Russian photographer Aleksey Myakishev talks about his new book, Kolodozero, which delves into the rural life of Russia. His experience with the Leica MP, film photography, and frequent collaborations with Leica Russia, can be seen throughout the book and along with the insights from this interview.
Kolodozero, as you explain in the introduction for your book, represent rural life in Russia where people live on a day-to-day basis and in a very simple manner. What is your personal connection to this village and why were you so eager to visit and document it?
To celebrate Christmas in 2011, my friend Alexander invited me to go to this village, where he’s got a cottage. I’ve heard about this village before but apart from its name I didn’t know anything about it. At that time, I was finishing a very long ongoing project “Vyatka” and was thinking about starting something new. My first visit to this village made me think that my new photo project will take place in this area. As if my intuition and my heart told me – I have to come back to document life of those people whose life is so different from mine in a big cosmopolitan city. My will to come back as many times as needed to this village increased after meeting a very charismatic local priest Arkadiy, seeing a beautiful lake nearby, after being fascinated with the warmth and openness of the local people. I have really fallen in love with this place, and it doesn’t let me go away. It’s as if there was an inexplicable connection that always linked me to this village.
Shooting with film obviously adds a grainy look to every image, but more specifically, it adds another layer of time when seen from an outsider’s perspective. How was your experience of using the Leica M-P and why do you choose to shoot film?
I have shot film for more than twenty years, and I think that the magic of photography resides inside it. I love making everything with my own hands, i.e to develop my films, to print my photos in the darkroom. It’s a kind of meditation process. You work towards a particular goal, work hard, and than the result gives you a complete satisfaction. I like the film’s texture and the process of waiting for the result. I think you lose all those aspects with digital. In the past I have used only single lens reflex camera, and when I used a Leica for the first time, I immediately saw new opportunities opening to me. Today I only use a Leica M-P and two lenses, 35mm and 50mm. It’s the perfect camera for all situations. In winter I often have to take photos in -30° weather conditions or colder, and I have never had any problems with this camera. Combine this with excellent lenses and you will easily understand why I feel that the Leica M-P is the ideal instrument to realise my artistic intentions.
People in the images look as if they were posing for a specific moment of their lives, representing happiness, even solitude. Your photographs about Kolodozero are very positive. After being immersed in the village on several occasions, did your views of the village change?
Of course life moves on, everything changes. When I came there for the first time, I didn’t know a thing about life of this place. But I took photographs of people there and step by step I learned more about it. Not only positive moments of life far away, but also some negative things. When you are making such a long-term project, you become a part of the world you describe, feeling deeply about everything that happens with them. I think it’s very important. Photographs not only describe a certain reality but also express emotions, sensations and impressions of those who made these pictures. Some people on my photographs have already died, but they are still living in these pictures. It’s also very important to understand the responsibility you have after taking photos of people. On the other side I don’t think that my view and my position about people that were in the rangefinder of my camera has changed. I loved this place and am still loving it with all my heart, disregarding changing circumstances.
The composition of this image, with the desks and Putin’s photograph hanged on the wall, seems as it was meant to convey a specific message. Did you intend to photograph this particular moment?
It was a sunny day in spring and I was taking photos in the village’s school. I had a quick look in one of the classes and saw the pupils resting after class. I was attracted by the light and their poses, saw two windows, I thought that it was a good composition for a picture, I didn’t pay any attention to the portrait of Putin. My photos do not carry any specific political message. My purpose is to show life at the moment with the maximum degree of emotion. I give the privilege of interpretation to the viewer. I think I give the public a possibility to live a moment with me, to see with my eyes.
What is the overall objective of the book, can you delve deeper into the creative process for achieving the entire project?
For me, a book is the only way for the author to express himself fully. For example, an exhibition is always limited in time, an online portfolio doesn’t exist in the reality. With a book, it is different – you can return to it, hold it in your hands, have a new look after some time. A book gives tactile sensation, which is important in our lives. A well-done book is a result of hard work. For me this book about Kolodozero is the result of many years of my work. I don’t have the right to do a bad book, it will be meaningless otherwise. As a result this book will be really good, with a minimalist design, an original cover with two materials, a choice of paper who gives resonance to the photographs, a print in duotone with a little warm tone. With my publisher, Olivier Marchesi of Bergger we have both decided those delicate questions. Our purpose was to make this book attractive, if someone takes it, he or she will not want to leave it.
Your images will also be exhibited at the festival Les nuits de Pierrevert in France by the end of July, tell us more about the next steps for the book in terms of promotion or related projects.
My publisher and I are discussing these things right now. In Russia, I have already published a first book, “Vyatka” with a Russian editor Tree Media, and sold all the 500 copies in less than one year. So this summer we are planning a presentation at the biggest photo festival in Russia, in Uglich on the Volga River, we are also contacting galleries to organize exhibitions and presentations in Moscow and Saint Petersburg this fall. As for Europe, I had some exhibitions for my last book in galleries in Austria and Czech Republic. It’s a new challenge for me and we are still working on it. I can say that when we go to France for the impression of the book at the end of March, we will have meetings with editors of photo magazines. We are also planning with Bergger to organise an international masterclass on my photographic style and I think it will take place in a beautiful place during winter in Russia.