Why is it a book? Here again, we can remember that by education I am a librarian-bibliographer and I love books very much. I like living, real books. Therefore, it is absolutely natural for me to realise a part of my projects like books. Why is it the handmade book? It is very important for me to find the original form of the book for each project, to find a binding, to feel the tactile communication with the book in the process of work. I want the viewer to receive finally alive and personal object with which the artist worked personally for him.

A very important part of the book for me is the cover. This is the face of the book. In my first book ”40 days of high and low tides” this is a manual applique. In the second book, that was a magic pen on a special paper like an imitation of a bird’s wing. In the book Shipwrecked it served a real photo, made and printed in the 40-s, referring to the true old family albums. Of course, a handmade book is a great experience that teaches patience and to overcome difficulties. To some extent, it can even soothe the nerves, which is very useful for such impulsive person like me, as this is a manual work.

I have already mentioned the tactile properties. And I want to say in more details. I always carefully select paper for photos and the cover. Basically, it is a design paper. I make trial print versions and end up choosing the right paper for me. It is necessary to mention necessarily accompanying detail to the book in the form of a gift. In the first book, it was a shell from the North Sea. In the second, a carved figure of a Firebird to call it in a way. And in the third one – the original photo of 40-s from the archive of the hero of the book.

And the last comment about binding: The first book was the most difficult for me. Not only because it was the first one, but also since the tasks were set up: the book had to be in the form of a calendar, which could be put on the table, or also hung on the wall as well. And the third book was supposed to have the shape of a raft, so the Japanese binding was very well suited it. It was also combined with a hand-drawn wave referring to me as reminding to the well-known engraving of Hokusai.

KT: In one of your interview, you quoted, “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”. What is this inner monologue? Please elaborate.

EV: For me, the relationships between nature and people play a very important role. I think that without a clear understanding of its importance in our life, a person to some extent deprives itself of its support and even health. All my projects are in some way connected with nature, with long walking (in distance of 10, 15, 20,… km) combined with deep attention (inner monologue) to the environment around me.

I would like to believe that my projects (”After the Firebird”; ”Neva river: River for people, People for river”; ”Chalk”) could assist a new understanding and interest in the nature around us and respect for it.

KT: Why do you think very less Russian photographers are making photobooks as compared to other European nations? What according to you are the problems of the younger generation of Russian photographers?

EV: Probably many talented Russian photographers would like to independently publish their book (another way it is almost impossible to publish a photo book in Russia). But there are several problems arising in that way. Almost always, this lack of knowledge, which can undoubtedly be acquired by attending master classes, lectures and studying CV-s and Facebook pages of photographers working with books. Today, given the free access to the Internet and a large number of foreign resources on publishing houses, book contests, festivals, reviews and blogs, it is not so difficult to understand and orient yourself if you set yourself such a task and motivation. But, unfortunately, laziness, fears, poorly expressed motivation (“who would need my book?”), unwillingness to waste my time, greatly inhibit the process of self-promotion. I usually try to devote a lot of time to the methods of promoting photographers in my own courses of the lectures, but even this does not always negate the psychology features of the Russian people. As an example, I can recommend reading ”Oblomov” the novel of the great Russian writer I.Goncharov. By the way, recently a Japanese photographer Ikuru Kuwajima, who has been living in Russia for a long time, made a photobook ”I, Oblomov”.

As a contemporary famous Russian photographer Alexander Gronsky told in 2009 in his lecture, he usually took half a year for the project realisation and he was promoting it for next half a year (in that part he wrote applications for grants, contests and festivals, etc).

KT: With your anecdotal approach, what do you do you want to achieve with your photography in the end?

EV: I would like to continue to develop and improve my curatorial and teaching practice by offering my own methods of working with photography projects. First of all, this is an interdisciplinary approach: in parallel with photographing it is necessary to study philosophy, psychology, painting, cinema and literature, both theoretical and fiction, related to the subject of a personal project.

Ideally, I would like to create my own studio: a place for exhibitions, an open library and work on my projects.
I am very inspired by the personality and literary style of the American Gertrude Stein who lived her life mostly in France, and who was an adviser and friend to many famous artists and writers and at the same time a collector, writer and expert in many fields.

Photographs©Ekaterina Vasilyeva