It is hard to comprehend the vastness of Siberia, which encompasses three-quarters of Russia’s landmass. To showcase its extraordinary scale and diversity, in 2019, our friends at Makers of Siberia — a Russian-language online platform and guide to contemporary Siberia — launched a photo prize in a bid to broaden perceptions of the region. Local photographers were invited to submit projects that address or reflect on everyday life in their hometowns. From more than 600 entries, 17 photographers made it onto the shortlist and, in October last year, were able to participate in a dedicated exhibition in Omsk. In this two-part feature, we bring together the finalists’ work in a collection that may just redefine your expectations of Siberia.
Anna Kaurova started taking pictures with her first smartphone. Back then, she was simply documenting her own life for Instagram, but gradually she felt as if she wanted to communicate something bigger. “I live in Omsk where there are lots of buildings that seem to belong to different eras,” says Kaurova. “Small wooden houses, Khruschev-era buildings, Soviet apartment blocks — all of these styles result in a striking architectural mix, and it’s a real goldmine for creative people.” Kaurova is studying economics, and photographs and paints in her spare time. The Makers of Siberia Photo Prize is her first exhibition.
Renat Latyshev started his blog, JVCR, to create a platform for Omsk photographers to show their works. The project has grown over the years, and now JVCR organises exhibitions, sells merchandise, and has been a crucial catalyst for the local art scene. Talking about his own photo projects, Latyshev says: “Photography and painting are a kind of meditation for me. Whenever I get to work on either, I’m overcome with happiness — it’s like a chemical process.” He enjoys making photographs using any equipment he can get his hands on, “be it a one megaxipel camera or a phone”. In fact, he adds, “the worse [the equipment] is the better.”
Pavel Limonov’s photographs have been published by The Calvert Journal, The Guardian, INRUSSIA, and Makers of Siberia. He remains guarded about his own work and would prefer to let his photographs speak for themselves. “All I can say is that nowadays, I take photographs for a different reason than I did 10 years ago.” Limonov admits he doesn’t fully understand what he is doing — but finds the process to be meditative, nonetheless.
Eliseeva takes photographs very rarely. She still uses the same digital camera that her parents gave her a dead ago. “I’m still not comfortable with its settings,” she confesses. She first started taking photographs while she was an art history student, later her interest shifted towards documentary photography.
“I like taking pictures of everyday life and people in their homes; it gives you an added layer of their personality,” Eliseeva reflects. “People are relaxed; they’re not pretending to be someone else, not trying to be better than they are.” The Makers of Siberia Photo Prize was not only Eliseeva’s first exhibition but the first contest she’d ever entered — although it certainly won’t be her last. “I learnt yesterday that I’ve been accepted into a very cool photography school, which will take place in Kransoyarsk for the first time,” she says. “They only selected eight people, and I’m very proud to be included among them.”
“I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember, but there was no art school for kids in my local area,” says Aleksandr Nerozya, who grew up in a small town east of Krasnoyarsk. Without any nearby photography clubs or photographer-friends, his first visual arts experiments began with the arrival of Photoshop. Nerozya got his first digital point-and-shoot camera in the 2000s and started photographing professionally in 2010. After two years, his work was included in the exhibition Treasures of Russia. Through Photographer’s Eyes at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, and has been three-time finalist of The Best of Russia contest. “I’ve visited the kitchens of up-and-coming restaurants, gone backstage at theatres and factories, cruised in an ocean liner, met blacksmiths, and lived in the taiga among Russia’s Old Believers,” says Nerozya, who is drawn to photographing portraits and landscapes. “Natural landscapes fascinate me immensely. I’m interested in capturing the small nuances: the way the light changes, the ways everything wakes up or, on the contrary, falls asleep.”
“I can’t remember the exact reason why I wanted to pursue photography,” says Yulia Altukhova. Altukhova studied history in Novosibirsk and in her third year, realised that she wanted to dedicate more time to taking photos. She credits her background in history to her analytical approach in photography. “I love research,” she explains. “Analysing information, forming a concept, thinking.” Altukhova realised her first project together with her classmate Elizaveta Driomova — their documentary multimedia series Fracture was exhibited in Novosibirsk four years ago. The photographer has also taken part in exhibitions in Novosibirsk, Barnaul, and Saint Petersburg.
“I only take pictures with mobile devices,” warns Ivan Larionov. “I have an interesting life and I often find myself in situations where there couldn’t be a photographer, and I capture the everyday life of young people of the 2010s, from students to criminals.” With such approach, mobile photography has the obvious advantage of being easy and fast to use: “You take it out, take pictures, and put it back. I wouldn’t have time with a professional camera.” In fact, Larionov is a bit hesitant to call himself a photographer: “I am more of an archivist. Before I die, I definitely won’t regret that my life wasn’t interesting enough — there are already tens of thousands of images in my archive.” The Makers of Siberia Photo Prize is Larionov’s first exhibition.
Photography first interested Vladimirov as a technical process he could learn and control. “I remember endlessly buying old cameras, lenses,” he says, Slowly, he began to pay more and more attention to photography’s storytelling abilities. But Vladimirov is not sure if he should call himself an artist: after all, he says, “everyone creates something”. The Makers of Siberia Photo Prize is his first step in taking his photography to a professional level.
The most experienced of the Makers of Siberia Photo Prize finalists, Sergei Rusanov has travelled a path typical for photographers of his generation: a photo club in his youth (for which his aunt gave him a Vilia Auto camera for his birthday), a BA in journalism, and a job as a photographer at a Tyumen Komsomol newspaper. Later, he worked as a war correspondent in various conflict zones. Currently, Rusanov is the chief editor of the informational agency Tyumen Meridian and one of the visionaries and curators behind the Aleksandr Efremov Journalistic Photography Prize, named after a colleague of Rusanov’s who was killed in Chechnya. “I was born in the right time and in the right place,” he reflects. “I’ve been lucky to capture the transition from the Soviet-era and show the history of contemporary Russia. Photography is like a time machine, and the most important thing about it for me is its power to intercept history.”
“The art in photography seems to come from nowhere: you can’t just pick up a camera and take a shot,” Artiom Chernov reveals. His interest in photography coincided with his passion for hiking. “The incredible nature you get to experience in real life seem look lifeless in a photograph.” He was determined to delve deeper into the technicalities of photography. Several of Chernov’s works are in the collection of the State Russian Museum. “I like the search for the perfect shot,” says the photographer. “Sometimes the feeling you get when you think you’ve captured something great brings about more joy than the actual result.”