Mar 13, 2018
Siarhiej is a historian and self-taught photographer who portrays local untold stories through a historical perspective. In his series "Whispers", Siarhiej exhibits an ancient tradition where healers treat people with the help of secret words. Quiet portraits, landscapes and close takes of different objects alternate throughout the narrative, placing us in the World of the healers and opening up conversations about local traditions and the future they face in our modern society.
Following we present an interview that we had with the artist:
am - First of all thank you very much for your contribution to our project. Can you please introduce yourself for us?
SL - I was born in 1984 in a small village in Molodechno District, Belarus. I studied at a rural school and in my free time I read lots of books and traveled through the forest or cycled to the neighboring villages. I always wanted to know and see a little more than the others. This was the first attempt to escape from the parental "comfort zone".
am - How did you start in photography?
SL - I studied at the Pedagogical University in Minsk, specializing in History. I do not have a photographic education. It's just that science turned out to be boring, so I came to photography. The university helped me a lot, it gave me knowledge in psychology, sociology, history and anthropology, which gives me the opportunity to better understand the topic of my research and try to understand what is important in the historical perspective. And of course people are interesting to me. It's very easy for me to communicate with them and I like to do it.
am - What inspires your work?
SL - I believe that it is important to start all projects with some work in the library, gathering material and only then take the camera. Personally to take up a project, I need an untold story and research on it by myself. The project lives its own life, as I work on it, it changes. I like this unpredictability, and of course I like stories that are not told.
am - What is “Whisper” about?
SL - "Whisper" is a project about an ancient tradition that has survived in Belarus. This secret knowledge on the treatment of people with the help of whispers and secret words. It is interesting that this knowledge is transmitted only among relatives from generation to generation. And the very literary form of these spells refers to the most ancient form of folklore. This is one of the oldest texts. And it fascinated me. You just can talk to these people, look them in the eyes as if looking into the eyes of ancestors. They are different, we have already changed and are far from our traditional culture and their vision of world. These are the last people who live, if I may say so, in the space of myth.
am - How would you describe your visual language?
SL - I came to analog photography sensibly. I like the photo materials and negatives that you feel in your hands. At the same time, there is a mystery since you don't see what is recorded until you develop the film. In addition, it produces a completely different style of work. I take less pictures and think more, I have more time to feel the characters and their experiences. I shoot all my projects in medium format. The digital camera is only for commercial photography or to work on reports. Materials practically do not age, you can find 20-30 year old films or paper and take pictures with it. Yes, there is no guarantee that the old material will be good, but you can try a pinhole or a photogram, and as a result you will get a completely unpredictable image. It's like alchemy, this is sometimes not controlled, but not repeatable!
In my project on healers, the visual language and how to shoot it was dictated by the project itself, no matter how strange it sounds. Silver, water, light and darkness... sounds like magic. Initially on the first expedition I took several color films, my Mamiya RB worked regularly all of the time, but when I gave them to the photolab they appeared all without images, just spoiled. So I decided to try with b/w and develop myself, and luckily it turned out all right. Working with one ISO, you can get used to the light and don't have to use a flash meter. This gives a certain comfort when working. In addition, it was difficult to predict where and in what conditions I had to take the pictures, because sometimes to make a portrait I had to travel about 500-800 km a day. Therefore, I'm not afraid to push the film and get the image that I need. Technical parameters are not interesting to me. It is important to me what I shoot and what I want to tell. Everyone thinks that film photography has died, but that's not true, this is a very good tool for telling stories.
am - Who are your favourite photographers / artists?
SL - Now it's hard for me to say who are my favorite photographers. I read a lot and check the Internet, and every time I find lots of interesting things. But I was very much inspired by the projects of the international team "Sputnik Photo", and I was just mesmerized by the interviews and lectures of Alec Soth. Without knowing these photographers, they became my teachers. I liked their projects, I read all their interviews and watched their videos on Youtube and there I found answers to my questions. Now it is difficult to be a local photographer, because the world is global and all information is available.
am - What are your main interests as an artist?
SL - I like to tell stories and give voice to those heroes that no one has ever talked about before. This certainly applies more to Belarus, my country. It seems to me important.
am - What’s your favourite movie?
SL - I feel very close and interested by Tarkovsky, I do not know how but he recently seemed very close to me. Maybe I just grew up enough to understand his films.
am - What is your favourite photo book?
SL - With photobooks I have a problem, it is very expensive to buy books in Belarus through Amazon. Therefore, I buy them very rarely when traveling to other countries. But, it seems to me that in the future I will certainly collect a small library.
am - Thank you very much for your time and your contribution to analog magazine.