by Sylvia Souffriau

Tell us about your background, in which way is it related to photography?

Natalya Reznik (NR): I studied design in Russia (Perm State Technical University). Among the subjects of the third year of my study was photography. It was 2001, no one from us had a digital camera yet, so we learned analog photography only. We were taught all the basic processes of the dark room, made a lot of portraits of classmates and shoot a mass of Russian winter landscapes. My passion to photography started at that time. Before that course I had absolutely no inter-est in photography, even when I visited photo exhibitions I felt kind of puzzled “Is it really art?”. From my childhood I was deeply involved in academic painting and drawing because I visited children art school, so photography seemed to me as something which is “too easy” and has very small value. So, I must say, after the course at the university my attitude to photography have changed dramatically!  

© Natalya Reznik from the series ‘Needful Things’, 2010

Any professor or teacher that allowed you to understand your work better?

NR: In 2005 I took part in the course by two Bulgarian photographers - Boris Missirkov and Georgy Bogdanov (it was organized by the foundation “Peterburgskie fotomasterskie” in Saint-Petersburg, Russia). Their course “Portrait-interview” influenced me the most. It was my first experience of working with contemporary portrait and I learned from it a lot. A part of the seminar was a kind of psychological training during which our group of students approached strangers in the park, learned how to communicate with them, how “to force” them to narrate something about their life and how to immediately reflect the information in a photograph in a conceptual way. All of these stages took us only 10-15 minutes per person. It was really a challenge, but at the end we got great results and exhibited the collective project consisted of portraits and details narrating the stories

In your Phd at University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany, you’re doing research in the domain of the theory and history of photography, can you combine this with your work as an artist? Is it co-related to your personal work?

NR: Yes, I chose the topic ‘Aging in photography - forms of representations’ because it is co-related with one of my personal themes in photography - aging. I’ve been exploring this topic for a long time. I’ve become interested in it since my childhood, because I’ve grown up with my grandparents. They were already in their late 70’s and I saw how they suffer from illnesses and hopelessness, it was 90’s in Russia, the time after the collapse of Soviet Union, very hard time. Moreover, I was operated in my childhood and hardly survived. After that it was almost forbidden for me to jump, run and play with other children. I stayed at home all the time with my grandparents, read, painted and heard what my granny narrated about their not easy life… Probably, it influenced what I do in my art work and what I chose to investigate in my dissertation. The topic is very close to me.

© Natalya Reznik from the series ‘Aging’, 2011

Can you tell us about your motives and intentions to use the medium photography in your work? How would you define your approach to photography?

NR: I mentioned that I was graduated from children art school and trained as a designer at university. I must say that the education there was very traditional (the quality of learning was high, but we had almost no freedom as artists, it was very strict academic education). As students we were forced to follow these strict rules and sometimes I even feel pity about the education I got - I still can not force myself to break the rules I learned. Maybe, I am lucky that I got no systematical education in photography - my gaze and hand were not “formed” and “standardized” this way and I feel free for experiments. I visited a lot of different courses and workshops in photography in Russia and abroad and came away with something from each of them. The most important thing to me is that  I can stay myself.  I would define my approach to photography as “magical realism”. I like to work on documentary basis, but  usually I add another layer to reality - the layer of “desire”, or the layer of “dream”, or “memory”. In such a way the reality turns into a kind of “changed reality”, fantastic reality. And the documentary project becomes conceptual.

© Natalya Reznik from the series ‘Secrets’, 2012

What inspires you the most? Are there any documentaries, (photography) books or films you would recommend?

NR: At the moment I am very inspired by the portraits made by early Netherland painters. As for cinema, I like movies by Russian filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky. I prefer to read mythology and fairytales from different countries. Probably, it inspires me to construct my own “worlds”.

Is there any contemporary artist or photographer, even young and emerging, that influenced you in some way? Is there any show you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring?

NR: I like portraits by Helen van Meene, Rineke Dijekstra, Lidia Panas, Laura Pannack with their subtleties and vulnerability. I love Nan Goldin’s works and the intimacy she introduced into photography. I don’t know why are there women only in my appreciation list. Probably, my gaze is very female. And I also like mystifications made by conceptual photographers such as Jean Fontkuberta and Christina de Middel.

© Natalya Reznik from the series ‘Secrets’, 2012

What do you think about photography in the era of digital and social networks? How do you see photography evolve further?

NR: Nowadays there are a lot of momentary trends in photography, they spread over the photo-graphic world very soon. Sometimes, it can be compared with epidemic. We all influence each other’s way of seeing. I don’t know it is good or bad news, but today it is not avoidable.

Has the internet a big influence in the way you experience your identity as an artist?

NR: I wouldn’t tell that the Internet has special influence on me, but of course my gaze is also affected by what I look at. Actually, if you want to be seen and understood you need to speak contemporary language, you have no other choice. I must say, the Internet plays important role in my relationships with Russian colleagues while I am in Germany - for instance, from Fotodepartment Foundation (Saint-Petersburg). I took part in some online courses led by Nadya Sheremetova and last year I taught myself three online courses for Russian photographers at the same foundation: “How to write about photography?” for art critics and for photographers and course “Photography and Time” which was already covered by Urbanautica. So, Internet helps us to build the connections, to stay in touch and to share the ideas and experience. From this point of view it is really great.

