To Die but to Survive

          interview with Eugeny Kozhevnikov by Alina Savin




When/Where were you born?

I was born in 1969 in a of Ulan-Ude, capital of Buryatiya, near lake Baikal, in Siberia.


Where did you spend your childhood?

When I was 2 years old my family moved to Sakhalin, then after  2 years - to Moscow where I still live. So, most of my childhood was spend in Moscow.


Where did you study?

I studied in a high school, then in an institute of technology in the garment industry, now it is Academy of Design and Technology, my first speciality is designer of clothes. Then I became graphic designer, illustrator.


Did any experience in your childhood make you decide to take photographs?

I took pictures first during high school then in the institute -  mostly friends and beautiful girls. Then, for long 15 years this hobby has stopped.

My older brother also took sports photos. Our photo lab was at home, in a small dark room in my parents apartment.


Does any vision from childhood persist in your photos?

Photos in my childhood were slices from another parallel world. And that world seems more interesting and more dense than ours. I still have this feeling.


Since when do you take photographs? How did you start?

I started to work seriously as a photograph in the summer of 2001. At that time I was working as the designer in an advertising-polygraphic production. Sometimes, personally it was necessary to take photos for the execution an order. It was easier to do them myself, than to explain to other photographers what I needed.


Do you have any studies of photography?

No, I am a self-educated person.


When did you start to participate in exhibitions?

After half a year of taking pictures for fun I received an invitation to participate in an exhibition. It was the autumn of 2001. In 2004 I made the  project “STUDIUM: IMAGE” where I was both the organizer and the art-director.


What means to you to be an artist in Moskow? What means this town to you?

It is difficult to answer this question. Moscow is the city where I live,  I breathe. It is always with me, in me. Sometimes it exhausts me, but more often gives me gifts.


How do you describe your artistic evolution? Was it simple, linear?

When I think of my career I think of a river. You know, the river is a stream, a stream of creativity. I begins with the source, then with many streamlets feeding it, and further it runs into the sea of art, or disappears in the sand of  daily life. The source - figurative thinking, fantasy perception of the world, is born with every individual. Since my childhood I looked at clouds or saw in wall cracks freakish persons. My streams are illustration books, my skill to draw, my training as a designer of clothes, my sexual desires and embodiments, my search of an ideal partner. Many streams flow in this river.


Did you discover your own style immediately? What is style? How would you define your style?

As I already have above mentioned, when I started taking photos for the second time I was already prepared. Prepared by my abilities (drawing, creative thinking), prepared by my formation (designer of clothes), prepared by my present job (illustrator, designer of advertising production). Therefore, I can tell, that I had a style from the beginning. All my photos have something in common. What is style? I think, that style is the consciousness and the conscience of the artist. Conscience and technical skills. The artist needs to embody his imagination. The one who feels himself to be the creator, who masters techniques and who can carry out his own projects - has style. If one of these components is not present he is not an artist, he is a "craftsman" or "pupil".A mental or a technological plagiarist. Many people are like this some of them are good advertising photographers. My style … From the technical point of view is photo digital manipulation: alteration of the images by the computer. This style is synthetic. It is classical ню, fantastic and a decadent. We shall name it: a new erotical decadence. (Joke).


Do you have a personal vision in photography? Describe it. What is the origin of your photographs? (inner visions, travel into your mind and spirit, thoughts etc)

I am always interested in photos that tell histories. Then, in a certain harmony. And last –in sexuality, sensuality. However, these things can alternate. Beautiful history of sexuality and gloomy pressure of restrictions. These are my works.

The beauty of people and situations are fleeting. It can be created and fixed in a photo. To write oneself the history.


Is creativity more important to you than education? During the Middle Ages, scholars believed that creativity was “divine inspiration”. In the 19th century, they believed it was a cognitive process. What do you think? What means to you to be creative?

I think, that 21-th century will tell us about the synthesis of “divine inspiration” and “cognitive processes”. I can see both components in the creative process. They intertwine so closely, that it is impossible to divide them.

Without technical skills I cannot make a good photo, without inspiration - the photo is faceless, only sulfur and is uninteresting. Very often the emotional component of the process is much more interesting than the result - a photo which will be judged by other people. «To die, but to survive.» wrote John FOWLES about theatre. And during shooting - I experience together with my models that experience, that illusion of a life or death which we photograph. And the inspiration here has the defining role.


Your photographs look like paintings. Why? What means painting to you?

What painters do you admire?  Did you ever try to paint? Are your photographs a sort of painting?

I saw too many pictures. I have visited the huge art museums of Russia. No, I was not engaged in painting.


Tell me about the esoteric components of your photography. Why do you try to transform reality? What is reality to you?

I think that, as well as many present artists do, to be doomed to be situated very close to “god”- the creator. Even if this god is just in people`s minds. We create, compensating for the people the feeling of fear in front of  life, the feeling of discomfort, the feeling of constant stresss. The erotic photographer takes you away, you receive positive emotions and colorful sensations. For 5-6 hours when shoot I feel the creator. And my spectators are Galateas.

A different example. When I have finished shooting the beginning of the series Prisoners of Desire I had the idea of an experience-game. I invited to my house a young man and a girl who did not know each other in advance. From the start, I  told them the rules of the game. They were in different rooms, did could not see each other. Then I brought them together, with paper bags on their heads. There was a chair in a room. And they should be having sex. Not knowing each other, not seeing anything, not talking, nothing. Only bodies, sensations.  To catch this new sensuality on a photo - this was my problem. This invention, this game created a new type of reality.


