Interview with Anna Yausheva
Anna Yausheva, 26, currently living in Moscow, is, in her own words ‘an old-fashioned girl in almost everything’. She also takes heaps of pictures using analog cameras. Although in casual conversation she might refer to it as a ‘hobby’, photographs taken by her tend to leave one (well, me, anyway) flustered with joy. A definition that fits ‘art’, among other things. The kind of joy we talk here is of a special kind, materialized in pictures that have a very distinctive, raw, and ultimately sexy set of feelings and ideas on display.
It all started back in 2003 when Anna met ‘a guy’ who used to take pictures with an old Zenith, which got her interested. She later found out that the same kind of camera was lying around her house – as it happens, her dad had a Zenith. Over a short period, Yausheva started testing different sorts of analog cameras (she mentions an ‘analog boom’ around the period, and taking inspiration from amateur photographers and friends who were on for the same trip) until she had a small stash of analogic delights, including Praktica, Holga and other stuff I can’t really spell. And then she started posting it on the internet. Zing!
Even when the people (infuriatingly good-looking Russian punk youngsters) in her pictures look utterly fucked in hazy house parties, they still seem somehow happy to be there. I see a bit of Larry Clark going on in the beautifully awkward angles, untidy interiors and bloodshot eyes of her subjects, but instead of teen heroin creeps, Anna seems to capture the danger and bliss from current developments in youth in the far, cold east.
So where do all those people come from? The characters in your photos are so full of life – I mean, even when you frame them in a sort of grim setting, they seem so utterly comfortable, happy at being in front of your lens.
They come from the kaleidoscope of life! All those people in my photographs are the young people that I meet (mostly here in Moscow, now) and find interesting and inspiring for myself. They are my friends, my soul mates or the ones I do not know so well, but find vivid, complete; they charm and disturb, some influence me greatly. I want to capture them as I see them, their movements and looks. I always treat them as characters that see the world “deeper,” with a broader perception of things, other perceptions than mine… I like to watch people. My heart beats fast when I see a scene they produce unconsciously and sincerely. But usually I do not care or think about the process much. It’s often that I can’t predict the result, whether there’ll be a still or not, ’cause old cameras behave very strangely sometimes and the process of film development is in many cases unpredictable. So, what I get is purely accidental. I’m not a “photographer,” I do not intentionally put people in front of my lens to get some particular result. I just spend time with them and when our being together feels great I take photos just to remember the time and the beauty of the moment, as though we were characters of some kind in a movie or a poem or a story. I love the subtle tinge of things around that, being caught on the film translates into poetry or cinema … that’s awesome. And it makes me look for more. I need to feel the connection with the people I photograph.
Who are your heroes?
My hero is a man with the heart of a dog. I mean I like some extraordinary people. I like some young people of the 50s-60s-70s-80s-90s, people of all the previous generations and of all subcultures in Europe, America and the former USSR. They are smashing. As I look through the photos of past times, I feel the atmosphere, swarming with stories and details. I like to imagine what they did every day. Needless to say I adore teenagers, the movies of Gus Van Sant and Larry Clark and Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess and the romanticists and punks in the USSR during Perestroika. Everything where there’s a strong feeling of truth and sincerity that makes you stare at them.
Among the photographers I can name Diane Arbus and Sally Mann and there are many others whose names I need to search my memory for. It’s hard to remember all the names though. This community http://community.livejournal.com/everyday_i_show/ gives much inspiration to me.
How important (if at all) is punk rock to your aesthetic?
I love punk rock. There’s a song by one good Soviet rock group KINO (Russian for “movie”) and it says: “My mother is anarchy and my father is a glass of port”. This is it. Better be dead than fashionable. I used to stand aside. My friends and I love punk rock to the back of our bones. Most of them were punks as schoolchildren.
Now I often see a mixture of nearly all subcultures, but they are unique in one aspect – they are open and kind and they are the lovers of life, sometimes it makes them sort of crazy but in a good sense. We need to develop ourselves and widen the perception of the world to be ready to take it in.
If you had to describe your work in a word or a sentence, what would that be?
Poetry was comparatively popular because it was dope.
At first I wasn’t sure if your pictures were taken somewhere in Russia (although your name led me to believe so), and for a while I thought it could be in some other cold place with loads of Caucasian people – heck, it could even be America. That said, do you find it a pro or a con that people are sort of ‘interchangeable’ in terms of look and feel?
Ah, I wish it could be in America one day! I think people living in one place have almost similar appearances. But now Russians look more and more European-like. In the Soviet Union people looked different, because they almost didn’t have access to the outer world. I pay attention to those who stand out of the grey mass of people, who look like characters, like actors.
Is there a place in the world you think you would feel particularly excited about photographing?
I’d like to go across the USA like Sal Paradise in Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road.
What is photography for you?
For me photography is one means to capture true moments of human life. The symbol of truth is beauty. The photographer is an artist, who is an eye – witness of the truth and who has a strong feeling of time and atmosphere. Picasso said: “I do not search, I find.” As time goes by there’s always something new to find. And an artist has this inborn instinct to observe things and this observation turns later into his work, even unintentionally. In a way photographs reflect the inner side of a human being, his worldview.
Some of your pictures strike me as quite iconic and – yes – old-fashioned. I think the comparisons with Arbus can come from such a place – your subjects sometimes stare at the camera fearlessly, like people used to do in the old days before cameras became cheap, when having your picture taken was kind of a mystery, and you probably wouldn’t know how to go through the procedure. Which I think, paradoxically, made the pictures more interesting. That said, do you intentionally take ‘portraits’, or is it just something that happens in between lots of random takes? Are you the kind of photographer who sees portraits as a whole other branch in picture-taking? (I ask you this because I have some close friends who happen to be photographers, and they sort of see portraits as an altogether different thing).
When a person means a lot to me I have a strong desire to make a close-up portrait of him. So the driving force for making a portrait is not the portrait as a field of art, rather my relations with people. I have a habit of looking at somebody’s face and imagining who that person could be; this makes me want to look closer, builds up an intention to bring out “unphotographable features”. But most usually, I just take random shots of what is happening. I let scenes unfold in front of the camera and follow whatever paths they are taking. As for portraits being a branch of photography, I think I can agree with your friend. People’s faces are mirrors of the world, and that certainly deserves undivided attention.
Diego Gerlach is a Brazilian writer, visual artist and comic creator. Under the moniker Máfia Líquida, he creates (in collaboration with Brazilian designer Felipe Oliveira) the ongoing sci-fi comic series GAHAFAW and some wicked poster art, described simultaneously as ‘Graphic answers to unasked questions’ or ‘Cyanide treacle for the brain’. And all you cats can dig it at: http://flickr.com/diegogerlach