Julia Abzaltdinova

Moscow, Russia.
Hello, Julia! Introduce yourself first, please. We know you’re from Ekaterinburg and you studied at the Rodchenko Art School. You’ve been photographing since you were in ninth grade. Does it mean you’ve entered the university related to photography right after finishing school, or have you been studying somewhere else before?

Hi. I finished school and my last two years at school I’ve been photographing with my father’s Zenit. After graduation I’ve entered Urals State University of Economics and my specialization is economist-manager in heavy industry. I went on internship in one of the leading consulting organizations which implemented business administration system called Lean production. It was unique for Russia. I had a successful career but when I came back from Japan in 2009 (I was there for traineeship learning Japanese) I told my director that I decided to change my sphere of activity and go in for photography. So I quit my job. I began to learn photography but that was a strange story. I had a permanent training. I had been experimenting with different types of shooting and then went to photography course to learn how to do it properly. I was trying to check and improve my intuitive skills. 

What is the most important thing you have learned at photography schools? 

After my journey to Japan I made my first photo exhibition in Ekaterinburg. It took place in «House of friendship between people». I wasn’t studying anywhere at that time. My first exhibition was successful and I decided to go to basic photography courses in private school. I remember how I made portraits of musicians for their album and then I entered portrait photography courses. After that there was some particular education – I was drawing out different knowledge I needed from whole photography-education. It took me year or year and a half to make it. Then I moved to Sochi for a year and after it I decided to enter the Rodchenko School of Contemporary Art. 

Photo from «Spectator Pass» series

Do you remember your first experience?

My first experience was school exercises and my everyday life reflection in general and, of course, family photo-documentary. Nothing outstanding at that moment.

Tell us about your «Spectator pass» series, how people reacted? Were there any confusing situations? 

This series was made in two months. I came two weeks before the Olympics and saw what had been already built and what must be finished in a hurry – so, I was shooting this «hurry». Then I was shooting during the Olympics, a break between the Olympics and the Paralympics, the Paralympics and a few weeks after it. I wanted to know what’s happening, let’s say I wanted to arrive first and to leave last. I thought I won’t photograph sport and sportsmen so I’ll turn 180 degrees and photograph fans: their life, their pastime and things around them. It means I really had to become one of them: buy tickets to sport competitions, meet other fans from different cities and countries. I had used to come to Olympic park or «Krasnaya polyana» (Sochi) in morning and photographed sport competitions. After that I was staying there with fans for the rest of day: at foodcourts, bus stations, buses and trains, walking zones and parks, cafes, quays, city streets and so on. So people were responding very naturally and there were no confusing situations. Though I had some problems bringing my tripod with me to Olympic area because I wasn’t an accredited photographer – I was just a fan. But I was creative and used crutches as a tripod. It was allowed to bring crutches so it worked perfectly. 


Spectator pass

«Journey to the Russian Wonderland»

Lewis Carrol’s Alice just went through the looking glass to enter the Wonderland. To become an equal participant of new Russian utopia – XXII Olympic Games in Sochi – you had to buy a Spectator pass.

«Spectator pass» series is a culmination of four years fixation and researching on changes taking place in Sochi and surrounding area as it was transforming from Soviet sanatorium to the city that hosted XXI Olympic games. This series is focused on our countrymen who got their winning ticket and came to one of the most important events in the history of our country.

Russians who came to Olympic «wonderland» came to isolated modern city built using all innovative technologies that didn’t fit the Caucasian mountain landscape.

Spectator pass is a special type of document which was giving its owner an opportunity to visit all sport competitions, travel around the city on special Olympic transport, visit leisure and entertainment areas.

Was there a new ideology that was born in the last couple of years in our country, with its center in transformed Olympic Sochi that was ready to joyfully meet all Russians and foreign visitors? Same as in classic Wonderland, clearly defined myths of new Russian statehood couldn’t be found. We’ve seen some recognizable mix of different domestic realities taken by our countrymen from «soviet» past or from television screens. Perhaps, the only uniting thing was Russian tricolor: attributes of Soviet past and pseudo-russian kosovorotkas (traditional Russian shirt with a collar fastening at the side) were mixed with glamorous colors of branded sportswear; horned helmets of European football fans side-by-side with banners of famous Russian Airborne. One of my characters who had stylized USSR hockey uniform and well-known fur cap with earflaps became the biggest moment.

