by Steve Bisson

© Igor Posner from the series 'Past Present Continuous'

You moved to California in the early 90s to study molecular and cell biology at the University of California Los Angeles, where you first started to take pictures and experiment in the darkroom. Could you tell us more about this path? What gradually drove you into photography?

Igor Posner (IG): I became infatuated with photography while in school studying life sciences in order to enter a medical school. As many things in life, it happened by chance. I was given a point and shoot camera as a birthday gift. My life at the time seemed quite ordered and structured, but at the same time, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing. I wasn’t having any real joy… And then there’s this little camera that inadvertently made me not to go from point A to B, forced me to explore and to keep my eyes open. In the end, after studying for a number of years and feeling quite lost and burnt out, I decided to take some time off and give into doing something that made me feel most alive. And here we are.

In 2011 you joined Prospekt...

IG: Prospekt is not an agency that brings a plethora of assignments; and I don’t particularly work on assignments. The agency can occasionally distribute some of my picture to literary magazines, or help organize a show or a presentation. Prospekt is also great for collective projects, like we recently had in Tbilisi, Georgia, as part of Kolga Festival, with three other photographers from the agency. I’ve always been very guarded about my time and space devoted to personal work. The way I generally work is I have intense periods of shooting, then intense periods of editing, then there could a prolong period of dormancy, which is also important as it allows me to reflect on things. It all balances out in the end, but the balancing act itself is never easy.

Your photography has been widely published through online and magazines. What do you think about photography in the era of digital and social networking? How does it affect perception of people on your work?

IG: To be honest, I still don’t fully know how to reconcile with digital age and perpetual consumption of pixels and information.
Robert Frank said, «When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.» I’m not sure if this is feasible nowadays.  I’m still hopeful about books as a way of presenting visual narrative.

Do you have preference with cameras or not? Why?

IG: I generally use simple cameras. A rangefinder for 35mm film and a variety of toy plastic cameras for medium format film. One, a rangefinder, allows me to work quickly and unobtrusively, the others bare a wonderful potential for a surprise because of their imperfect nature, and the results are never guaranteed or predictable.

How would you described your personal research in general? I refer to your personal photographic work/art/research in general. How do your approach your projects?

IG: There isn’t one particular way in which I approach work. I think my work in the beginning always derives from a personal experience, or a personal story, or a connection. In other words, I use personal aspect as a starting point for a project, but in the end, it must morph into something else, something that speaks less about me and more about human existential record. It’s a way of self-discovery of sorts, and it has to have an element of revelation and challenge my preconceived notions.

© Igor Posner from the series 'Past Present Continuous'

© Igor Posner from the series 'Past Present Continuous'

What about 'Cargó'?

IG: 'Cargó' has been in the works for many years now. It’s a visual collision of immemorial and recollected. But in the immediate sense, it explores psychological aspects of migration. It is primarily shot in Russian immigrant communities throughout North America. In that book, I’m curious to touch upon experiences that are not necessarily misunderstood, but rather unrecognized – things that are not on the surface, as many of us carry this invisible baggage of past experiences. In the end, I think I’m making a visual portrait of a community of memory and image, which might very well look like an infinite puzzle.

© Igor Posner from the series 'Cargó'

Igor Posner from the series 'Cargó'

© Igor Posner from the series 'Cargó'

In 2006 you returned to your hometown of St. Petersburg. How did it affect you and your photography?

IG: I think just returning there didn’t affect my photography. I had a longing and hunger to photograph. Simply, it’s always magical to immerse in the process of picture taking. I think what really leaves the mark is the people I meet along the way and situations I happened to be in. But I think it’s a cumulative experience, and I always need time to reflect.

St. Petersburg is the background of your recent book 'Past Perfect Continuous'. What about this editorial experience in general? What did you learn?

IG: Editing the work was a grind. My initial multiple attempts to sequence the book failed miserably. It came to a point when I couldn’t bring myself to touch the material for couple of years. While it felt like the work had a solid foundation of pictures and was honest, it didn’t possess a sort of ambiguity, which is a virtue in good storytelling - one theme/mood/feeling would become either too dominant, too leading, or too apparent, which in the end was not true to the story.

I stopped trying to sequence the work in its entirety. Instead, I started to work with small batches of pictures, trying to establish a number of themes, and then a set of variations on a theme. In the end, when themes and variations had been constructed, I sequenced the book to shape a rhythm from existing subsequences – sort of like a musical composition.

The book is constructed of small (2-4 pictures) subsequences, which in many cases can be interchangeable. The gallery wall allows to expand book’s dimension, or at least complement the book by introducing new variations to already existing themes.

© Igor Posner, book 'Past Present Continuous'

© Igor Posner, book 'Past Present Continuous'

© Igor Posner, book 'Past Present Continuous'

Any other books of photography that you recommend?

IG: Well, good old things: 'Black White and Things', 'Story Lines', and 'Hold Still Keep Going' by Robert Frank, 'Gypsies' and 'Exiles' by Josef Koudelka, 'The Ballad of Sexual Dependency' by Nan Goldin, 'End Time City' by Michael Ackerman, 'San Clemente' by Raymomd Depardon, recently republished by Steidl and entitled 'Manicomio'.

Is there any show you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring?

IG: Diane Arbus, 'In the Beginning' at The Met, Sid Grossman and Sy Kattelson at Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York, June Leaf at Whitney Museum.

Projects that you are working on now and plans for the future?

IG: Well, I’m in the midst of 'Cargó', and it is probably couple of years away from being done. And the next one is still in its embryonic stage, but it’s shaping to be a huge undertaking, which involves a reconstruction of an empire that ceased to exist over a century ago.

© Igor Posner from the series 'Cargó'


Igor Posner 
Book 'Past Present Continuous' (Red Hook Editions)