Your photographs are full of people of specific character captured in everyday life. What do you specifically look for in the streets, and what does a person have to do to get you to click the shutter? What are you communicating to the audience with these characters?
I’m drawn to situations that have a clear emotional coloring – it can be something funny, silly, touching, or crazy. It can also involve clothing or behavior that is beyond social norms. Originally, street photography was linked to my issue of cultural identity, having experienced migration and assimilation in another country. I was born and shaped in a relatively marginal environment, one where people did not restrict their behaviour – the mentality of a post-Soviet society is used to people behaving unpredictably. But being a child in the 90s had its own coziness and charm. Maybe I’m sublimating and compensating for my move somehow, but it also provides me with a lot of inspiration. Besides, making memes out of everything is my true guilty pleasure.
Your works often border between beauty and ugliness. How do you choose your themes in terms of aesthetics, and what role does liking or disliking something play in your selection?
If we’re talking about beauty as a trend, these I like to follow and flirt with them in my work, but it’s not something I base my identity on. In many ways, I’m inspired by my past. Post-Soviet culture has become an internet meme. Today you can find many Instagram accounts like @lookatthisrussian, @yanbg200, where real life has become life inside the meme. In 2016, Paper Mag magazine described the @lookatthisrussian account as a visual oasis. “It’s a whole story – with utter irony – mocking the Western stereotype that post-Soviet culture is a grey kingdom of hardened 12-year-old bearded boys who smoke incessantly in cars near dirty farms. The synthesis of childhood memories and internet representations of post-Soviet culture is my limitless set of storylines and visual solutions.
I am also always drawn to the new and unexplored. I quickly tire of trends because I like new visual experiences. I follow new technologies with interest and like to try new things, otherwise I get bored. My friends and I like to come up with totally crazy scenarios, so expect a sequel to another absurd vampire saga about a criminal molester from the village by Iryna Drahun. It’s gonna be beautiful.
The photographs for the jewellery brand Metallum are full of earthy and organic forms such as roots, thorns and mud-like structures enveloping the central product. This principle is also evident in your AI-created work. What appeals to you about this dark, earthy aesthetic?
We created the art direction for Metallum jewellery together with the jewellery designer @polli777kllinika. The collection was associated with mysticism and nature, so we preferred organic natural materials with interesting texture as we wanted to create a dark and mysterious atmosphere.
When it comes to photography, I turned to natural motifs for one simple reason. There are only three locations to choose from for the shoot – the city, the nature, and the studio. The city is too situational and specific and immediately marks the character of the photograph. A clean studio is suitable for product and commercial photography. That leaves nature as the only option, and it is a great place for visual manipulation. With a certain combination of factors, nature reveals more and enhances the drama of the visual.
Recently I have been enjoying shooting as if I’m shooting for the very “first time”, meaning I ignore the experience I’ve accumulated. It’s like a child stealing their mother’s camera that she bought for a holiday in Turkey. It’s pretty shaky, but that kind of nature photography is just epic. Speaking of AI-created photography, I love trying things that are hard to do in real life due to limited resources. I can’t imagine the papier-mâché I’d have to use to make all those slinky costumes reminiscent of sexy cyberpunk medievalism. I like their textures and all the different shapes that stick to the eye.
What do you think the future of AI in photography will be?
I have recently read a prediction that soon, anyone will be able to take a picture without a camera. The claim that artificial intelligence will destroy photography is dramatic. I don’t believe that artists are in danger of being replaced by AI. Artistic processes are much more complex than the style that needs to be emulated. What we appreciate about art is more social than we realize. Only humans can meaningfully connect an art form to an audience. Artificial intelligence can never do that.
And it’s time to change our perception of photography as button-pushing art. At this stage, artificial intelligence is still a toddler learning to walk. Recently, for example, I received an accusatory comment that the photos I generated were plagiarized by another author who generated very similar photos. This is so stupid that it’s like accusing an artificial intelligence of plagiarizing itself.
Photography has become widespread and can now be considered a common social practice. At the same time, photography has found itself everywhere and nowhere. Virtual, augmented, and “real” realities are merging into one space, and in this multiplicity the value of art and artists is only confirmed. I think that only openness to new technologies, including AI, will help us create something completely different that we don’t even currently realize.
We have reached what cultural theorists and philosophers like to call the end of history. “We’re in the cyberpunk future, but it doesn’t feel like the future,” says Nate Sloan, the cultural theorist and meme curator behind the Instagram account @umbertoecco2k.”It’s not the culture that’s moving forward, it’s the technology.”