The natives believed that photography steals part of the soul. Photography steals but gives back in a new way, lightening parts of the soul, making them visible for man.Gella Slabko
The following interview forms part of a series where I invite a number of contemporary artists to each reflect on their personal history, meaning and philosophy, and how those are expressed throughout their creative process.
This week I talk to Gella Slabko, a Russian photographer who specialises in black and white film portraiture.
I ask Gella how her cultural background impacts her works, what it means to her to be authentic as an artist, and her beliefs about the role of the photographer today in shaping society.
Being from Russia, how would you say your personal and cultural history are embedded in your photography?
I was born in 1977 in the Soviet Union, the state which “don’t mess about… there’s always danger”, in the Urals, the heartland of Russia – the point where Asia and Europe meet or are separated, where the boundary lies, where the land mass starts and ends, and where there are many lakes.
I grew up in the largest country in the world, covering approximately one-seventh of the Earth’s land surface and in a settlement with seven two-story houses. It was a really small place with a beautiful lake and where there were big dreams about a new wonderful world. I won’t go into details into my life here, but just to make the point here that of course a person and their surroundings permeate each other. Photography is the point where my personal and cultural history meet – this is the Union of Opposites country, where my search for light reflected in my inner lake was consciousness-altering.
Do you create to understand, or do you express what you have already learned? Or is it some combination of both?
Learning is important but it’s not enough for understanding. The more important thing for understanding is live perception. I create to express the unknown, putting light in it to understand this.
Photography is a therapeutic thing for me. I create in order to reflect the internal (psyche) processes outside. I am interested in the image that contains a clot of that which is inexpressible yet has been able manifest itself in time and space, and through which I can discover parts of yourself and world, observing patterns and connections to see and understand wholeness.
Photography is always a synthesis of the personal and the impersonal. The camera make it possible to be an observer and a participant at the same time, making the process conscious and partly unconscious. The shoot moment unites two opposite directions – “inner vision” that we can compared with intuition and “external vision” (intelligence). But only chance makes a genuinely good picture, divine providence, dare I say it with a pathos.
The natives believed that photography steals part of the soul. Photography steals but gives back in a new way, lightening parts of the soul, making them visible for man. Photography illuminates hidden things, secrets in nature which we can perceive as mystical or even terrible because they are not yet lightened by consciousness, they are in the dark. Photography makes it possible to imagine of mystery.
Undoubtedly, photography has a spiritual element in that birdy you have to look at when you hear, “Look at the birdy!”, it is the spirit connecting us with our feelings through time. After a time, your feelings are perceived as not so sharp, and when you look at the old photos you can notice something else, not directly related to you but connected with you in some mystic way… “The photograph of the missing being, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star.” (Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida). Photography implies the light!
Are you guided by any essential philosophy in your creative expression?
A multidisciplinary approach is close to me, it helps to give additional volume to the phenomenon. I am interested in soul, psyche, spirit, the ways of expressing it and connecting to the world. If I speak of human soul, I should mention about my interest in mythology, poetry, history, etymology, Jung and analytical psychology, all ideas close to me.
Modern man is older and deeper than we can imagine, apart from his private story he’s connected to the all that boring and wonderful stuff that humanity has lived through, perceived and experienced for many centuries with its sorrow, longing, joy, horror, delight… and he is in a continuous time stream and constant change at the same time. Not easy actually.
What does it mean to you to be authentic as an artist?
Eastern mystics had the idea that the world must be born each time again and again and again, and it is created in the body or through the body. To be an authentic artist is to be born into the world through your own body whatever it is, and making your own work of soul, making heart effort – wearing your own shoes on the way of the wanderer’s struggle to find himself.
What role do you see photographers having today in shaping society?
Photographers having a role not in shaping society but role in a myth construction about society, whether it’s family or country. But the myth is not in the sense of a fiction, fantasies or something like that, but myth as a genuine and maximally concrete reality, the mental body of society which affects it, not straight, but in a mythos way.
If you were to envision a new photograph that emulated your current experience in the world, what might it include?
It would be photography with technology that allows to reflect the light which we don’t know yet.