“We try to find a visual, artistic language for representation of real problems and phenomenons. Of course, we do not pretend to be objective, we provide just our subjective, personal understanding of the situation.”
Natalya Reznik and Denis Davydov Born in 1981 (Natalya) and 1983 (Denis), Natalya Reznik and Denis Davydov are two Russian contemporary photographers, currently based in Germany.
Both artists attended several summer photo-schools and photography workshops in Russia and abroad (including workshops of Helen van Meene, Susanne Pastor, Boris Missirkov and Georgy Bogdanov and others).
Natalya: “It happened so, that in my childhood I got seriously ill and this influenced my whole life. I stayed in a hospital for a long time and my life changed after that upside down. I was forbidden to run, jump, go to school, I had to lie in bed for long time, being home or at hospital.
“In our projects we investigate problems of elderly people connected with loneliness, desire, illnesses, desire to love and to be loved.”
After that I was not able to play with my peers. I spent all the time with my family and especially with my grandmother and grandfather.
They were in their late 70-s and they were deeply disappointed in life, like the majority of impoverished and displaced elderly people in post-soviet Russia. Also they had serious health problems and suffered a lot.
But they did still believe in a good future. It gave them force to live and survive.
At that time I started to understand the problems of old people better. As for the problems of young people, I considered their problems stupid. Since then I feel more in common with elderly people, I understand them better, than the youth.
In our projects we investigate problems of elderly people connected with loneliness, desire, illnesses, desire to love and to be loved, dreams and so on.
Besides that I am concerned with the phenomenon of family and family album/memory. The project “Looking For My Father” provides an example of it. And it is also about love, desire, loss, disappointment and dream like our other projects.”
Interview with Natalya Reznik and Denis Davydov
Natalya and Denis, why did you become a photographer?
Natalya: I studied design in Russia and during the study I had a short photography course. It covered only classical photographic technics, we had no digital cameras at that time and worked only in a darkroom. I was the only one from my course who decided to continue it and to become a professional photographer.
Then I decided to be a teacher of photography myself, these were free evening-courses for students. There I met my future husband Denis Davydov and we started to work together. We have been working together since then, for about 9 years now.
What does photography mean to you and what do you want to transmit with your pictures?
Natalya: Photography gives a power to live in hard circumstances. Sometimes photography is a kind of autotherapy, it is easier to look at something painful through the lens. It is also a tool for investigation ourselves and reality and a way to communicate to other people.
Which photographer has inspired you most?
Denis: The first and the strongest inspiration for us was a photography course by Boris Missirkov and Georgy Bogdanov (Bulgaria) in 2005. We took part in this course during a summer photo-school in Saint-Petersburg (Russia) and we were really excited. It was the first meeting for us with contemporary documentary conceptual photography. During the school we made a collective project with other students and it was then exhibited in Saint-Petersburg.
Since then we started making conceptual documentary photography ourselves. At that time we lived in an industrial city Perm, in the middle part of Russia, and we didn’t know anything at all about contemporary photography.
Your favorite photography quote?
“Today everything exists to end in a photograph.”
How would you describe your photographic voice and creative process?
Natalya: Our works probably belong to the conceptual documentary photography. We investigate social problems, but we do neither classical documentary photography nor reportage.
Investigation and representation of these problems are crucial things for us, but we mostly do staged documentary and guide our models quite a lot.
“In the past, we used relatively long captions, but nowadays we try to visualize the message via visual language only.”
We try to find a visual, artistic language for representation of real problems and phenomenons. Of course, we do not pretend to be objective, we provide just our subjective, personal understanding of the situation.
We do not pretend that our photographs show the truth (if any photos can show it at all!), they rather show our subjective “truth”, the truth we believe in.
Nevertheless, we usually spend quite a lot of time with our models before the shooting, we talk to them, they tell us their stories.
We try to reflect these stories in portraits we make. In the past, we used relatively long captions, but nowadays we try to visualize the message via visual language only. Yet we still include texts in our projects.
What’s important in order to develop an own photographic voice?
Natalya: It seems funny, but for me to have your own photographic voice means to be a bit abnormal, to be somewhat different from others. If you have had a trauma in your life, it usually bothers you and forces you to pour it out in your art.
It drives you to make something new and you make it not just from your creativity, but from your heart. I hope a spectator feels it. Of course, not everyone, but maybe someone who has experienced something similar in his/her life.
What do you consider to be the axis of your work – technically and conceptually?
“It is the concept which determines a visual language for a particular project.”
Denis: That is not an easy question. Technically we work mostly with medium format camera and digital camera as well as with found photographs. Sometimes we paint on photographs with hands and sometimes we use Photoshop.
For every project we try to find and use a technique which is the most convenient for its visual language. And it is the concept which determines a visual language for a particular project.
Natalya: A concept for us is the most important element of a project. It is important that a concept is not just smart, but is also connected with a personal biography, the topic should be personal for you. It is the best way to make a good project.
What qualities and characteristics does a good photographer need?
Denis: It depends on what kind of photographer. Of course, a commercial photographer needs slightly different skills and qualities than an art-photographer! But a common thing for both of them are strong skills in reading and speaking the visual language.
Even though the two visual languages (commerce and art) could be very different. Having a good intuition is also very important.
What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes? Especially keeping in mind the flood of images we are exposed to every day.
Natalya: Some photos make you think about and/or appreciate their visual language, others are thought-provoking, but there are also those which bring feelings and revive certain memories. The latter is the most important for me, ideal all three should be present and then such photos are hard to forget.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
Natalya: From what we have read, we have seen or we have experienced. From everywhere, that is, however, mystic, you can not force it to happen, it happens when you do not expect it.
What kind of photography equipment and photographic supplies do you use?
Denis: We use Mamiya RZ67, Nikon D700/D300, Nikon F100, Holga, sometimes Iphone for visual notes.
What’s your favorite website about photography?
Denis: There quite many of them. In Russian there are photographer.ru and Fmagazine. In English Conscientious, American Suburb X, Urbanautica and many others.
What photography book would you recommend?
Natalya: I am afraid, I am not original, but I would recommend “Camera Lucida” by Roland Barthes. Some people claim that it is useless for a photographer. Of course, one can not find there any advice about composition or lighting. But it makes you feel what photography is as a phenomenon, how it works with your memory, how does an image function. It is very thought-provoking. From time to time I re-read it.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a (professional) photographer?
Denis: Don’t pay so much attention to hardware. Technical skills are important, but sometimes people pay too much attention to it.
Natalya: Try to create your own world and speak your own language via your photography, touching upon issues important for you.