Gasket have had the chance to collaborate with a number of amazing artists over the last few years and we were delighted to hear that friend of Gasket, Yanina Shevchenko was recently awarded the inaugural ‘Stories of Reflection’ award from PhotoVoice and theprintspace. We’ve been following Yanina’s work for a number of years so it was fantastic to see her recent project ‘Vanishing’ receiving this prestigious award.
Gasket’s Mick Frank recently spoke with Yanina about her background, the Vanishing project, and her plans for the future
Hi Yanina, Can you tell us a bit about your photographic background? What kind of photographer inspired you?
I started studying photography in ICP in New York. At the time I was interested in fashion photography, but I got bored of it very quickly. Then I did a course in Moscow Academy of Photography. In 2012 I graduated from Goldsmiths University with MA in Photography and Urban Cultures. I feel very lucky that I had an opportunity to study in 3 such different schools. In ICP the focus was on technic. In Russia, where there is still no academic photographic education, we were taught by old soviet masters who learnt the skill by perpetual practice. Goldsmiths taught us to think photographically, to understand first why you do something and only after decide how you are going to do it. This approach dominates my work now.
I wouldn’t say that there was any particular photographer who inspired me in the beginning. I became interested in photography, because I felt that I am not good enough with expressing myself with just words. So naturally, I use images primarily as visual language and refer to myself more as a visual researcher than a photographer.
Did the MA in Photography and Urban Cultures you attended at Goldsmiths change the way you prepare and shoot projects?
Yes, and no. As I mentioned before, it was a very theoretical course. I learnt to understand better what interests me, and how to develop it into a photographic project. All the technical knowledge has come from other schools.
Could you tell us a bit more about the “Vanishing” project?
Vanishing is a story of one decaying Belorussian village, Gonchanskoe. It is just one example that I focused on to raise awareness of the problem of extinction of rural areas. It is also a very personal project, because Gonchanskoe is the birthplace of my mother, and my grandparents still live there.
When and where did you get the idea for it?
Since I was a child we used to go to Gonchanskoe at least once a year to visit my grandparents. I saw this village in it’s most flourishing years. When I went back to Belarus 3 years ago, it stroke me how different the village looks now. Vanishing is the outcome of my desperate urge to preserve this incredibly beautiful place, at least in photographs, for future generations. I am now working with The Velvet Cell Publishing on the book that we are planning to publish next fall. I will make sure that every inhabitant of Gonchanskoe will have a copy. This is the least I can do.
When you work on a project like this, do you engage with people? In the specific did you stay in the village and did you get to know the people better or do you prefer a more detached approach (hit and run)?
People are part of most of my projects. In this particular case I know all of the participants very well. It is a small village, especially now. As soon as you arrive, the whole village knows that grandchildren came to visit Markov’s house (the last name of my grandfather). So with the help of my grandfather we went from house to house where I explained my idea, talked to people, and made photographs. This is the approach I prefer most of the time. To take a portrait is an intimate thing for me, so I like to get to know people before, at least a little bit. It is also very important for me that they understand the purpose, and agree to be a part of the project.
Apart from the powerful content your pictures have an uncommon artistic grace. Do you think there can be a true relationship between the artistic and the education side in projects like yours?
I think art, in general, is a combination of artistic vision and educational message. Art, in the first place, has to make us think and be visually engaging. In my work both of those parts are important.
Any future projects you are currently working on?
I have just finished project in London and there are 2 new projects in development that I am planning to start on my next visit to Russia. And of course Vanishing book.