MAGNIFICENCE OF BEAUTY AND IMAGE-MAKING: PHOTOGRAPHY OF ELENA KUZNETSOVA
Elena Kuznetsova, Swiss photographer and videographer, is known for her fashion photography, amazing images of some of the world’s most beautiful people, professionally done; featured in different magazines; Veranda, L’officiel, Cake, Vanity Teen, Satellite Journal, Risk, Male Model Scene, Desnudo, among many others. She also does portraits and personal photography. Her talent is more than having an eye for beauty, rather her skill for concept: what makes a great photograph. Her life experience takes her to fascinating spots around the world where she imbibes soul and effervescence of each place. This is her great ability to be an original, not in the stress of experience and power, rather the humble and human essence in treating each project as gift; something she can learn from, offer her influence; in doing so much is achieved on basis of extending intelligence, love and talent from one person to another; part of what keeps her in demand for editorial work and commissions.
Kofi Forson: Thanks for this opportunity Elena. I have secretly been a fan of yours and your work for a while now. I rarely use the word “genius” to describe anyone, at least not someone I know as a person, or at least outside notion of celebrity. That word is thrown around loosely. You live your life and art through beauty and humanizing of love in its transcendence; nature, light, glamour, sexuality, youth/aging, masculinity/femininity and so much more.
If you accept my claim of genius in your work, how do you manage that accessible and continuous flow of love and beauty? Is there a darker side? At least through your camera lens there is a sense of “the eternal”. Where does this glorious flow of beauty come from?
Elena Kuznetsova: Kofi dear… Thank you! I take it as enormous compliment coming from you. I never thought about my work as “Genius”. I have just been crazy obsessed with the process since I started and somehow it brings me there, where I am now and I just love what I do. I always did. 🙂
Forson: I touched on the idea of light and dark; two concepts crucial to the life and success of an artist, certainly photographer.
What were the early signs of light and dark in your youth? Were you particularly attracted to seeing reflection of sunlight? Did you sense coming of night, and how your mood changed?
How did you react to seeing stars in the sky, the moon?
How sensitive were you to moments of light and darkness?
Kuznetsova: Since at a very young age I was curious and hungry for light; hungry for beauty; hungry for the mysterious. Stars, moon and all our world is fascinating to me then and now.
Forson: Physical space is very important to you. You manage space very well.
Where were you born originally? What roles did your parents have in your growing up? How did family life have an influence on you?
Kuznetsova: Yes, it is true. I’ve always been quite reserved person and still kind of combined being an extrovert and introvert. I was born in Ukraine and grew up in Post-Soviet time. We had a lot of boundaries back then, though my Mom was a wonderful, warm and loving person and let me do nearly anything I wanted. My father was passionate about photography and I have been posing for him since I was very young. I watched the process till the end since we had a dark room in our bathroom when I was growing up. It was quite fascinating to watch the process and see the magic of frozen moments.
Forson: You spend your time between Switzerland, Cape Town and New York. What does each city offer you?
Kuznetsova: Oh! They are totally different worlds 🙂 I love Switzerland for its peace and gorgeous nature. It’s an incredible system that works well. I’ve been living here on and off most of my adult life and I feel at home. I love New York for its energy and soul and incredible human diversity and as they say there is only one New York; so many artists in this city so many talented people from all over the world come to New York with a dream to achieve their dreams – It is timeless. Cape Town is a lovely place with lots of energy. It has an incredible form of nature in South Africa and offers breathtaking landscapes. It is difficult to not fall in love with it and there is a good seasonal fashion market there.
Forson: You’ve photographed practically all over the world, at least in some major cities.
What do you look for when you set foot in a foreign country or city? What do you notice first?
The air quality? The people; physicality, clothing? Architecture?
What is the one unique thing you look for when you get off the plane and leave the airport, before playing tourist? What is the first thing you sense?
Kuznetsova: It is a great question, Kofi. As I have already mentioned I’ve been very curious since I was a child and I have a very good observing eye. Each time I am heading to a new place, city or country I observe just about anything that catches my eye, from nature to architecture but mainly human beings; people/culture. I am fascinated by how diverse our world is. I’ve been very fortunate to have ability to travel and I have visited so far 30 countries and hope to continue to see more of this beautiful world.
Forson: I would imagine each country you photograph in presents certain challenges.
How do these challenges present themselves, photographing on a beach (in water), desert (sand), mountains or forest?
How do you prioritize your mindset and thinking for each and every different environment?
