You had a stellar academic education in photography. How did it influence your art?
Of course, artistic education had a certain influence on me: you learn to see color, composition, know what’s good and bad - but that’s something you are born with and it can’t be taught. You either see a good picture or you don’t, and then you’re either lucky enough to take it or you’re not. What’s really important is my ability to do reportage and make concepts. I like building a concept, I like picking an idea and gathering people around it - all that I learnt from my teacher Yan Morvan, who supervised me during the last year of my photo journalism school. That’s the only course he’s ever taught in his life and I was fortunate to be in it. Hi is a war journalist and I still see him from time to time. He is the most important person for me in my profession and he always corrects me. I love talking to him, as he always says whether something I do is good or bad. He often laughs at me and if he does, it means everything is great, but if he says nothing, that’s a bad sign. He’s helped me greatly - he’s the one who shaped my artistic views. But I'm not sure about education, mine was academically traditional, while today everything is digital and it’s all different. My daughter, a photographer and actress based in New-York, does it all differently: she learns from Youtube and things like that. I don't think she must have an academic background, it’s more about what’s inside, about knowing the composition and seeing the light. Sometimes traditional education prevents from making great photos - knowing the right techniques and rules sometimes blocks artistic photography and you don't always have to follow the rules. Education helped me understand how to make concepts and put material together, without it I might never have learnt those things. But in terms of creativity, education is not obligatory - it’s either there or not. There’ve always been people, who made amazing photos without any academic background, because they broke the rules.
How often do you break the rules?
I always do as a person, but as a professional I’m always preoccupied with the concept. The idea is extremely important for me. When I'm chasing an idea, a story, I’m not thinking that much about the visual side. I think about how I want to tell that story, and it just comes to me. When you’re working on a reportage, you don't think how to do it, you’re just doing it. And after you look at your shots and see what’s come of it. For you this moment lasts a mere second, you’re living in it and lose yourself in it completely. There is only this moment présent and nothing else.
Are you ever creatively satisfied?
Yes, sometimes I am. When I’ve written a good text, when I see that everything goes as planned, when I find the concept, when I see the visual imagery, when I finally get to the place I intended to, when everyone gets to this place safe and sound, when I have great material on my hands - in that case I'm not just satisfied, I’m happy that I’ve done it. After that I just move to a new project and forget this one. I don’t have my photographs at home, they would irritate because what’s done is done.
The project is still going and is it already clear what the culmination will be?
I have the culmination in my head, but I won't talk about it now. I have the beginning and the end figured out and now I’m working on what will be in the middle. The beginning is Chukotka, the middle and the end are work in progress and now I'm trying to figure out how to approach them. I have goosebumps now just imagining how I'll be doing all that. When you’re entering this flow and see how it all is coming together, it feels amazing. The final part will be shot before the rest of the project, it’s almost ready in fact. So I think I’ll be done in another year. There will be the presentation and debates in June and then a year to photograph and get the book ready.
You travel a lot, are there any tricks that help you keep it all together?
I have my own way of getting things done. First the idea finds me, then everything just comes together. So I can’t say that I follow any certain rules. In my case, there’s only one rule actually - two days before leaving on a trip I must have everything packed, so that I don’t have to think about it. I always have everything ready. You can say that I’m living in my suitcases, so I can get ready at any moment. All those waterproof suits, woolen hats, warm gloves, extra batteries - it's all prepared, so I can pack and leave whenever I must. Also knowing all the right people at the place you're going to is something you should prepare beforehand. You contact those people, discuss what’s possible and what's not, check photos of the place on the Internet to make sure you won’t take the same shots, research the subject and get a picture in your head. If you have everything else ready, you can pack almost automatically. Being able to do things automatically is crucial in my case, because there’s also life, children, and you can’t think about it too much. So the key secret is keeping everything ready, since you don’t know what tomorrow brings.
Do you travel alone? Has your daughter, who’s also a photographer, ever travelled with you?
There are guides sometimes, but I prefer to work alone, because I can’t communicate at all when I’m working. I'm hard to tolerate when I’m working: I only communicate with people I’m shooting. That’s why it's impossible to be near me at such moments, so I never take anyone with me. Haven't even thought about it, actually. I would be bothered. My daughter works in her own way - she makes a great portrait photographer. When I’m doing a reportage, I can’t be near anyone. I’m not alone, but with people who happen to be at this place at this very moment - new people, as a rule. Also I don’t feel like talking to my loved ones when I’m working, because I talk so much with people I photograph. In the evening I don't feel like talking at all, I look at photos I’ve made and arrange the material, so I have no time to talk. I could never work with someone else, because I never know where I’ll be in the next few minutes and I have no time to explain to a partner why right now we should turn left instead of turning right. You have to move around quickly, there’s no time to explain you must act.