Varvara Lozenko

Moscow, Russia
Is photography your main job or a hobby?

My main job. 

What is “photography” to you?

It is my way of communication with the world, my way of doing good.

What was your career like as a photographer? How did you started? What difficulties did you face?

I started to take photos years ago: once I realized my vision is a bit broader than that of a majority of people (I don’t mean a physical vision, of course). It excited me, I thought maybe it was my gift, my God-given talent - to see the things that are rarely to be noticed and show them to the others. When I understood that photography as Art for me I needed to know its context. So I started to take History of Art classes at the Faculty of History at MSU (Moscow State University). That was my second higher education, I had graduated from MSLU (Moscow  State Linguistic University) before. So, the background I came from and in a way was formed by is a linguistic one, a text. I was excited by a text then by an image. Perhaps, this fact reflects in my photos - every project I make is a meta-message. It’s a text with a  several layers, several levels of comprehension and complexity. You can see and read just one of them but you can try to dig a little deeper. I’m always all for people trying to get deeper and wider but I learned by my exhibitions example just few people are ready to read texts. However, it doesn’t upset me.

What interested you in photography at the very beginning?

Photography is a way to make a message without words, and the message would be beautiful as a number of poems. But you need to develop your “sight”, your vision of beauty. Sometimes I guess: “What does a civil servant or an accountant or any other person see?” It’s not a secret that probably a musician or a film director or an artist notice beauty in many more things than people who have no connection to art. But that doesn’t mean they, the people from the first group, couldn’t see it at all. Those beautiful things just catch their eyes less often. Harmony of the world surprises and excites them a bit more rarely. I believe the world will turn for the better if people not connected to art, for example, officers of military of force structures start to notice beauty. That is an artist’s goal to show the beauty. 

You recent project “320 Icelanders” is a large one. How do people in Iceland react when you tell them about it and want to shoot them?

Many people in Iceland already know about my project. I’ve been working on it for several years, so many interviews in Icelandic and European mass media have come out. There was even an interview on the Icelandic national television. After that people started to recognise me in the street. They asked: “Are you that girl who is taking pictures of 320 Icelanders?” - even before I managed to tell them about the project. To be honest I’m very happy about it, moreover it helps a lot in my work on the project. However, at the very beginning and even now when I shoot people who are not very keen on recent news I always tell about my conception in the very details and ask their permission to take photos. I should tell people always listen to me with interest and many of them are fond of it. They’re glad that someone is interested not only in their country but its population. All in all it doesn’t happens often. If you look for pictures of Iceland on the Internet you’ll probably find photos of uninhabited landscapes only - those beauties of nature people come there for. And there will be not a sight of people at the photos as no one lives there. And in fact the population isn’t big: 320 000 of people in all country. But anyway, that’s a number! That’s why I’ve decided to make a kind of a group portrait of Icelandic nation - 320 people that’s 1/1000 of the population - ordinary people I got acquainted with in diverse situations. At the same time I’m not interested in celebrities and stars, Bjork, Sigur Ros - they’re well known anyway. But no one knows the name of a bus driver who drives every day from Reykjavík to Akureyri and of all those fishers, postmen, farmers, carpenters and electricians. By the way a few even knows the name of the prime-minister of Iceland or the mayor of Reykjavík. A person who does some “ordinary” work is not very interesting. But not for me. That’s the reason I’m working on the project “320 Icelanders” - in a way it is a Proto-Renaissance attempt to make a man or a woman interesting as a person. All you need is just look at him or her a bit more attentively and be able to listen to his/her story and retell it.

Why do you think young people are so inspired by Iceland?

I think each person is interested in Iceland in his/her own way but there’s something in common: for many people Iceland is a country of freedom and happiness - the ideals that unlikely to obtain in the majority of countries at all times. You can’t imagine a country that isn’t involved in war or wasn’t involved once. And Iceland is an exception, it doesn’t have army and never had. Policemen can’t bear arms, crime rate is close to zero as well as unemployment. The country always survived by simple labour - heavy but honest - because there are no natural resources except for hot springs. I mean there’re some natural resources but only for home consumption not for export. There’s no stress, crowds, traffic jams and faceless architecture. I don’t know why but why there’s always connection between number of population and how ugly and common buildings become to hold all those people. Architecture in overpopulated places is sure to be tasteless or disappears at all. As for Reykjavik, there’re double-storey houses only and it’s up to you to decide what colour to chose for the front. Icelanders can be themselves deciding what career to choose, how to look like: to go out wearing a fur coat and sandals or a sweater and high-boots, to colour your hair green or have a beard matching your suit. This is your life, you have a right to make it boring or get sparkled with creativity. Comparing with other countries I’ve visited many more people in Iceland are engaged in creative work in the very broad sense of the word. 

What story do you remember?

Perhaps it’s a story of a girl named Susanna. I traveled with her parents, her younger brother and she from Reykjavik to Torshavn. We drived about 700 km in the strongest snowstorm in mountains where visibility was down to two metres. The heaviest wind blew down a car top and purchases the family had made in Reykjavik for the next months were carried away across a lava field. We failed to gather them because every time we tried to go out of the car lava sand hit our faces tearing off the skin. When finally we reached our destination I saw that the father, a carpenter, who drove the car all that time had only one eye. He lost the second one when working on construction. That kind of people live in Iceland. Sometimes you think they are happy to be born there but when trying to understand them better you realised they are really full-hearted, bright and just awesome. 

What music comes to your mind when looking at your photographs?

I guess Sigur Ros, Asgeir Trausti, Wankelmut with his track “One Day”, Johann Sebastian Bach, Bob Dylan (he’s very popular in Iceland),  Simon & Garfunkel, Dirty Paws’ “My Head is an Animal”, and music performed by my friend from Akureyri, a girl named Rakel Sigurdardottir. 

What would you advise to those who just start studying photography?

I would tell to be different. You need to think more, it’s not so easy. There’s a lot of senseless, inessential images that are often meaningless to a person who made them. This is what Roland Barthes called “excessive photography”. He died years ago but what would he say now at the time of Instagram?

Do you have any ideals in Art that inspire you?

Of course, I do: Early Renaissance, the German Romantic period, Pre-Raphaelites, Viennese Sezession, Scandinavian pictorial art of 18-19th centuries (just few people know who these painters were, but visit Copenhagen Museum of Art, and you’ll find out many amazing pieces of art: almost monochrome paintings, very detailed and penetrated by macrocosmic relation to representation. It seems to be inspiration for the Dusseldorf School of Photography),Jeff Wall’s photograph “A sudden Gust of Wind”, “Mir Iskusstva” (“World of Art” - union of Russian artists in the beginning of the 20th century), Petrov-Vodkin, Deyneka, Aleksandr Samokhvalov, Arkady Plastov, several painters of “Suroviy Stil” (a painting movement in Soviet Union in 1950-1960s), amazingly delicate and lyrical works of Dmitry Zhilinsky. 

What book have you read recently?

Now I’m reading “Love in the Time of Cholera” by G.G. Marquez and can’t stop being surprised by his unique artistic talent. He tells the story in such a way that a reader constantly see sequence of images - so bright and at the same time so fantastic that he/she becomes involved in a day-dreaming. 

What are you afraid of the most?

I’m afraid of evil people. Sometimes evil can penetrate a person so deep that he/she stops being himself and becomes kind of a demon. But all in all I try not to be afraid of anything. Only defeating your fear you can become truly free.

What are your plans for the future?

I hope to finish my project “320 Icelanders” and publish a book.

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