How would you describe the contemporary photography identity of Germany?

NR: I see myself more in international context, so I am not sure if I can say something new about German photographic identity. For me German photography is still Dusseldorf school of photography and New Objectivity. In Berlin there is a great art scene, but I also perceive it as international, not the German one.

Your projects ‘Secrets’, ‘The stolen archive of Otto Steiner’ and ‘Looking for my father’ are specific related to the past. Is it important to know ones own past? Do you think man can exist without his/her history?

NR: Regarding to the question of the past, I really like this quote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past”. (William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun). I think as far as we are alive, our past is not just the past. Our thoughts, our attitude to life are always affected by important previous events - especially happened in our childhood (or maybe even before our birth). The question about history is crucial for Russia. During XX century our traditions were extirpated two times - after the Russian Revolution in 1917 and after the Collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. My compatriots were twice deprived of their habits and memory, so, today we end up with a kind of strange mix of pre-revolutionary traditions,  Soviet culture and Western tendencies, which came to Russia in 90’s. It is worth to mention, that I’ve been living in Germany (Bavaria) since 2011 and the admiration of their own traditions and history by locals is really amazing. They love to wear their traditional clothes, it can be purchased everywhere (and is produced even by top fashion brands such as Escada), admire their traditional food, music, holidays… I am kind of jealous about it, because we, Russians, partly lost this respect to our traditions. Actually, we have been thought to hate our traditions and our past, old ideologies and values were destroyed and history was rewritten several times. It is really hard when you have almost nothing to love, save in your soul and transmit to your children. It is our collective trauma. I think that is partly the reason why the new generation of Russian photographers so often refer to the topic of history (in personal and political level). We need to find something to love, to believe in, and mourn about.

© Natalya Reznik from the series ‘Looking for my father’, 2013

In your work ‘Memory code’ you’re playing with the idea that personal memory becomes public. Do you think it is important that personal memory becomes part of a collective digital memory?

NR: I’ve always been considering it as something very important - to save remembrances of elder-ly people. For instance, I used to record the stories narrated by my granny about her life. It always seemed to me really awful that a huge part of  memory is going to vanish in nowhere with the departure of its owner. I admire the utopian idea of storing personal memory after the departure of the person and uploading it to Internet. So, in such a case the person would not disappear forever. The project “Memory Code” is a small step in this direction, I try to examine how our memory could exist and be transmitted in digital format. Here I propose the spectator to wonder what could we do with our personal memory about close relatives who passed away. QR-code which links to a portrait of a passed away close relative and a small story about him/her – is a code of valuable personal memory, which one can share with somebody. Per-sonal memory, while resisting a loss, becomes a part of the collective digital memory.

Do you think that digitalization of memory has a profound impact on the way we con-struct images of the past?

NR: This question is somehow related to my project ‘Looking for my father’, in which I create new memory for myself with the help of digital technologies. It was already covered by Urbanautica. This project is very personal, somewhere in-between documentary and fiction, where the dreams of my mother are real, but the memory, I created for myself based on them, is fictional. Of course, the digitalization of our memory gives the opportunity to reconstruct the past and even to create the new ‘desired’ past. It is interesting phenomenon and I think I am going to explore it more in future projects. By the way, now I am working on the photo book ‘Looking for my father’ with great graphic designer from Saint-Petersburg (Russia) Julia Borissova and I hope the book appears in print this year.

© Natalya Reznik from the series ‘Looking for my father’, 2013

In your project ‘The stolen archive of Otto Steiner’ you choose the medium drawing to reconstruct the lost archive, was there a specific reason to use this medium?

NR: It is the only project in which I come back to my already forgotten skill of drawing! My goal was to recreate the photographic archive of the Swiss photographer Otto Steiner who came to USSR in 30’s after the Russian Revolution and took a lot of photos of unofficial ordinary life, whose negatives and photos were then mysteriously disappeared. His daughter, who was a kid when she and her family traveled to Russia, narrated this story in the video interview which became a part of the project. According to her descriptions I recreated the lost photo-graphic archive in drawings. Here the topic of personal memory gets a political dimension and the lost photographs recreated in drawings enter into the space of mystification.

Exhibition Hourra, L'Oural! National Centre of contemporary arts (Ural Branch), Yekaterinburg. Photo by Alexey Ponomarchuk

Are there any projects that you are working on at the moment and can you tell us about your plans for the future?

NR: So, I already mentioned that I am working on my photo book called ‘Looking for my father’. It is going to be my second photo book (the first one ‘Secrets’ was published in 2014  and was presented in Berlin last December). There is a great review of the book written by Steve Bisson and published at Urbanautica. In my future projects I am open for exploration of the topic memory from another points of view. Probably, this time it will be approached from an art historical perspective, which could allow me to combine the photographic practice with my theoretical research at the university. 


Natalya Reznik