Interview with Svetlana Melik-Nubarova
BIFA 2021 Photographer of the Year, Book category, “Our Past”
Q: Tell us a bit about your background? How did you discover your love for photography?
I’ve been engaged in photography for about 7 years. This happened, in my opinion, accidentally (although in any chance there is a regularity). My husband was fond of photography long before our meeting. Our acquaintance happened when he invited me to pose for a portrait. So in my life came love and photography. When a person is passionate about something, he wants to share his passion with people close to him. So my husband gave me his old camera and began to teach me to take pictures. Firstly, it seemed to me a rather boring occupation. But gradually I went deep into the photo area and saw that the photo is not just a click of the camera and the appearance of a picture that corresponds to reality, but a very creative, individual and in many ways intimate process. I began to look, see the work of artists close to me.
I’ve always loved drawing. But it so happened that parents in my early childhood gave me to study music, and this is the lesson I devoted most of my life. However, the love of painting left me. When a photo entered my life, I realized that I can draw with the camera. The camera helps me to compensate for the lack of professional skills in painting and realize my dream with the help of photography.
Despite the fact that my parents decided that I should become a musician, my mother instilled in me a love of painting. My gifts for birthdays were often not dolls, but albums with reproductions of great artists. So in my childhood I got acquainted with the works of Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Verrocchio, Giorgione, the great Dutch … Basically it was a portrait painting. I watched the pictures for hours, and I was amazed how with the help of paint and brushes you can convey the warmth and softness of the skin, the transparent light of the eyes, the movement, the emotions … I took pencils, paints and tried to copy pictures. It seemed to me that I could get something similar, but the result did not justify my expectations. Classes with music took a long time, and gradually my drawing fell into the background. However, the love of painting has firmly entered my life. And when I had a camera, I decided that it was time to try to realize my childhood dream.
Q: What genre of photography do you enjoy most?
I am especially attracted to the portrait genre. When working on a portrait (regardless of the age and gender of the model), I always want to tell and show the content of the image, the inner life of the model. I think that each of us thinks about the fragility and transience of life, this is what I want to talk about in my portraits.
I think that the concept of the Beautiful is always subjective. For me, the beautiful can be in works of art, which some may repulse. For example, I am a big fan of the work of Egon Schiele. I am attracted to art by bright expressive content, dressed in trowels, created by a talented form. I really love antique painting of the 15th – 16th centuries. Since almost all works of art of that time are based on religious subjects, she is always filled with passion. The best known examples, such as Bosch’s paintings, are amazing in terms of mastery of color, light and composition.
Q: Your work Our Past not only won you Book Photographer of the Year 2021, but it also brought with it the title of BIFA Photographer of the Year 2021. What was the best moment when you were shooting this photo series? Did you face any difficulties?
I was born in the Soviet Union (Kazakhstan). My childhood fell on the Soviet period and it was, of course, happy, since the feeling of childhood happiness does not depend on the political system or political regime. However, I remember well the period of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the flow of information that befell us. The archives were declassified and we learned so much about the victims of the revolution, the Stalinist regime, gulags and terrible repressions. The question “How? By what right was it possible to do this with the people who believed in their government and, what is especially scary, found justifications for this regime” still stands before me and I do not find a complete answer. The series “Our Past” is an attempt to express my feelings for this period of our history. I really wanted to find images that will not only become an illustration of this Time, but also become an expression of my attitude to this period in the history of the Soviet state.
Q: What does winning this award mean to you?
I think that any creative process is an artist’s story about his feelings and thoughts. It is important for every artist to be listened to and understood. Every artist wants to find a response in the thoughts and hearts of another person. If the response is an award at such a prestigious competition as Budapest International Photo Awards, it’s just happiness. I’m happy!
Q: What would be your dream project in photography if there would be no budget limits and you could travel anywhere, photograph anything/anyone?
First of all, it would of course be the Portrait genre. In a portrait I am more interested in content than in form. That is why I especially love photographing children. Children do not “put on a mask”, do not strive to be beautiful. They are always natural; their character is always visible in them. Therefore, I would think about the most remote corners of our planet, about those places where people do not yet know what a selfie, an Instagram girl is, and they are not inculcated with the “standards of beauty” of the “civilized” world. I would try to create portraits of the Human Soul in all manifestations of its Character and Emotions. I am sure that a Man reveals himself only in his natural manifestations.
Q: What would be the one advice you would give to photographers just starting out?
I think that any artist needs to move in parallel in three directions:
1. Mastering the craft. A craft is a tool without possession of which it is impossible to realize an idea.
2. Mastering the field of art. Art is interpenetration. Music, painting, cinema, architecture, theater … – everything gives rise to images. The more an artist knows and understands about art, the richer and more meaningful are his images.
3. Attempts to understand Who am I? What excites me in the life that surrounds me? What do I want to tell when picking up a camera? An attempt to answer these questions creates the personality of the artist, his style and recognizable creative handwriting.
Q: Are you working on something new right now? Can you tell us a little bit about it?
I develop the theme of personality and power. I am currently looking for a surrealistic concept to help me formulate this idea.