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Breath Taking Moments

Ukranian photographer Yelena Yemchuk’s body of work that traverses photography, painting and film-making, is a curious mix of surrealism and realism, and a revelation of how that same principle can work for a variety of purposes. Excerpts from the interview.

Yelena 1 From the book Ten Years After (A Book collaboration with Antonio Marras shot in Sardinia).

Yelena 1 From the book Ten Years After (A Book collaboration with Antonio Marras shot in Sardinia). All Images are Courtesy of the Photographer.

Your collaboration with music bands especially are interesting because it seems like that sweet spot where the aesthetics of sound and art come together. When you work on album covers, for instance, how does the language of photography change for you?
Actually, it’s been so long since I worked on an album cover. When I finished art school, I was not sure which direction I wanted to go in as a photographer. I was obsessed with Fellini and Tarkovsky, and I wanted to make images like them. I travelled after school and when I got back to the United States, I had a show of my new work, after which I was signed on by Propaganda Films. It was never my intention to work in music but it just happened and it was a really fun way to start my journey in photography. And always, the music dictates the story. When you listen to a song you start seeing images – whether real or surreal – and then you go from there. Also, working with musicians is a collaboration. You work together and you find how to bring out in an image what represents a particular song or album, and what it is they (the band) want you (the viewer) to see.

Yelena 2 Alisa Ahmann for Porter Magazine.

Yelena 2 Alisa Ahmann for Porter Magazine. All Images are Courtesy of the Photographer.

In the video ‘Thirty-Three’ for Smashing Pumpkins, you used photographs to make the video and in an interview you talked about how it was challenging to not fully know how they would be when put together. As a photographer, how do you fill the gaps created by the unknown, the unexpected?
We took a big chance on Thirty-Three. What we did had never really been done before and we didn’t really have time to test it. We just went for it with photography. To answer your question, when you are shooting with film, especially, there is always space for the unknown. I feel it has been slowly removed by the digital era and with it that mystery I love. That’s why, even today, I try to shoot in film as much as possible. 

Yelena 3 From the book Anna Maria.

Yelena 3 From the book Anna Maria. All Images are Courtesy of the Photographer.

When you begin to design the vision of your images, how conscious is the process?
I would like to think I start consciously (haha!). Then I hope for my unconscious to take over. I think all my best ideas stem from there. I love the unplanned accidents. If you are too much in your head and over-thinking, you tend to miss these things that I cherish and feel make for a more unexpected image. 

Yelena 4 From the editorial Bohemian Rhapsody for Porter Magazine.

Yelena 4 From the editorial Bohemian Rhapsody for Porter Magazine. All Images are Courtesy of the Photographer.

Praveena Shivram is an independent writer based in Chennai.

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