I didn’t find Alexei, he found me on social media. He seemed like a really friendly guy, but then, I checked out his website http://alexeikrasnikov.com/ and knew I had to chat with him. Alexei lives in Moscow and we chatted about his work, life in Moscow and what he wants people to see in his work. Read on ...
MICHAEL: Hello Alexei, Your work is very cool. You work mainly in black and white. Why do you like black and white photography so much?
ALEXEI: Hello Michael. First, I simply enjoy building a composition in shades of grey. The very process of it. Seeing the world in black and white is different compared to photographing in color. It requires more attention to visualize, to understand how the reality will look like after the color is eliminated from it. Some transformation already occurs when I just look at the subject. The forms and their interaction come to the foreground and I really enjoy all this. Another point. Metaphorically for me, color is closer to a loud shout, while black and white is more like a whisper or a quiet talk. When a person speaks calmly in a low voice, the words often can draw more attention than a loud speech. Of course drawing attention is not enough, there should be a meaning. But if there is a meaning, the quiet words will usually have more weight than the words cried out, making a listener think and go deeper into the essence. Gradually, I came to the understanding that I want my photographs to talk rather than shout. I would say black and white is more delicate.
MICHAEL: One would think black and white lends itself better to film than digital. Which do you prefer?
ALEXEI: I do prefer film. And you know, that it is not only because I think film is more suitable for black and white, it's rather a general preference. Many years ago, I started with film, as there was no alternative at that time. In early 2000s, I switched to digital as millions of people did. It was more convenient, it was cheaper and it seemed that it beat film in all aspects. It was wonderful that I could see the result instantly. But I quickly noticed that my attitude to each single frame changed. I'd say its value somehow decreased for me. If I made a mistake, say, in exposure, it was not a problem, in a second I just took another shot. I felt that the path led me to where I didn't want to be. Partly, it was an issue of self-discipline, so I simply started working with a digital camera as if it were analog. For some time, it worked for me, but I really lacked the whole spirit of photographing film. Finally, I turned back to film totally and it was like a relief for me, feeling as if I came to what is really mine. Now I photograph mainly with medium format film. I feel it's natural and it connects me with older times when there were no megapixels and all that digital stuff. I really like my camera which is all mechanical without any digital elements. Probably that's what you are talking about when you say "black and white lends itself to film" - both black and white and film are from that older time.
Regarding digital - Well, I'm absolutely not against technology. After all, I scan my negatives and do digital post-processing. But as of today, a photograph made with a digital camera is too fast for me (in terms of process) and is too perfect, lacking something that makes a photograph "alive" in terms of result. Even though there are digital algorithms that can mimic film and make it look exactly like an analog photograph - well, the key word here is "like.” And of course, the medium alone cannot do all of the job for me. Be it digital or film, it's just an instrument. In general, I wouldn't give TOO MUCH importance to the issue of which instrument is used.
MICHAEL: So many people think they can take great photos, but great photos aren't necessarily art. What makes your photography art?
ALEXEI: That's a great question. Sometimes I think about what is art and what cannot be called art. And you know, I couldn't find the answer that would work in all cases and that satisfies me 100 percent yet. What I am sure of is that, for me, art appears where there is an act of creation by a human. At the same time, I think there are cases when an art piece can appear due to some accidental processes (at least to a certain extent). In particular, I think it can happen with some abstracts, which are created in a certain manner. But even here an artist is not away from the process - he sees, detects harmony in abstract structures and shares it with viewers. If something beautiful is created by a machine with some algorithm, I'd rather say it's not an art piece, though the machine itself which created this "something" can be called an art piece by itself. So what is important is that a human takes part in the creation process and brings a piece of himself into the creation process. And what is even more important is that art has to enrich, make people better. In my work, I do not try to document what I see, to achieve equivalence between reality and what is seen on a photograph. I catch the mood, feel the atmosphere, connect with the place, with nature and look for ways to convey my emotions and this connection in photographic language. The instruments are numerous - from cropping the reality to a small square so that all irrelevant things are out of the frame, to subsequent changing contrast, dodging, burning and preparing for printing. And for me, it's important to know what I am trying to achieve with all my actions, to see the goal. In any case, the result would be different if I simply photographed a scene in auto mode and make a straight print in a lab - that would not be my work with a part of myself. I want the viewer to feel, think and become better. Probably there will be no exact match with the feelings I had, but by all means I hope there is a response in viewers' hearts.
