Little Box conversation
Andrii, please tell us about yourself.
I am a Ukrainian currently living in Tallinn, Estonia with my wife, son and Bengal cat. I am 32 years old and an IT engineer and visual enthusiast who is passionate about photography. I am also an active member of both the Ukrainian and Estonian Street photography communities and the author of the Streetsroll resource - “A Digital Sketchbook on Photography".
When did your passion for photography begin, why did you become interested in it and why is it important to you?
I believe my initial fascination with photography began in childhood. As a kid, I liked flipping through the pages of my father’s heavy album with the black and white photographs from his military service days (he was an aviation engineer and airplanes were a big part of his life). I still remember the scent of the leather cover of his film camera. Since then, I have always had a passion for photography.
I became interested in candid photography in 2014. I didn't know about street photography until late 2016. Yet, I already had some books from the Masters and was eagerly learning and searching for masterpieces. Back then, all those iconic photographs fell into my “Alive Photography” category, which I've made up for myself (and still happy with it).
It feels important to record personal experiences in a structural way with visual language - to preserve instances which disappear in a split second. To observe without judging...
Please share with us a little about what it is like to be a street photographer in your hometown.
Oh, It is definitely a unique experience!
Tallinn is a city with the population of around 400K people (with no subway). The average amount of sunshine might be just 20 hours in the whole month, like in January (when there is less than an hour a day of sunshine). For a comparison, in Istanbul, the lowest amount of sunshine is around 70 hours per month and in Athens, it's around 120 hours per month.
The land is quite flat everywhere in Estonia, which is not a dream for a street photographer. The weather is grey, cold and rainy most of the time and it is possible to deal with almost everything online due to it. Estonia claims to be a paperless country.
So, it is usually an overcast day with a really small amount of people around or nobody at all. But, all of the above makes this place such a unique one. It teaches you to chase the light, to pay attention to details and to not take photographs for granted - but to make the most of it. It's the limitations that drive creativity, isn't it?
The following dyptich shows how it feels to be a street photographer in both of my hometowns, Kyiv in Ukraine and Tallinn in Estonia.
I bet you could easily guess which is where.
Do you prefer capturing specific subjects and is there a style of shooting you prefer? If yes, why?
Absolutely, yes. As Henri Cartier Bresson said "Things as they are offer such an abundance of material that a photographer must guard against the temptation of trying to do everything."
So, everything could be a subject, even nothingness itself, which is one of my main subjects by the way. With the question of photographing cats or dogs – of course I photograph cats, or a dog, but only if it is a stray. I also like to include umbrellas, hats, gestures, coke, taxophones etc. In general, I'm more inclined to poetic, nostalgic, melancholic, dreamy or occasionally joyful pictures.
I'm trying to not bound myself to one particular style. It's more interesting to experiment with new approaches, depending on how I’m trying to express myself. I also would rather let a picture go and pass three more blocks than to stay waiting for a particular character to come by. It's not about patience at all, it's about dry logic versus initial impulse. I'm happy to wait for moments which I do not know are going to happen.
Your work is all in colour. Do you ever work in black and white? Can you tell us why you prefer colour?
Most of my work is currently in colour. I photographed exclusively in black and white for three years - from 2014 to 2017. Now I only use black and white for a particular series or certain shots. Only when I started to embrace colour, my true journey into street photography began. Colour is closer to reality. It can convey a different emotion by itself.
The main reason I prefer colour is because most of my memories are in colour. How about yours?
Street photographers sometimes talk about getting into the zone while shooting. Does this happen for you? If so, please share your experience.
Yes, it is familiar to me. It is a focused, pleasant, almost subconscious state, when you do not hesitate and do not overthink and just photograph with no distractions. It is easier to get into the zone when you are alone, or in the crowd, or get lost especially in some exciting place during travel.
During 2019 I photographed every single day. Check out the Habits app - it is simply great to keep visibility for yourself. I still photograph every day but in a slightly different way. Now, it's more about getting into the flow rather than getting into the zone. So, when you are in the flow, you do not need to warm up, you do not force yourself. It's not on and off - you are constantly present and always observing. I believe it allows you to dive deeper into your inner world and explore whatever resonates with you, not just to dissolve into the process of chasing the results.
Have you ever faced any negative encounters or scary situations while photographing? If so, please share your experience.
Most of the time, people are glad that somebody is giving them attention, or that the special detail they were choosing so precisely got finally noticed.
But yes, I've encountered some negative and scary situations.
Once we bumped into a criminal and a few of his "friends", who obviously were very angry when they saw the camera. Luckily, it was in Ukraine and I've found common ground there in my mother tongue.
However, it all ended up well, and the man shared his life story and even allowed me to make a couple of portraits of him with his dog. The next day, I printed the photographs and sent them far away to a distant village. He just had no other connection points except his mother's address.
The second serious encounter was in Cape Town, South Africa. I went too far into the ghetto on my own and was robbed by a gang of drug dealers with the knife and gun. In short, I lost my Mark III 5D with a 50mm prime lens and wallet, yet I was lucky to escape. The cops who came said they would not get out of the car! Along with the camera, the photographs were lost too.
So, the next day, I borrowed a little point and shoot Leica. Then I drew a map on a piece of paper with a pencil and went to photograph in another district, because I knew that maybe it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to be there.
In the end, it turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Do you have any projects you are currently working on and if so, can you tell us a little about them?
Most of the photographs I make are part of several long term series I am working on.
"The Son" is an ongoing family documentary project.
"Fulfilling Emptiness" is about duality in space and time: moments in between before and after, places which are empty and filled simultaneously.
"Drops of Melancholy" is about melancholy and explorations of solitude turned within.
"Window to Kalamaja" is about my neighbourhood. The fun fact is that most of the photographs from all the series above are made in that same neighbourhood.
What do you think are the most important qualities or elements of a memorable photo?
I believe that a memorable photo resonates with you on a personal level.
There might be a technically well done image, which you like very much but completely forget about the next day. And there might be a slightly awkward picture which remains in your memory for years.
A memorable photograph should convey the point of view yet be open enough for the viewer to bring their own thoughts to bear.
Is there a particular photographer who has influenced your work?
The list is huge. I post inspirational notes under each post on Instagram.
Here are some photographers who have influenced me the most:
James Nachtwey, Sergio Larrain, Andre Kertesz, William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Masahisa Fukase, Anders Petersen, Peter Lindbergh and Taras Bychko.
Thank you Little Box for such a profound conversation. I wish a great light to the members of your bright collective and to all readers who love photography.
You can see more of Andrii's work on his instagram account @andrii.mur