Is photography in theater a craft or an art?

It is difficult to answer unequivocally here. Technically, photography in a theater is no different from other types of reportage photography, in many respects it is even much easier - a huge team is working on building a picture, the photographer's task is simply not to spoil it. Theatrical photography can be both a fixation of the moment, live interaction during a performance or rehearsal, and an expression of the photographer's emotions and feelings. It is interesting for me to show the ephemerality of theater as art. Photography is not a document (although documentation is always a large and important part of the work), but an invitation to the viewer to a system of certain experiences through the prism of my perception.

Are you watching the show in advance?

Usually not, most often they call to shoot when the first run is underway, or already for the premiere. The first emotion is important to me, the first contact with the performance. Before shooting, I always feel some kind of slight excitement, a happy premonition, as if I'm going on a date. During the shooting, I am strongly emotionally involved in the story, "breathing" in unison with what I see. And then I come home and immediately check - "it was" or not, whether the shooting meets the set tasks, whether it is necessary to shoot more.

And who defines your tasks during filming?

I set them myself. Each performance is a new task that requires the search for its own visual language. I have some analogies with images from the history of art, I remember shots from films - this is how the space-time landscape of the performance manifests itself. Each reportage is built as if I was designing a book. For example, when I was filming Lena Lazovich's "Pushkin Concert", I wanted to achieve purity, lightness, and poetry in every shot; I tried to shoot "Letters to Theo" with large Vangogov strokes. In "Duck Hunt" by Vitaly Malakhov, the aesthetics of Soviet magazines of the 80s became the style-forming, and the visual series of "The Stone Lord" by Ivan Uryvsky seemed to me the quintessence of medieval horror in the language of Magnasco and Tintoretto.

Photo: Episode from the play "Duck Hunt", Theater on Podil, dir. Vitaly Malakhov

When you talk about this, I want to be in the showroom and see all the work. But we can see a theater artist in galleries, and a theater photographer - very rarely. Why is this happening? Such events are not popular with us, is there a narrow audience or there are no venues?

If we talk about photography as a part of the theater's visual archive, then in most cases it performs this function. And in order to study and understand it, there are research centers in the world. For example, I admire the thoughtful work of the Theater Institute. Zbigniew Raszewski, who runs theatrical photography contests, explores the history and current trends in the development of Polish theater. They have a very clear mission statement: to popularize and support the development of theatrical photography as an art field. This position is close to me.

Theatrical photography can also be of interest to publishers - I'm talking about collections of photographic documents, art photographs that tell about the world of cinema, theater and fashion. Cultural institutions abroad are very attentive to such projects. I think that in the course of time all this will certainly be in Ukraine.

Photo: Episode from the play "The Stone Gentlemen", Theater on Podil, dir. Ivan Uryvsky

Photographic documentation itself can be a performance and the subject of a separate study. And such works largely determine the subsequent independent "life" of photography in curatorial projects. And what about theatrical photography contests, who needs them, besides the professional community and art connoisseurs?

First of all, for the photographers themselves. For me, this is a recognition from my very respected colleagues, an opportunity to see the best in their field, even virtually, but to feel that they belong to the workshop. And for the viewer ... in Ukraine, theatrical photography is rather closed within the walls of the theater and does not go beyond its limits. Something can be seen at special photo exhibitions dedicated to events in the history of the Ukrainian theater. But as a phenomenon of artistic value, such a photograph is practically not considered in our country.

How did you come to theatrical photography?

At first I thought it was an accident, but then it turned out that it was fate (laughs). Theater and set design interested me even in art school, I even went to lectures to Daniil Danilovich Leader, but in the end I graduated from the studio of book graphics and book restoration. Studying at the Academy was an exciting adventure, I liked our wonderful workshop, and it seemed that it would only get better.

Did you want to be an artist?

Highly. But the parents repeated “this is not a profession,” and there was not enough faith in yourself to insist and continue doing what you love. And my first job was a printing company, where art education was not at all useful.

Somehow I didn't immediately understand why I got constant dissatisfaction with myself, with my work, that the eternal conflict lies in the fact that I am trying to solve design problems from the standpoint of an artist. But I kept looking for a way out and started publishing. This is how the books and albums “Help Margarity Murashko”, “Emali Oleksiya Kovalya”, “Mikhail Stepanovich Tkachenko”, “Alexandra Exter. Amazon avant-garde "," Ukrainian nova hvilya "and other works.

Photo: Episode from the play "Pushkin Concert", Workshop of Lena Lazovich, dir. Lena Lazovich

What was your role in these projects?

