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. The exhibition is on display until 2 December at Calvert 22 Foundation.
Vinietka (Ukrainian Graduation Album) is a collaborative project focused on school life and youth culture in contemporary Ukraine by the photo collective Join The Cool (Anastiya Lazurenko, Kristina Podobed, Daria Svertilova, and Genia Volkov). Shot in schools on the outskirts of Kiev, the series appropriates the form of the vinietka: graduation albums popular in countries across the post-Soviet region. Unlike the traditional cap and gowns of the western world, the vinietka tradition sees graduating students strike classic poses in conventional school settings with props loaded with symbolic meaning — a pile of books to represent the conquering of classes, or a globe to show that the world is your oyster. In Vinietka, such cliches and stereotypes are distorted and married with a grunge aesthetic and rebellious spirit to form the alternative school album we all secretly wish we could have.
How has the place where you grew up affected your work as a photographer?
All of us were born in Ukraine. It’s actually cool — the art in Ukraine is so undeveloped that there are no traditions or restrictions, you are very free to do what you want. There are no art schools to “form” photographers along predictable lines.
Where do you find inspiration for the themes of your projects?
Our environment inspires us. We were born between the generation of our parents, who maintain traditional values, and the modern, international world of millennials. That gives us a detached, ironic view on our reality; it also inspires us to depict it, because soon, due to globalisation, it will change.
How do you think Instagram is influencing photography?
Instagram shows the masses that photography can really influence your life. You can find a boyfriend by photographing your butt, for example.
What do you think are the most overused tropes in photography?
There are too many of them to count. In our work we play on “overused tropes” by marginalising them, offering an ironic view of them. We are more about direct and entertaining photography.
Was there a moment you ever regretted taking a photo? How about a moment you didn’t take a photo but wish you had?
Daria: I will always regret that I didn’t take a picture during a religious ceremony in a Buddhist monastery in Ladakh, in the north of India. After Tibet came under Chinese control, a lot of Tibetans moved there to preserve their culture. It was a very beautiful ceremony with women dressed in colorful traditional mantles, who were pouring yak milk for everybody. As I am very sensitive about cultural differences I didn’t dare to take picture during the ceremony in order not to harm their religious feelings.
What keeps you motivated as a creative person?
The understanding that you can change something in the world, affect people’s mindset by what you do.