Tour of exhibition “Captured” on May 22nd at Zarah Café
SR: The first photo of the exhibition is a self-portrait. I would be always curious who is behind the camera or brush, behind any kind of creation actually. That's how I start the exhibition with a camera ready to capture things, people, buildings, forms, lines around me.
KL: Quite appropriate. There’s quite a lot of variety on your work. What we can see here is a lot of sculptural, architectural shots. With the diversity of what you do, what is it that you’re trying to capture?
SR: I’ve been always looking around since my childhood and would notice things like wind, rain, mood of people etc. that eventually grew into a love for photography. I don't make many projects or series, I'm more of an “eye-traveller” and I always have my camera with me and then when I see something that has to be captured - I do it. After a while, I look at my photos and see that there are connections between some of them that could go into series, so it's the other way around. I'm really in love with compositions, light, lines and forms and that's what you see in this hall mostly.
KL: You are largely led by the eye? When you see something you capture it and that leads to a variety of different styles through your work?
SR: Yes, most of the time led by the eye. Sometimes it’s not so easy to take a photo. I saw these stairs -name of the photo) for example and I really wanted to take a photo and I was walking around for a long time and then I went below the stairs, almost lying, and I found the right angle. The name of this photo [Vertigo] came to me right before exhibiting, I was looking at it and would feel some kind of a dizziness, a feeling of movement. Static movement. And yes - different styles form by themselves naturally.
KL: So you’re happy to take your time? You’re not like a street photographer, generally speaking, snapping as you go, you wait and you find the perfect composition?
SR: True, it takes sometimes a while to take just one shot, I like to take my time and find the ideal angle, I don't rush.
KL: Of all the photographers that I’ve interviewed, you are one of very few who name their works. So you think there is something important about naming the works?
SR: I don’t really like naming works as it gives some frame for the imagination but sometimes it is needed to hint, to show a way, because many people complain that the “artist makes whatever he wants and now I have to guess what he wanted to say." I believe that artists should explain something. Photography is the creation of the photographer. I have a real dilemma I still want to give some direction but also freedom for the imagination.
SR: This is Pyramid Triptych. These two pictures on the sides are inside of the pyramid. You can see the skin of the pyramid and how light is going through. In this one [Pyramid 2] I tried to capture rotation, like when you look up and spin you get this kind of feeling its like Sufi whirling.
Pyramid is my favourite work. It's very minimalistic triangle black form, but you feel so much in it: it's very strong, big and wise, you feel its power and protection. Here it’s really an ideal triangle right in the middle but I also like to break it like in Pyramid 2 to give it some freedom, give it some movement. Dance is a big part of me so you might notice the influence of it in my works. And as a little funny detail you can look up when you stand right in front of Pyramid and you will see another triangle in the roof, it was just a coincidence.
KL: This has got to be every photographer in Beijing’s favourite architectural subject. Do you find there’s pressure when you’re using a subject that has been photographed so prolifically to try to present it in a unique way?
SR: I never really care what people think, at least it wouldn't stop me from doing something that is important for me and I love this building. I spent four hours just walking around, getting lost in lines and enjoying Zaha Hadid’s creation. So the main answer is I don’t feel any pressure or competition with other photographers while taking photos. And also no matter how many times different people take photos of the same thing they always look different and give you different feelings.
KL: So you’ve got some portraiture in this room?
SR: I like to take portraits, but it turned out that in this exhibition not many of them. On this picture is Irene Sposetti - contact improvisation dancer and educator, I managed to capture a specific mood that I really like in this picture. And here is my friend Jing Jin, she is an artist and wonderful model, I have many good photos from our sessions.
This wall I call Zen Wall. It’s more of a reflection, observation of things, moods in a lighter scale.
KL: This wall feels distinctly more Chinese than the other work.
SR: Maybe the Zen mood, hutong and Jing Jin give this feeling.
Diagonal was taken in Moscow. I was walking and suddenly saw these birds flying and sitting on the wire like beads on a thread, I took out my camera fast, took this photo and felt relieved.
Sharp fragility - these needles are very sharp and dangerous, you can get poked by them, but they’re also really fragile, they have these little drops that couldeasily fall from a slight touch or wind. Everything has its fragility. That’s what I saw in this.
KL: So when you’ve hung them you’ve grouped them together into series? This one is your zen wall, you’ve got your geometry wall. What have we got here?
SR: This one is a mystery wall. I would say that this wall is really connected to my childhood. The first one [No name], I was always afraid of dark places, dark rooms without light and my imagination would play on its full volume. What do you see in that dark room behind the curtain?