MICHAEL: When did you first become aware of yourself as an artist? Do you come from an artistic family?
ALEXEI: My mother is a musician. Now it's hard to say for sure, but I think this fact had its impact on me. At the same time, visual ways of expression attracted me more since I was a child. I liked to draw, but awareness was somewhere deep inside, at least I didn't realize it. A breakthrough occurred when I started photographing in late 1990s and understood quite soon that I wanted to make more than simply point-and-shoot photos. I think that moment can be considered as a conscious start.
MICHAEL: Russia has deep roots in art and culture, but do every day Russians appreciate contemporary art? Super wealthy Russians do, but every day people in Russia? Most every day Americans do not appreciate contemporary art.
ALEXEI: To my opinion, interest in art in general and in contemporary art in particular gradually grows as people, after decades of living in poverty, satisfy their basic needs and get on their feet. But the thing is that the percentage of people who are ready to turn to art from everyday problems is relatively low. And this growth is within this relatively small group of people. Living standards in large cities, especially Moscow, differ significantly from the way people live in the major part of the country. Just get several hundred miles away from Moscow and you'll have a good chance to meet people who literally have to think whether they have enough money for food for the following month. It's their everyday life and these are as you say "every day Russians" who are absolutely different from everyday people in large cities like Moscow and St-Petersburg. It's not a general rule, but it happens and it's not something unusual. Unfortunately. Obviously, art is out of their interest.
MICHAEL: Moscow and St. Petersburg are formidable art and culture cities. I get the feeling that living in those cities is like living in museums. How does your home city inspire you? It's clear from your work that you're enlightened.
ALEXEI: Frankly, Moscow doesn't inspire me at all. It's beautiful, though very eclectic, taking its roots in different periods of its history. Life and cultural life in particular here boils and it's definitely worth visiting at least to see what it's like. But there is a huge drawback for me. Moscow is overpopulated and this leads to transportation, ecological and many other problems. And the situation gets worse and worse with years. This is a point that is crucial for me in terms of inspiration at least. St. Petersburg is a little bit different for me. I don't know it really well. I've been there half a dozen of times, but the overall impression was quite pleasant. Not that it really inspired me in some respect, but the life pace is slower there which is important for me. And yes, it's a beautiful city. I would say there is more harmony there than in Moscow with spirit closer to that of Scandinavian countries. What really inspires me is nature, lonely remote places, definitely not cities.
MICHAEL: Does your use of film mean that you don't manipulate your images by using photoshop? Do you prefer natural images?
ALEXEI: I don't see anything criminal in Photoshop or in post-processing in general. I try to do as much as possible with my camera when I photograph, but camera is just a tool that has its own limitations. And what cannot be done during photographing due to technical issues will be done during post-processing. I don't think this makes an image unnatural. It's just a process of making it look like I want it to look and it is one of the stages of creating an image. I think it's similar to cooking food. Of course, you can eat it unprepared, but it's fine if you cook it. Nobody would say there is something unnatural about cooking, right? What I really don't like is unreasonable extensive manipulation or using Photoshop for things that could be done with the camera.
MICHAEL: Finally Alexei, what do you want people to see when they look at your work? Is there a message and what are your future goals?
ALEXEI: I want people to see the beauty - the beauty of nature and of what’s around us, of things and sceneries that may be called “ordinary.” I want them to see it and feel it. We are very often so busy that we simply forget what the sky looks like. I had such a situation not so long ago. I just got out of the city with a friend of mine, who was fascinated by an extremely beautiful sky. He said something like that there is no such sky when we are in the city. I said that the sky is the same, but we are different, paying no attention to it. So I want people to stop the rush, calm down and see this beauty. Hopefully my work can change viewers, bring something positive to their lives. As for the goals, they are numerous being split in two main parts: artistic and business. Artistically - in short words, it’s working, creating, going forward. In business, there are many interim steps, but the final goal is to sell art and increase sales. And it’s important not to mix these two areas. I think that if an artist creates while being obsessed by an idea of how to change and modify his work in order to sell it better, nothing good will happen.
MICHAEL: Alexei, this has been a great pleasure brother. Keep up the great work.
ALEXEI: Thank you too Michael! I am really glad I met you!
Check out Alexei’s work at http://alexeikrasnikov.com/.