Interview & translation © Tatiana Balashova
Today I am glad to talk to a talented photographer from Russia - Alexander Zabara.
The first subjects of inspiration were the city and nature. Actually, those two themes I’ve been shooting all my life. As far as tango photography goes, I came to that reflecting on the city as a live organism. Also, it was the tango-project which pushed me towards my new project “Free Forest” which I’ve been working on during last years.
It was way later after I had got my first photo camera when I decided to take up photography more seriously. After finishing art school and working in design area I took a professional course at the Moscow Academy of Photography. That education gave me a strong motivation in creativity. Of course, it’s not just through education but rather through trial-and-error learning that you can develop a vision, find subjects, plots and the way material can be presented. Practice forms you as an artist... As far as my own photography style goes, I find it a bit strange to talk about that, especially keeping in mind that I am shooting so diverse projects. My tango-project was just one of them. I do what I do. If someone is eager to give it a name, I don’t mind.
Q 3: Who are your favorite photographers? (in general and also the ones who take pictures of dance and tango?) Are there any other artists that influenced your vision?
There are three photographers who each at their own time influenced how I see the world: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alex Webb and Gueorgui Pinkhassov. Also some particular paintings, especially by French impressionists and William Turner had a big impact on me. Creative works of those who take pictures with tango did not really influence me.
Q 4: What are your favorite genres in photography?
I’ve been always fond of and have respected what Magnum Photos photographers are doing, especially their genre and reportage photography. As for me I value much more what you can see and find rather than what you can make-up and design in photography.
Q 5: What do you think about contemporary photography? (Reportage, portrait, fashion, commercial…)
Well, what IS contemporary photography? It’s what all photographers on earth are doing in the present time… Who would dare to comment on and evaluate such a variety?
… Can’t say that I am keeping a close eye on current trends in photography. Naturally, I follow the news, and come across some pictures from time to time. The place, where photography is now, where we have instagram, social networks, that lightness of taking a “snap”, actually results in depreciation of photography as such. Contemporary means of communication give photography a role of meaningless paillettes which fly down through the garbage chute. And such tendency is seen in many works shown at miscellaneous competitions, presented at exhibitions of contemporary photography.
Photo images of many renowned artists, including those who take prizes, are often very emasculated (“over-refined”) works, which have only consuming everything emptiness behind their effective façade. I don’t think that there are worse photography works or authors, I’ve seen that in many talented photo works that emerging photographers are doing and many renowned masters. However if you ask me about the tendency – it’s like that. That’s why to me personally it does not matter much how exactly the picture was taken, in which genre, whether it’s effective (impressive) in its look or not, how it was edited. What is important to me first of all is what it represents, what stands BEHIND the photo image and photographer.
Q 6: Do you like working in projects or prefer shoot by shoot (a variety of genres)?
Sometime I take one shot after another and feel that there is something uniting them, then through years of work they get assembled into a common picture like a mosaic.
At other times I have a particular vision on a notion or event, and in that case I am looking for a visual language trying to take pictures in various genres.
- you have some great non-tango reportage pictures, for example the militia people on the Red Square and others… Did you do them spontaneously or was it an assignment / part of some project?
The pictures you mentioned, as well as tango photography, and other projects devoted to hip-hop culture and rock dance – all those series are like pieces of mosaic to me. They gradually help me build the picture of the city, the way I feel it.
Q 7: Do you ever take part in photo competitions? What is your attitude towards competitions?
Yes, when I studied photography I took part in competitions a couple of times. That helped me to realize their uselessness and I stopped applying. I am not competing with anyone and I am not a swimmer or runner. Photo competitions is for me as absurd as tango competitions.
Q 8: Can you tell a bit more about the impressionistic series which you made? (the one you have on the English version of your website).
- There was one other video clip with a psychodelic feel “The Bulgarian Voices Angelite – Wave”, can you tell something about this slide show?
This video clip was part of the monochrome series “Gwenn ha Du”. It differs a lot from other forest images and was mostly shot in Celtic places in Brittany. The clip is fully painted, it is not photography.