The dream-like images are very important to you. Do you get inspiration from your dreams, visions?

Imagination and desires these are the engines of my creativity.

It is painfully frequent for me to pass white nights laying on my back with thousands  of images flying in front of the eyes of my mind, without pauses, impudently superseding each other and dying away. What you see on the photos are only pale echoes of my night images. Spasms.


What do you prefer, black-and-white photos, or colored photos? What means color to you?

I love good, interesting photos. It doesn`t matter if they are black-and-white or color.


What are your favorite themes?

Sensuality and sexuality. A portrait causing desire to possess. Conversation of two partners.


Why do you prefer to make nude-photographs and portraits? What does the human body mean to you? What do you discover in it? Why do you modify its color? Do you try to get beyond the human? Beyond the real?


The exposure forces the majority of people to be courageous. Showing your body is a small protest of the soul against its form. It is always interesting to work with a naked person.

But, in  the same time, at work, I perceive the body as a form. I am reproached sometimes by my colleagues, that for me the person photographed does not matter,that I work with forms and images not with individuals. To a certain extent they are right. In the same time when I shoot, me and my subject are in a certain type of mental contact. Nobody exists around, except for us two (sometimes three). Part of my soul to that person. There is a certain duality involved. For me the photo has two components: emotions of the process and the actual final photo. They are together and divided. Still there are post photographic processes, the manipulations on the computer when photos or images start to live a third life which very distinct from the emotions of shooting, or the initial photo. The photos are transferred in a parallel, aesthetic world, much more beautiful and more interesting than ours. These images are very fragile and defenseless. They quickly die at the contact with the reality. The person and its image in a photo.


Tell me more about your series “PRISONERS OF DESIRE”. How did it start? Where do you have the idea from? Why are the faces of the characters hidden? Is that a de-personalization, or a discovery of the self?


The first shooting from this series was casual. The girl hesitated to show her body. She did not hesitate because of me the photographer or her partner-model, she hesitated because she thought of the consequences of publishing the photos. We have put together our fears, and the photos appeared strong, emotional, they had an own sense and history. Approximately in a year after the first shooting, I looked at the photos archive. At that time I was strongly in love with a woman, who, by virtue of circumstances, could not be with me. And watching the photos, I was amazed by the blindness that the bags suggest, that is also the blindness of desire. And then the ideological meaning of a series was born. The name speaks for itself. We are captives of our unrealizable desires. We do not know what to do, we make mistakes, and we live, with our small pleasures. Satiation and jealousy are arguing inside us. Lust and cynicism mixed up with passion. The series “Prisoners of Desire” is all about this.


How do you choose your models? What do you see in human’ faces? Or in their bodies?


First of all, sexuality. A personal  appeal. If I do not desire myself the model, if I am not personally excited by them – it is difficult to take pictures. Sometimes I work on assignements - I get very tired, I feel некомфортно. The second, strangely enough after the story about “ Prisoners of Desire ”, are the eyes of the person. When we talk, when we engage in a conversation we always look at the other`s eyes. Reaction to an image often forms our sensations from the person. When you meet someone new try not to look at his or her face for a while, try to talk some minutes without looking, try to escape. A very silent strange game. A certain form of pleasure. When shot, a body can express its moods, its feelings. The photo does not speak, but shows.



 Describe the process that gives birth to your images.

What does it mean to you to use digital techniques? What does the modern techniques mean to you?


Briefly, there is one, base photo and the there is a set of others which will be imposed atop. If the basic photo is bad, no shifts will help. Digital processing of the photos is 50 % of my work. This is how it goes: idea - «divine inspiration»-photographing of models - photographing of structures - digital processing - a press. Very simple.


What camera do you use? What lens? What Photoshop?

I shoot with Canon lenses. I use Adobe Photoshop 7.0



 Is there a Russian component in your creativity? What means to you being Russian?


In Russia there is a tremendous quantity of beautiful women. It pleases the heart of the erotic artist. One evening I can walk across Moscow  and I can meet 6-7 beauties of a super-models level, who will involve me as a photographer. Such a harmony.


Many Russian photographers have an apocalyptic vision. Do you think this is a sort of anti-reaction to the communist period?


No, I do not think, this is a consequences of the ex-USSR. Leonardo Da Vinci wrote, that ”If you are alone - you are free. If you are in love - you are half free. If you have a family – your hands and legs are tied.” This is the apocalypse. :)). This understanding is closer to my creativity. Search  for the ideal partner. Impossibility to satisfy desire. I speak only for myself, can not be responsible for other artists.


In Romania, it is quite difficult to be a photographer (and an artist, in general). What is the situation in Russia?


Everywhere is difficult to be an artist, especially if you live in a country without a middle class - the buyers of your works.

In Russia it is easier than in Romania. Despite of many changes, Russia has still a huge influence in the world. And in the field of arts – there is a huge cultural inertia. And technologies by means of which us two, Alina and me, Eugeny Kozhevnikov, got acquainted, allows us to engage in a global dialogue. A general cultural field of consciousness fed by thousands of people from many different countries. The centers of these fields are where the technology is developed and there is a rich cultural tradition. In USA, Europe, Japan, Russia, China, India and, starting now, in the Arabian world.


What artists do you admire?


Among photographers I do not have special favorites. I like the artists of the Italian Renaissance. I like fantasy. Giger. Andrey Polushkin living in St.-Petersburg.


What future plans do you have?


I do not have plans. There are dreams, desires and a destiny. And I like it. there Maybe a personal exhibition  in a unusual place, with performance, with some music, with video installations.


THANK YOU !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

J))) and YOU!


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