After receiving a wide range of entries from 26 New East countries, the New East Photo Prize 2018 is back with a new set of 16 finalists, with projects exploring modern-day witchcraft, graduation albums, legendary cosmonauts, contested territories and more. We caught up with the photographers to find out what drives their work. Join us for the opening of an exhibition of their work on 11 October at Calvert 22 Foundation, when we will announce this year’s winner.
Yuri Gagarin, the first man to journey into outer space, was a hero of Soviet mythology and a central figure in the scientific propaganda of the USSR. Space exploration was a priority within the Soviet Union and the subject of intense rivalry with the United States during the Cold War. The figure of Gagarin, born to an ordinary family in the Russian countryside, became a source of great national pride, projecting the idea that anything was possible. Gagarin by Russian photographer Daria Garnik explores the nostalgic traces of his life in his hometown of Gzhatsk, renamed Gagarin after his historic flight.
How has the place where you grew up affected your work as a photographer?
I was born and grew up in the Urals in Yekaterinburg (back in the USSR it was called Sverdlovsk). It is a harsh industrial region with difficult weather conditions. The greatest influence on my work is probably a mix of time and place: the 90s, when I was a child and teenager, was a very difficult period for the whole country. I feel I have a need to reflect on the past and find my place amidst this history. In one way or another I am searching for the traces of the past in my work, both in the physcial environment and its effect on people.
Pick one photograph from Gagarin and tell us something we would have never known about it
One of my favourite shots is the aquarium-like garage with Gagarin’s car in it. Something about this image makes it look like a place where time has stopped, so much so that even the air inside is from the 70s. This car was a gift to Gagarin from the government after his famous space flight and he travelled in the car until his tragic death.
What was the last photo story/film/book that touched you?
A body of work that last made an impression on me was The Last Road of the Immortal Woman, an installation by French photographer David Fathi. This incredibly powerful project on the legacy of Henrietta Lacks makes you think about life, death and immortality, about loaded, difficult and sometimes tragic human relationships and our desire as a species to survive at any cost.
What do you think are the most overused tropes in photography?
I think all topics are equally important. Some surface more often from a sense of urgency of something happening in the world — and that is ok. But I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t exploit people living in difficult situations in order to take a picture, something I see a lot.
Was there a moment you ever regret taking a photo? How about a moment you didn’t take a photo but wish you had?
In my experience there are not moments I can think of when I have regretted taking a photo. I try to be a delicate photographer especially when I work with people. His or her comfort, safety and personal space are my top priority, and it is my responsibility to make sure myself and my protagonist are both happy with the final outcome. As for the regret at not taking a photo — I feel this pain every day.
What keeps you motivated as a creative person?
A steady workflow is crucial. Besides this, the prospect of acquiring new knowledge, meeting new people, discovering new places and, as a consequence, a better understanding of the world. In reality, I battle with self-doubt every day and find it difficult to consider myself a creative person at times.
If you could get a scholarship to a prestigious art school, a chance to assist your favourite photographer or a plane ticket anywhere of your choice which would you pick and why?
At this stage in my career I would definitely choose to study at an art school. It seems to me that you can never get enough knowledge and you need to be constantly learning. Mentoring and curatorial support are just as important, as well as the sense of community.