“When people ask me what I do I just say that I do photography and in the spare time I work just to feed myself. And I don’t do photography for living.”
Dmitry Stepanenko (born in 1987) is a street photographer from the Ukraine currently based in London, UK. He “studied” photography on the streets.
Dmitry Stepanenko is a member of the street photography collective “The Street Collective”.
“In search of beauty.”
Interview with Dmitry Stepanenko
Dmitry, why did you become a photographer? And why street photography?
I think initially I started taking photos just to explore the world around me. To be honest, nothing changed since then in terms of my goals. As many people who got a camera (and not automatically became photographers) I started photographing pretty much everything that surrounded me: flowers, some simple compositions at home, nature and occasionally people. At some point, I became interested in finding some basic geometric shapes and rhythms in the everyday life and that got me out on the streets.
The reason for falling in love with geometry is probably my love for mathematics as well as the practical way of thinking.
Nevertheless, after some time I realized that my pictures still lacked something, an element of spontaneity, some unusual element, some living creature. So I started including people into my photos but still more like geometric shapes rather than characters.
Then I as banal as it may sound, I first discovered the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson and that changed everything, it just clicked with my love for geometry and “clean shots” but was much deeper and much more elegant.
From that moment I decided to concentrate exclusively on street photography.
What does photography mean to you?
When people ask me what I do I just say that I do photography and in the spare time I work just to feed myself. And I don’t do photography for living.
How would you describe your photographic language and creative process?
For me the most important thing when I look at the photograph is the answer to the simple question whether it provides my with aesthetic pleasure. If the answer is yes, I do not care much about the rest. What can give me that sort of pleasure is a much more difficult question. It can be anything from the “decisive moment” to the nice arrangement of colours.
“People can sometimes find the meanings in some of my photos that I couldn’t even imagine myself so it’s quite entertaining to hear what the see and think.”
When I look at a picture I often try to simplify it as much as possible, to look at shapes and colours, to almost imagine it as an abstract painting. So when sometimes people ask me what I see in this particular picture, what is the meaning of it (I hate this kind of questions) I normally don’t reply as for me it can just be a nice orange square in the top right corner of the photograph and even nicer rectangular in the bottom of it that drew my attention, but I doubt many people would appreciate this kind of answer. More than that, people can sometimes find the meanings in some of my photos that I couldn’t even imagine myself so it’s quite entertaining to hear what the see and think.
How do you plan and execute a project? Both technically and conceptually?
Shooting projects is very popular nowadays and I enjoy looking at them.
However, in many cases they either lean towards documentary photography (I love seeing this kind of photos but not taking them) or some very broad topics (i.e. “Photos from Spain”) so that you can take pictures of pretty much anything and still consider them all as a project.
“I never have a plan when I go out from my house, anything can happen.”
As for myself, I never shoot specially for some projects just simply as I never have a plan when I go out from my house, anything can happen and I prefer to just be open to everything. Sometimes I can group some photos retrospectively but I never shoot a particular topic on purpose.
Which photographer has inspired you most?
It’s a difficult questions as my tastes change and my photography changes too. Initially they were Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Elliott Erwitt, Trent Parke but lately as am gradually switching to colour I appreciate work of Alex Webb, Ernst Haas, Gueorgui Pinkhassov, Harry Gruyaert more and more.
What’s your favorite inspirational quote about photography?
I don’t have one.
What’s in your bag when you leave the house to shoot street photography?
I don’t have a bag when I go on the streets, I just take one camera, one lens and a couple of batteries.
What’s your favorite website about street photography?
It is hard to say as I browse the web in search of new photos all the time. Let’s stick to the classics and recommend “Magnum Photos”. Far from everything there is street photography but everything is well-worth seeing.
What book about photography would you recommend?
My personal favourite is “The Suffering Of Light” by Alex Webb. Why? Every single photo is just brilliant.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to get started with street photography?
Take pictures even if you don’t have a camera with you, make it a habit, imagine how a scene would look like as a photograph. Also, when you walk on a street try to notice one most interesting thing about every single person who passes by, be quick and say it in your mind. Soon you’ll realize that there are no boring people.
Images from Dmitry Stepanenko
More about Dmitry Stepanenko
Check out my photography podcast – conversations with inspiring street photographers from around the globe sharing their secrets for creating amazing images. It’s mostly in German, but here are some episodes in English:
Valerie Jardin: “Street Photography – Creative Vision Behind The Lens”
Dyanne Wilson: Chasing The Northern Lights In Yellowknife
Luc Kordas: Loneliness In New York