All of these bring a smile. But is that silly? Strange? Funny? Of course not! It is just a bright confirmation of uniqueness of modern Russia as it is as far from West as from East. Russia is still going through another looking glass following its own unique path.

Sergei Chebatkov

Photo from «Spectator pass» series

Did spectators have sharpened patriotic spirit? Did you have that unifying feeling yourself? 

I felt that wave of patriotism only once, but it was more like a «herd behavior». It happened on the day of the Olympics opening ceremony. Live broadcast of opening ceremony was on every television screen, radio station,  in cafes and other public places in Sochi. Those who couldn’t get tickets to this ceremony were crowding around all these TV screens. It was not important for me to stay in the heart of events – Fisht Stadium, but to be among fans and those who are proud of their country in random places. That’s how I chose a waiting room of the train station near the Olympic park. In addition, it gave me a chance to photograph fireworks and people trying to photograph it on their gadgets at the end of ceremony. 

Which photograph from this series is your favorite? Why?

I have several photographs from this series that I like the most, but there is no reason to highlight them because entire project is very precious to me. And this project is not just two months of photographing the «Spectator pass» series, but six years of photographing continuing at present.  It is one single love to the things, people, places and occasions I’ve photographed. This project continues for six years and those are six years of my actual life. Time of creating the project coincided with my moving to Sochi. I entered the Rodchenko Art School and was studying there for three years. After that I was shooting my graduate work (it was the «Spectator pass») and I have a year ahead of photographing the third part of the project, and as a result – creating of a photographic book. 

Photo from «Spectator pass» series

Did you ever have that desire to give up everything and start something new?

You know – I never had a desire to give up and do something else. I had lots of doubts: if I am a real photographer, if I have anything to share with world, and if I am really competent. 

Photo from «Spectator pass» series

Do you have any favorite photographers who inspire you? What can you advice to young photographers? Do you follow any contemporary photographers?

Yes, of course. I think everyone needs someone to look up to while creating his own artistic vision, signature or language. My development vector is art of people like Hiroshi Sugimoto, Nadav Kander, Alec Soth, Stephen Shore, Harry Gruyaert, Annie Leibovitz, Hiroji Kubota, Jonas Bendiksen. Their visual aesthetics impresses me a lot. Speaking of humor and irony I prefer: Elliott Erwitt, Richard Kalvar, Martin Parr, Martin Kollar, Reiner Riedler. I recommend following different photographers: from Magnum agency to those who show their photographs at Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow and Photodepartment in Saint Petersburg. Even if you don’t live in the capital, you can always see announcements of exhibitions and search for web-sites or photographers’ blogs by yourself. And don’t forget to watch documentary and game movies with visual language that is close to your and image that inspires you.

What do you think of contemporary photo industry? Do you see any positive trends? 

I don’t like the concept of «photo industry», it seems like it is something commercial. If we speak about «art-market» or even «modern photography» - I am completely positive to it. In Russia conceptual photography seems to be the leader today. The main thing is idea and concept and realization is secondary. Judging by articles, discussions and lections of foreign art-schools, progressive countries speak of photography being in post-conceptual stage of art. And high quality of realization seems to be primary in photography. Think of Andreas Gursky. I like his idea of modern photography more because sometimes you get tired of abundance of conceptual photography where realization is secondary. As a photographer, you’re feeling discouraged and oppressed. Nothing touches you apart from kaleidoscope of ideas. And if you know you can’t create anything new because everything was invented before, it becomes too sad. French writer Andre Gide once said: «Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again». If concepts can be conditionally replicated, but masterly fulfilled, you can say more and show wider.

Photo from «Spectator pass» series


What are you working at now? Do you have incredible plans for the future?

Now I am photographing third part of my project about changes in Sochi – it’s what happened with people and space of Sochi and Big Sochi in two years after Olympic Games. And, by the way, this part of project will be conceptual, not documentary – at the juncture of photography and contemporary art. My greatest plan is photo book of all these six years of photographing.

For last, can you give some advices to young photographers?

Believe in yourself, listen to everyone, but make a decision about what you’ll become by yourself. Don’t let anything lead you away to trends and mainstream, become trend by yourself and be a new visual language. And first of all, understand what do you like in photography.


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