I was a designer or author of a project, or I was involved in full publishing support. Over time, burnout overtook me here too. It seemed that creativity is no longer my story. But suddenly I found out about the vacancy of an advertising artist at the Theater on Podol and decided to try it. During the interview, I slightly lied that I was able to photograph, not expecting that it might be needed so soon, and on a large scale. It turned out that the "Polish poster" is not at all what the theater needs, posters with photographs of the artists and scenes from the performances are needed - but there is no photo archive. I frivolously asked for a couple of months to learn how to shoot to solve my design problems, and the theater graciously allowed me to. I bought a small camera - and away we go. I woke up - I realized that I couldn't help but shoot (laughs).

It turns out that the theater is a turning point on the path of life, has it changed everything?

Yes, just at the moment when I did not wait and did not hope - the theater became for me a point of returning to myself: I again felt like an artist, the very person who could paint all summer in the workshop of giraffes walking in a beautiful garden. And that was happiness.

What, in your opinion, is the difference between an artist and a designer?

These are two conceptually different positions. The designer must be understood and deeply empathic in order to understand the client better than himself. The whole life of a designer is aimed at solving other people's problems, and the artist solves only his own, and in this he must go to the end. As soon as an artist begins to feel the flavor of the conjuncture in his work, he ceases to be an artist.

Who supported you when you took up theatrical photography?

Husband. He works as a special effects artist in cinema, and has a good understanding of how objects "live" in the frame. He helped me with the technique and treated my first steps in photography very carefully. And I was probably like a child who wanted to show all my drawings - it was hard to believe that it was me. And he and his son dropped everything and watched. I don't know who else would have endured so much - reviewing tons of photos every day. This is invaluable support.

And, of course, Vitaly Efimovich Malakhov supported me in the theater, he somehow believed in me. Yes, the whole team, it seems to me, are both actors and shops invisible to the viewer - artists, make-up artists, costume designers, props, assemblers. From everyone I received and receive support, participation, help. I consider all my small achievements to be our common, without these people nothing would have happened.

Photo: Portrait of the People's Artist of Ukraine Bogdan Benyuk

Ira, on your Facebook page you often publish photographs of men and hardly comment on such pictures. What attracts you to the male portrait genre?

I am incredibly interested in "maps" of faces, I love to peer at them, and men allow these maps to unfold, read and interpret. A person is interesting, like paint, like clay. And men are responsively involved in the process of artistic co-creation, and in most cases they do it without any prejudice: they allow them to peer into themselves as carefully as possible, to discern the smallest changes in the "relief". It has never happened that someone asked not to publish some pictures, or retouched their photo beyond recognition. Men are not concerned with how they "should" look in the photo, and which side in front of the camera is better not to turn. Women think about it very often.

For me, a man's portrait is not at all about solving a client's problem, I do not try to please the person being portrayed - this is not a commercial story. Most often, shooting is done for the sake of one frame, an accurate hit. It can be achieved for a very long time, so I value people who are close to my view and approach, with whom I can search together, and in whom a child's direct interest in myself as an artistic tool is alive.

Why do women have so much dissatisfaction with their photographs that it hinders them in the frame?

A rare woman is able to accept herself, her age, her body. To look at oneself with tenderness, with interest, to try to look detached, was not identified with the image. Photography is always a story about who is on the other side of the lens. I admire the portraits of Charlotte Rampling, Frances McDormand, Judy Dench - it's all about acceptance.

Photo: Portrait of a young artist Timofey Dmitrienko (during the filming of the film "Shchedryk", directed by Olesya Morgunets-Isaenko)

Are you interested in fashion photography? Trained models work there, they do not waste time on psycho-complexes, they know how to behave in front of the camera ...

Fashion photography is a treasure trove of real art. Of course, I want to enrich my arsenal of artistic techniques, and fashion photography is the best school in this regard. But in my work I am interested in an ordinary unprepared person. And the fact that he does not know how to behave in front of the camera is rather a plus.

Do you take male portraits in the studio?

I shoot both in the theater and in the studio, and now, at last, I have found a small studio room. I hope I can invite you to visit soon.

Which photographer has influenced you or continues to influence you today?

Richard Avedon and his series of portraits "In the American West" (In the American West). These works shocked me 20 years ago, and I still refer to them. Also - Mario Lasalandra, early Leibovitz, "Magnumists" - among them there are many names, whose work nourishes and inspires me. But Avedon is perhaps my guiding star.

What do you dream of looking into the future?

Daniil Kharms once said: "Poems should be written in such a way that if you throw a poem out the window, the glass will break." For me, photography should be just that. I want to continue to study, work hard, think, experience a lot. Don't cheat on yourself. Make exhibitions, travel. Photography is a freedom that I have been striving for for a long time and now I value it very much.

The interview was recorded and prepared by Yulia Golodnikova // Photo by Irina Marconi