Julija Svetlova is a prolific freelance photographer based in East London. Her love of photography began when she started experimenting with analogue cameras as a teenager in St Petersburg. In 2003 she joined the Hermitage Museum’s photographic laboratory before moving to London to study Digital Lens-based Image Making at London College of Communication. Her work has been exhibited and published internationally. She has won numerous awards for her Lomography photography, as well as Sleipnir Travel Grant for artists from Nordic Council of Ministers and in 2011 she became a runner-up in the prestigious Fitzrovia Photography prize. In 2012 she contributed to “Photography: The New Basics” published by Thames & Hudson.
I met with Julija in Wapping, one of my favorite parts of London. Wapping is special because I am in love with River Thames. With various sounds of near-by river life, docks turned residential houses, relaxed locals, tarmac-free roads and exclusive pubs; Wapping is an oasis in the middle of active and busy London. Since it was still early morning, we headed towards some place that sells coffee and cakes. At the same time as talking about how we live (it was a while since we last met), Julija showed me her local wine bar, her residence and other everyday spots. Julija’s enthusiasm, energy as well as passion for photography and arts captivated me immediately. “She knows exactly what she wants”, I thought. We chose a very modern and quite trendy with today’s standards Italian café-restaurant, where young waitresses probably don’t know what the pen is seeing that they use iPads. The menu is combined of all-organic animal-friendly ingredients and Miles Davis’s music entertains quite vibrant local diners. After ordering our drinks and deserts, I have switched on my dictaphone and felt right away that this is going to be a very coherent and exciting discussion.
Julija, Can you introduce yourself and tell us what do you do as a photographer?
I think that I am an image-maker rather than a photographer. In my opinion, photography is a very difficult term to describe because in this country the meaning of photography is quite diminished and it is not related to a form of art or self-expression. When you say that you are a photographer, people immediately think that you are paparazzi who is snapping celebrities and waiting for some famous people outside restaurants. The other half thinks that you photograph weddings. Especially since the arrival of the digital equipment, today, everybody is a photographer.
I don’t like to call myself an artist either, because I am not sacrificing my whole life to image making and I am not ready to cut my ear or to do any other extreme stuff. The minute you say that you are an artist people relate you to many things and I don’t want to be related to any of them. For me, image making is what I do. I take images with different techniques, which are difficult to explain for the people. Have in mind that today everything is Photoshoped and digitized but I use film, and even old people don’t remember what the film is, so I have to describe it to them too.
Why you don’t consider yourself as an artist?
Because I think that artist is to a certain extent over-hyped term.
What are these difficult techniques that nobody can understand?
Basically, my images are called double or multiple exposures. I shoot the film once, then I wind it back, then I load it again, and shoot it once more; or, turn the camera upside down to take the same shot, or use lens practitioner (it is a device which let’s you to expose different parts of you frame without actually winding the film). This way I never know what I am getting. Camera becomes my collaborator rather than merely my tool. But I approach each frame like it will be my unique and single frame and I want to make sure that it is going to be a meaningful picture that really appeals to me.
When people see my images, they think that I use digital cameras and then manipulate images in Photoshop acquiring layers and manipulating colors. But it’s not me; because I think that working with Photoshop is a very robotic process.
Analogue cameras don’t have displays, so I have to wait, to process a film, and then it’s all about happiness or disappointment. With digital cameras, you take a picture and then in front of the screen you sort of masturbate whilst thinking which image you like more. In my opinion, digital photography is boring.
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written by neja on 2014-04-23