KL: The matte printing makes that black space look even more inviting.
SR: Haha, true.
The photo in the middle was taken in my hometown. I’m from the Republic Buryatia in Russia. In Russia, we have 22 republics and Buryatia is on the border with Mongolia. We have the steppes around city and I went with my cousins to have a ride.
So when you don't know anything about this photo you might have many questions: Who are they? Where are they going? What have they done?
KL: That one is definitely enigmatic for sure and it looks a little be shady. Looks like they are up to no good.
SR: And it’s an open space. You can’t help but wonder why they would come here. You cannot also really hide anything in this wide open place, it makes a lot of questions. Actually, if you enter the picture and go to the left there was a huge cemetery, maybe that also affected the mood.
KL: So tell me about the bunch of bones.
SR: I grew up in the steppes with sheep. In the winter, we keep our sheep in big houses, really warm ones so they wouldn’t get cold. When you enter that place it really smells like warm wool and I would spend a lot of time every evening with sheep. In the steppes sometimes you might run into bones, and wolves used to attack sheep before, not anymore as all the wolves have disappeared now. For me it’s not really a dark picture, it’s just my childhood. Maybe for some people it’s kind of scary. It’s just about how different lives are of different people.
KL: So it’s just a case of decay where a whole lot of animals have died there?
SR: This picture is a part of an installation from one exhibition that I went to, it's not from steppes where I'm from, but it directly sent me to my memories.
KL: You’re right. It’s not a sinister picture at all.
SR: With this wall, a lot of people have told me, even though it’s colour, it is the coldest wall, maybe because of the blue, maybe because of the cold composition.
KL: The colour palette is definitely very muted and you seem to go for pattern and texture over the actual colour use.
SR: Yes. So when I take pictures in colour, I try to find something even more minimalistic than when I'm taking in black and white. Even if the frame is noisy I try to find the minimalistic part of the noisiness. If for example, there are many, many things so I just try to take a picture of these many, many things in order that they look just like texture. I like to play with these kinds of things.
KL: I particularly like this one. It’s so clinical and then you have this one odd blue chair. Tell me a little about it.
SR: This one I took on Lamma Island in Hong Kong, it’s at the pier. You can see that it’s not in the city, it’s in some weird place because behind the windows you don’t really see anything, it’s just fog or sky. Maybe some house in the sky flying or on the sea. I was really late for my train and for everything but I saw this picture and I thought, I have to take this picture. Didn't have any choice, so I took it and was happy and now it’s here.
KL: It definitely has a Kafkaesque waiting room in the clouds kind of feel.
SR: It gives a weird feeling, right? One of my friends had funny thoughts like this one here looks like R2-D2 [a rubbish bin] and it's trying to talk to his friend [the blue chair]. It’s funny.
KL: This one is just purely textural.
SR: It’s somewhere in the hutongs. I don’t usually make series but this one is from a series Landscapes. I take horizontal lines with different textures - an abstract landscape from different worlds.
KL: How many are in this series?
SR: For now, I have about ten.
KL: So you’re gradually building on it?
SR: Slowly, yes. I don’t know yet when the time will come to exhibit.
KL: And then the garlic cloves.
SR: That one I called Nature Morte. At the end of the exhibition, I wanted to add something with humour. It would also be relevant to the landscape series because of the horizontal lines but I’m not sure that it works.
KL: Again, there is almost no colour at all.
SR: You can see so many cloves of garlic with different shapes and lights so you don't need any more color in it anymore.
Also, some hutong people, you know, just dry their garlic on the floor and then they use it. I like it that they are so simple in this way. In Russia, we would never do that. We’d either wash it really hard or we wouldn’t dry it directly on the floor, we’d put something under it, newspaper or something…
KL: …and out in public where anyone could take it. There’s just that natural trust that no one will disrespect anyone else.
SR: It makes everything much more simple, it's nice. I'm for simplicity.
Surzhana was born in Ulan-Ude, republic Buryatia (Siberian part of Russia on the boarder with Mongolia). Until the age of 5 her home was vast steppes, later she lived in Moscow where she earned Art History bachelor, moved to Beijing in 2010. She takes analog photography, mostly black and white, in love with dance ( member of the group “Lunatic Moires”) and fashion design that all together effect her photography. She loves forms, compositions, lines, moods, light. In constant Search for beauty around her.
Exhibitions in China:
Solo exhibition at Zajia Lab Project, 2012
In 2014 had an exhibition in Russian Cultural Center
In 2014 May exhibition in Beijing Polytechnical University
To see more photos: www.surzhana.com
To contact: firstname.lastname@example.org