VOGUE: An Interview with PhotoVoguer Uldus Bakhtiozina
An Interview with PhotoVoguer Uldus Bakhtiozina: "My life in general can be described in one phrase, ‘analytical spontaneity’, I analyze my surroundings and take spontaneous action".
Born into the period of rebuilding (local Russian description of the 1990’s), twenty eight year old Bakhtiozina grew up in a family of mixed religions and nationalities; her father was Muslim, her mother Christian and her sister Jewish. Well educated and with a first degree in Politics, taken under duress with family and social pressure, Bakhtiozina always felt her calling as an artist. From age two she describes herself as 'playing on her mothers patience' with mess from her creations with modeling clay, painting and drawing. Between the ages of four and five years old she took her first photograph; it was of father with his trusted Soviet 35 mm Smena camera. As a keen darkroom hobyist, her father printed the image, he came to her a while later, 'with a big smile', she explains; 'You did well', he said. That was her starting point as a photographer. Throughout her teenage years she has experimented with various forms of art and in 2009 decided to select photography as the main instrument of her expression. Self-portraiture gave her the opportunity to explore social, national and gender issues.
It was during her fourth year of study in Politics when Bakhtiozina realized her political, economic and law notebooks were showing her passion for art and were actually depicting illustrations. That was a turning point, she moved to London to study Art and Photography at the University of Arts. 'My life in general can be described in one phrase, 'analytical spontaneity', I analyze my surroundings and take spontaneous action', she explains.
Travel has informed Bakhtiozina’s life experiences. Following three years of study in London, England; she voyaged to Asia, traveling between India, Indonesia, Nepal and Hong Kong. This heightened her perception of photo shooting, life styles and sensitivity into different cultures.
Bakhtiozina’s photographic work is mainly series oriented; a recent one entitled Russ Land is based on a thorough and immersive view into the Russian fairy tale epic, comparable with Euro-Asian mythology. She undertakes extensive research, paying special attention to the ambivalent interpretation of the symbolism hidden in legends and myths.
The aim of the project Bakhtiozina explains 'Was to show through the prism of art photography, unsaid, rewritten or distorted over many centuries of history and stories, delving into the study of the origin of words in Russian fairy tales. Each tale contains numerous hidden messages and I aim to lift the audience back inside each myth, showing a glimpse of their secret meaning, with careful reading of the tale'.
Bakhtiozina challenges her audience to believe that fairy tales live within us, in inseparable connections bordering the modern world. She creates images of legendary characters according to the law of time, mixing contemporary with ethos and the traditional perception of fairy tales. Some of the images allow the characters to reveal their dark sides, inviting the audience to speculate on the ambiguity and dualism of each character within a Russian fairy tale. Russian fairy tales, like most fairy tales were horror stories originally, with a love of darkness, shamanism, meat, skulls, furs and gold. As centuries have passed, fairy tales have been transformed to prettier versions. Bakhtiozina pushes her audience to modify their views, expand their narrow perceptions, think deeper and stimulates their imagination with a vengeance.
Falling in love with her models is part for the course for Bakhtiozina, it happens time after time. She needs to feel personally aroused and inspired by each model. She wants them to understand the concept of her art and live for the moment within it. Adoring intelligence, she looks through their eyes, searching for deeper understanding, ensuring that the images she creates are exuberant and rich. Most of the models Bakhtiozina commissions are not professional models; she prefers to photograph friends and acquaintances, wherever possible. In her project Desperate Romantics all the models were citizens who had interesting stories of life, perception and style.
Preferring to work with film rather than digital, Bakhtiozina loves to experiment with the environment, surrounding objects, lenses, expired rolls of films and even developing liquids. Her main tool is a medium format Pentax 67 II and occasionally she uses her 35 mm Leica R3 for travel photography. St Petersburg where she lives most of the year has a reputation for poor grey light, there’s a local joke that the citizens of the city know 387 shades of grey, (there are more shades of grey than one for each day). For Bakhtiozina this is an advantage, she loves cloudy days and has 387 options. She estimates that 95% of each photograph is detailed work – thinking and preparation, 5% is dedicated to the photo taking process.
Bakhtiozina presents a proud of body of work and has a selection of favourite images, some quite minimalistic and others much more complex, Aren’t you too short for a Storm Trooper, is an example of one of her cherished minimalistic photographs – it features a 12-year-old boy wearing a tutu and mask of a Star Wars Storm Trooper. She loves everything about this image, the composition, and the fullness of air in the space and that second level of emotions. The dominant colouring of the image is white, with white on white and yet when you look at the surrounding elements, small details become apparent, they may frighten you, the colours of those are pastel, and we see beauty in them, we see them unite.
Bakhtiozina adores her self-portraits with gold teeth, she explains 'It’s not only to illustrate the transformation of character in the Fair Maiden (Red Beauty) story, but also it tells us about the Russian nation and about myself. In this work I wanted to demonstrate how big Russia is, how many races, nationalities, religions we have, how much we don't even know ourselves. I mix outfits of Ukrainian headdress style (reference to my mother ethnics), gold’s and reds in the make up of Russians, gold teeth as Tatar, Uzbeks, Asian and Russian traditions with expressions of wealth (reference to my father’s roots). Everyone says this portrait is ugly, I find it beautiful', she explains with a touch of humour.
Bakhtiozina has shown her work extensively and had several solo exhibitions before 2013; these she sees as her early years of being an artist. The first was in 2009 in London at the Lower Street Gallery. In 2010 she had her self-portraits exhibited at the first Museum of Contemporary Art - Erarta. She had a few exhibitions in 2010 in Moscow, one in London. In 2012, two solo exhibitions in Saint Petersburg. Paramount exhibitions took place in 2013, first in April in Berlin, at Gaze Gallery and secondly with her first film project Desperate Romantics at Anna Nova Gallery, Saint Petersburg. Her work has also been exhibited at International Art Fairs including three times in Hong Kong, two in Singapore, several times in London and Vienna Biennially in autumn 2014, Istanbul Art Biennially).
In 2013 Bakhtiozina became a TED Fellow and attended the conference in March 2014 as a TED speaker, the first Russian speaker in the history of TED. She spoke about her project Desperate Romantics, covering stories of a young generation of Russians.
Her achievement and successes continue and in the Autumn of 2014 she was named one of the 100 Women of 2014 by the BBC channel and took part in debates in London. She also spoke at the Mexican conference Podercivico as a finalist for the Gifted Citizen Prize (Change the World) in October 2014.
Bakhtiozina is fiercely proud of her achievements. They validate to her that she has chosen the right path in life and that she is doing important work. Currently, she is working on her first photography book, that’s her next big project, it takes up a lot of her time but in October this year, she will be opening a solo exhibition for Russ Land.
Bakhtiozina is an exquisite and masterful narrator with a celestial talent to bring us the most sublime, mystical and transcendent photography. She takes us on a journey, challenges our notions, gently nudging us with her astonishing images to recreate our own fantasies and take them to a higher level. Bakhtiozina’s photographs are becoming renowned, their mystery interwoven within us, in every sense of the tale her imagery and her passion stays with us. We yearn for more.
Author: Joanne Carter