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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“Politicians are easier to photograph-they are typical”

A winner of <I>The Day</I>’s photo award talks about photography in Ukraine
20 March, 2007 - 00:00

In Kostiantyn Chernichkin’s family photography is a real man’s profession. This father and his two sons do not treat it as mere work or a craft. To them photography is, above all, art. At The Day ’s anniversary exhibition the jury ranked Kostia’s photos among the best and awarded him a special prize-the right to exhibit his works in the British Council’s gallery.

Kostia, as far as I know, your first choice of a profession was not photography.

“That’s right. When I was about to graduate from high school, Ukraine was going through some hard times. So I decided I would make my contribution to the growth of our economy and choose a suitable major. But I didn’t study very long-I felt it wasn’t my cup of tea. At the same time, I began to notice that when I would walk down a street, I would want to take pictures of everything. In brief, that’s how it all began.”

Can anyone become a photographer?

“I believe so. Technology is developing rapidly and making more and more things possible. And this is true not only about professional photography. Armed with a latest model camera, any person can press a button and take a picture. But a true photographer first has to understand why he is taking a picture and what he wants to express with it. Furthermore, a creative person must have some aesthetic perception of the world.”

Can this be learned?

“In Ukraine there are virtually no educational institutions that offer photography as a major. I believe this is a great problem and one of the main factors behind the absence of a culture of photography. Many photographers, including some self-styled ones, take up photography without any knowledge of either genre or composition. There is no market, culture, or higher educational institutions-not even an ordinary Center for Photography. Every country has one.”

Are there many professional photographers in Ukraine?

“Well, for one thing, I don’t consider myself a professional photographer. But there is probably a dozen who do photo-journalism, not fine art photography.”

How big is the demand for fine art photography? Do many people go to photo exhibits?

“In Ukraine this industry is not very well developed. The first problem photographers run into is the difficulty in finding a place for a show. But that’s not the worst thing. What is worse is the fact that very few people treat photography as an art rather than just a job. Frankly, photography is not generally held in high esteem by gallery and exhibition hall owners. But I didn’t encounter this attitude with my last show — The Day made all the arrangements. The prize — the right to exhibit in the British Council’s gallery- has become a good stimulus for me. The Day’s photo exhibit is truly unique because it’s the largest one in Ukraine.”

I know that at one point you also had a show in Poland. Can you compare the attitudes to photography among Ukrainians and Poles?

“Honestly, comparisons are hideous and the difference is huge. Poland has fairly distinctive photography. As far as Ukraine is concerned, I cannot say that we have any kind of school of photography or that Ukrainian photography has its own character. As the famous photographer Maievsky once said: “When you come to a show and then all day you have a headache, it was a good show.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen very often in Ukraine.”

If Ukrainians do not value the art of photography, what is their attitude to photographers and photography in general?

“ Ukrainians is a fairly general notion-it is hard to speak for everyone. The majority of people have a negative attitude. If people don’t know why someone is taking a picture of them, they are invariably afraid; they cover their faces, and refuse to be photographed. But in Kyiv it’s a lot easier: you can get lost in the crowd. To work in the province, you need to be a psychologist and know how to approach people.”

Which people are the most interesting to photograph?

“Politicians are easier to photograph - they are typical. Personally, I prefer a somewhat different genre: artistic rather than newspaper photography because this is where you can give full play to your imagination.”

Is it true that the recent trend in periodicals is that the funnier a picture the better?

“Yes, I believe this is a new trend in newspaper photography. The unfortunate cause of it is the lack of events. Photographers go to the same press conferences and there is no overwhelming news. But a striking photo attracts readers’ attention as soon as they open a newspaper.”

What about a code of professional ethics?

“I won’t speak for other photographers, but for me it is hard to overstep the bounds of decency. I don’t think it is sensible to level accusations at photographers who are working in hot spots. There is no denying that tragic themes involve speculation in feelings and cause progressively greater atrophy of emotions with each passing year. People begin to perceive scenes of bloodshed as routine events. However, I know a photographer who takes all events close to his heart, which is evidenced by every picture that he takes.”

Interviewed by Tetiana KOLESNYCHENKO