A picture can tell innumerable stories and messages, and such is the photography of Igor Posner, whose oeuvre of St. Petersburg's streets and everyday culture can transcend larger-than-life, a feat that the wordsmiths of timeless Russian literature have mastered.
For the well-read man, Russian literature is championed by Dostoyevskian and Tolstoyesque themes: human psychology, existence, and suffering, explored in the facets of politics, society, culture, in a complex scale of storytelling. What's arresting with Posner's work is how he managed to make photographs such themes, as if real scenes from the gritty reality often depicted in Russian literature, despite being coincidental.
Dostoevsky once said, "a novel is a work of poetry. In order to write it, one must have tranquility of spirit and of impression," Posner's work, mixed with Robert Frank's black and white tones, prove the effectiveness of photographic storytelling.
Read our interview with Posner here in Lomography Magazine.
Good day, Igor! Welcome to Lomography Magazine! Firstly, how did you start off as a photographer?
It happened by chance. While I was studying biology at the University of California, I was given a point-and-shoot camera as a birthday gift. Having this little camera made me feel most alive and led to further exploration and self-education in photography.
You shoot in film. May we know why?
The beauty of film is in its “imperfection.” What I think is important is the language in which I choose to tell a particular story – and film seems like the perfect raw material in its texture, structure, and mental approach.
Russia, to this day, still remains an enigma for the majority of the world, and many times even misinterpreted. Describe to us your own view of Russian culture and society, as a person who experienced life as an American and Russian.
It remains a perpetual enigma to me as well. It is incredibly vast. And I’ve never traveled past its western parts. My own views of the homeland have always been of conflicting nature. It would be a never-ending conversation in trying to describe as to why. Perhaps over a glass of wine, it’d be more fitting.
In terms of “Past Perfect Continuous”, an idea of home or homeland does very much relate to childhood memories. I think it’s natural for humans to want to feel the ground beneath their feet, to relate. Perhaps inadvertently, my only way to belong was to relate to the past, because that’s what I knew. I wanted to photograph things from memory, incarnations of what was once familiar, rather than capture a kind of vibrancy of the present, or make a comparative visual study of the past and present.
The images are mostly inspired by Russian Literature and writers, such as Chekhov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol, etc. Grit is a recurring theme for almost all of Russian literature. Were you also going for that sort of theme?
I certainly wasn’t going for that theme purposefully. It was never my intention to illustrate the works of the great Russian writers. At the same time, there are parallels, as I grew up on the classical Russian literature. Consequently, indirect literary references are only natural.
You also cover the immigration and neighborhoods of Russians in North America. What have you found out about this so far?
In my photographic work, and my ongoing second book project specifically, I’m not particularly interested in social or political aspects of immigration. I’m exploring existential and psychological aspects of migration that are not necessarily misunderstood, but rather unrecognized.
Apart from clicking the shutter and being "in the moment', what's your favorite part of your photographic process?
Where do you draw inspiration from?
It’s never defined for me. Inspirations are of fleeting nature. It could be a face, or a place, something immemorial or recollected. But film, music, literature – always been important to me.
If you could work, collaborate or meet with any photographer or artist, who would it be, and what would you two be doing?
Perhaps Jim Jarmusch. I don’t know what we’d be doing, perhaps co-writing a script. I’d also like to do film stills for one of his movies.
Describe to us -- what's a day in the life of Igor Posner?
I’m not as consistent as I’d like to be. Generally, I have periods of shooting, then periods of editing, then there could be a prolonged period of dormancy. But I’m always looking for new ways to work. Things are always fluid.
What do you usually do during your downtime? Any on-going project, or other plans in the future?
Cook, play with my 5-year-old son. Well, the ongoing project is Cargó, mentioned above. It’s probably a couple of years away from being realized into a book. Also among current things is my book “Past Perfect Continuous”, which was released in May of this year – exhibitions, presentations, signings, etc. And another future project is still in its embryonic stage, but it’s shaping to be a huge undertaking, which involves a reconstruction of an empire that ceased to exist over a century ago.