Hundreds of pictures were painted and assembled into a video. This project is personal and not done on request. Not sure if musicians are aware of that video or not, I did spoke to one of the musicians of “Huun-Huur-Tu” and he did not mind me doing it.
That series was a very difficult project for me, the idea had been growing inside me for a long time and later after I created the photo series, I felt something still remained untold. So I added this video to the project. That composition for me is an audio reincarnation of what I felt in those places.
Q 10: What do you think can help a beginner photographer to develop and find his/her personal style?
Don’t know really, I’ve never tried to develop my style. I think that if a photographer has something to say and if he/she is trying to speak with images honestly without copying others – that can be his/her own unique style.
Depending on the project I use different lighting. I used to use Canon DSLRs for taking pictures with tango (have changed a few cameras throughout years), wide angle lenses, always working with available light. For street dance shoots direct flash light always comes in handy. Free forest project was shot with a variety of lenses including monocle and pinhole ones. During the last years, I have been shooting on mirrorless cameras by Fujifilm gradually letting go of DSLRs when doing urban photography.
Q 12: Is photography your main occupation or do you specialize in something else as well?
Apart from working as a professional photographer, I teach at the Moscow Academy of Photography where used to study myself. My course is devoted to digital manipulation (editing) of photo images, and for the last 9 years it has helped photographers learn how to edit photo shoots efficiently, arrange and optimize the workflow.
Q 13: What are you doing in free time? Any hobbies?
I try to spend time in the nature, I am fond of mountain and forest tracking. I read, listen to the music, go to the lectures on history of culture and art. However, photography is still my main hobby.
I discovered tango in 2004 thanks to a friend of mine, also a photographer, who used to dance tango. I once saw a few couples circling around the embankment of Moscow river under the sunset light, and fell in love with that dance at first sight. Tango strongly influenced my life. It turned it around, opened new horizons and allowed to understand a lot about myself, people and the world around. I took a lot of classes, went to milongas and for two years dropped photography completely – tango was absolutely everything for me at that time. Then I tried to render the expressiveness of that dance in pictures, looking for various solutions to reflect what I feel in the dance.
Lately I’ve rarely been to milongas, and if I do go, I prefer taking pictures.
Q 15: Is (was) it hard to combine taking pictures at tango events and dancing? How do you usually balance work and leisure?
At some point I realized that it’s better to devote yourself to one thing. My inner photographer usually wins over the dancer in me.
Q 16: What was the most unforgettable tango you experienced and where was it?
It’s too personal to speak about it :).
Q 17: What would you recommend aspiring photographers?
Listen to yourself and look at the world around.
Q 18: Is there any photographer you would like to learn from (intern with)?
People who I would like to learn from are not photographers.
Q 19: What are your favorite pictures of your own work?
The one that is not taken yet.
Q 20: your plans for 2013?... If you could work on any project anywhere you want, what would it be?
As the famous saying reads – “a true way to make God laugh is to tell him about your plans”.
If I could work on that project now, I would go where I was a month ago – the mountains of Nepal.
- favorite tango music: valses :)
- tango DJs: Felix Picherna
- non-tango music: celtic music, word music, mantras
- color? 255/255/255
- what is your favorite flower? My daughter :)
- favorite dish / food - seafood
- which animal would you like to be if you were an animal in your next life?
I am hoping that in my next life I will stay a human being [Symbol]
- what dance would you dance if not tango? - Uprock!
- what is your favorite film? - 2001: A Space Odyssey
- what Russian films would you recommend watching? “Stalker” by Andrei Tarkovsky
- book you recommend to read: Wassily Kandinsky “Concerning the Spiritual in Art”
- what place would you choose for a romantic trip? Sintra, Portugal
- what place would you live if you could live anywhere? Anywhere
- favorite non-tango place in Moscow which you would show your friend (except your home)?
- if you had a chance to bring time back what would you do differently in your life?
If I changed something I would not be who I am.
- Who would you like to say “thank you” to? To all human beings
- Your motto: Do what must and come what may
- Anything else you would like to say to the TangoDancers Blog’s readers?
Be happy, dear everyone! Thank you!