Varya Borodkina

Saint-Petersburg, Russia

Today we're interviewing our colleague - Varya Borodkina. She didn’t manage to conceal her hobby of photographing from us, though it’s not a simple hobby, it is an aspiration to express her own perception of a city and city space, that’s exactly what she told us about.

Judging by your network profiles and the amount of photos taken, you are a sophisticated traveler. Please, tell us how much travelling means for you and whether you put some sacred sense into this?

Travelling is like a drug. If your first travel experience was lucky, it’s hard to stop travelling afterwards. After my last trip I couldn’t imagine what place I would go next time. This uncertainty really got me down. And in two weeks after I had planned my new trip, what would only be in autumn, I came alive again.

I like to plan everything in advance and trips are not an exception, but I always choose directions and fellow-travelers in a sudden way. Usually everything happens like this: I come across cheap tickets and I become eager to the idea of my future trip, and less than a day, sometimes even in an hour I find a fellow-traveler to accompany me. This person can be either my close friend or an acquaintance I’ve met only once or twice or hung out with a bit in the same company. Usually I warn my future fellow-traveler that it won’t be easy. The matter is not my character,but the way I travel. I take much interest in architecture and urban development, so all my trips are not just for relaxation with unhurried strolls, visiting museums and taking selfies in front of landmarks, but it’s a sheer work, long distance race with my constantly working photo camera.

I want to see a city from every side, not only the center, but also its outskirts. The better way for me to get to know different parts of a city is discover it on foot. Furthermore, the true city life is on the streets. That’s where you can meet interesting people, be a witness of offbeat situations, in so called “urban paradoxes” you do see something surrealistic and that’s what I like more. I see that not everyone is able to stand against 30km walks with a big backpack or a bunch of nights in a bus. Therefore, a travel should be discussed at once.

What plans do you have on your photos? Scientific work? Exhibition?

I don’t have any plans yet. That’s more of a practice for me. When I take photos I learn how to see the world around, developing skills of observation for the overall and partial. On the subconscious level, I favour some themes and when I look through my shots, I notice that the same theme line is developing differently in different cities. I draw parallels and conclusions, but all this is only for my experience.

Though, I fully have felt the results of my travelling not so long ago. I was developing the Irkutsk public space network, trying to offer possible ways of development to town-planners. My travel experience has helped me a lot in this work. I have plenty of great examples that I’ve seen in my head. I hardly had time to adapt them to the environment I worked with. So, travel photo is another way to self-education. As for the exhibition.. surely, it would be awesome to organize something like this. First of all, to get a feedback from a professional community. But now I haven’t come across this possibility.

We would like to focus on your trip to the USA. Please, tell us what you discovered there?

To my shame, I managed to travel in the USA more than in Russia.  Possibly, I understood that I wouldn’t have the second chance (or exactly the third), so I tried to take this opportunity to see the country in my vacations.

I spent most of my time in New York State, in a student town on the shore of Hudson Bay. There I was interested more in nature, landscape, which perfectly harmonized with the architecture of the College. On the contrast I managed to live in the very New York. I have plenty of time to step back from architecture of the city and pay more attention to its characters and there I also had my preferences. If you look at my photos you hardly find anything except for old people and children. I like to work with them, because they don’t notice my camera as quickly as others would and they don’t try to pose for me. Besides, I am quite bashful to ask a permission to take a photo. The easiest way is to do this quietly. And if you’re noticed by a model and she or he is indignant, you’d better disappear. That’s why I shoot adult people less. They run faster.

After New York I visited Washington. And there I took only one good picture, all because I was accompanied by my friend, who grow up in this city. I like to go around with locals, but this has a bad impact on my photos. More often you miss many worthy details and for me the quantity of successful photos influences my impressions from a city.

My next destination was Atlanta - the city of brutal architecture and domination of racial minorities. The Americans that knew our plans to visit the city were puzzled, because the majority admitted that they are scared to go to Atlanta. Actually I had more impressions in Atlanta than in Washington. There I took up unusual architectural rhythms and especially weird content of window displays with sighboards Jesus Saves and I Love Jesus. As you’ve already understood, Atlanta is not a city for tourists. Each time I took my camera I felt in danger, so I used my working tool only in emergency.

The southernmost American city that I discovered was New Orlean. Stepping off the train, we rushed to meet the dawn at the Mississippi. It was really breathtaking. After loafing our time away, we crossed the most picturesque districts of the city. Even the newest districts seemed interesting to me. All families were actively preparing for Haloween, filling the city with the atmosphere of the holiday.


One of my favorite cities is Chicago. During my visit, the whole city was covered in fog and I managed to take a series of photos that I’m at least not ashamed of. That’s the cultural diversity. All the cities differ very much from each other. They have more differences than similarities. I have already grasped the contrast between the North and South.

Speaking about a photo, you make emphasis on investigating the place. Do you have a wish for self-expression except for investigating interest? Are you seen in the photos or you stay behind the camera?

For me, self-expression sounds egoistic. I’d rather want your attention focus on what you missed and I noticed, show a moment that I witnessed, and you didn’t. I am behind the camera, and you see the world from my perspective. You become me for a couple of seconds.

What countries are you planning to visit?

As I’ve said, I choose directions spontaneously, that’s why those cities and countries I’ve bought the tickets to are on my list. At this very moment I have just one plan to visit Tel Aviv, Bethlehem and Jerusalem in October.