Kuznetsova: Yes indeed, sometimes it can be very challenging due to the light and weather condition so I have to really think all in advance for best timing and sometimes choose the right day and right time for certain location; but I love to be outdoors and nature is quite inspiring so I am always up to scout and shoot outdoors. Even though a big part of my work happens in the studio, I still prefer to shoot on locations.
Forson: Then there’s the circumstance of working with a model. You were a model at first.
Tell me a bit about your experience as model, working with photographer.
Did this help you as photographer working with models, having been a model yourself?
Kuznetsova: Yes, I have experienced it from both sides and main thing I have learned is team work. To achieve best results, it is important to have good connection and try to do your best on set to make it easy for everyone.
Forson: Is basic method between photographer and model to bring to life the photographer’s vision, or is the model as muse the one who challenges the photographer?
Kuznetsova: It can be quite different depending on the job. Of course the photographer has a certain style and vision he wants to bring to life but there are certain jobs where all is directed by a client’s needs, even though it still requires style and touch of a photographer. In certain collaborations, certainly the model can be a Muse and inspire a photographer – I like that.
Forson: What do you look for in a model? What do you expect from them?
Kuznetsova: I love to work with serious, motivated, energetic people in general. I expect they do their best to help the process. I think the best photos I have done was with models who were in love with their work.
Forson: My interest in fashion and fashion photography and models was because my mother was a fashion designer. I grew up looking through her Italian fashion catalogs.
What about fashion first interested you? What is your favorite era in fashion? Who are some of your favorite fashion models in history and personally?
Kuznetsova: Fashion era I would say I really love are the 70’s. I wish I was born earlier to have experienced that time. I think it was awesome. 🙂 Favorite models I think are 90’s models; time of super models with big ’S’ and again they were awesome times, I think.
Forson: Your art tool is the camera.
What type of cameras do you mostly use to photograph?
Kuznetsova: I use digital mainly; Nikon. I shoot as well with Leica and some others and some of my personal work are done with analog; Contax. I also own a little collection variety of different cameras which I use from time to time.
Forson: When did you own your first camera? What is the story behind it? Do you remember the first picture you took? What were you photographing early on?
Kuznetsova: My first digital camera was a small Canon and I used it mainly to photograph me with my friends. Somehow I was always the one who was taking photos. I could not imagine back then I would become a photographer. It was beginning of 2000, I think. I am not sure about my first photo, although; but I remember very well much later when I decided to do my first fashion test shoot with a friend of mine. I did all of her hair, make up and styling. We were shooting in a hotel and after that particular shoot I sort of fell in love with the process. I decided I wanted to be a photographer that exact day.
Forson: As photographer, did you learn from a mentor or were you taught photography at a school or college?
Kuznetsova: I am self-taught; somehow it came naturally. Since I fell in love with photography I have been quite obsessed. I learn with every new thousand of photos I shoot. I learn through the process and of course I have had few friends who are photographers. They help me sometimes with technical challenges. I only went to ICP (International Center of Photography) in New York to take classes in editing programs. That’s it!
Forson: Who are some of the photographers who have inspired you and learned from or those you’ve admired in history?
Kuznetsova: I always loved work of Peter Lindbergh, Herb Ritts and Annie Leibovitz. These are the photographers who inspired me when I started photography.
Forson: What is your opinion on the clothing itself? Things like fabric, color or design? Does it affect how you take a photograph?
Kuznetsova: Oh, I love it and I love colors and fabrics and yes, it definitely affects the process
depending on what I photograph, to bring out the best in the photo.
Forson: Do you prioritize the shooting or do you leave everything else like makeup to those responsible for that?
Kuznetsova: Usually, the idea comes first and then everyone must follow this idea; but of course it can be quite flexible sometimes and again there can be quite different situations depending on what we are shooting.
Forson: Is the process a group effort? If so please tell me how the production value is important, meaning doing editorial work or personal work. How do you know when to please your expectation and that of someone you are working for?
Kuznetsova: I usually follow the feeling and try to be flexible on certain levels when I work for
clients. With my personal work, I follow my heart and I don’t really think about pleasing my expectations.
Forson: Is your sense of color and composition based on trial and error? Do you work from the color wheel? How do you manage everything within the frame? Is it instinct, premonition, sixth sense?
Kuznetsova: I am attracted by certain colors somehow, so I guess it is some kind of sixth sense. With regards to composition I can think before the shoot what I want to get; but there can be quite spontaneous decisions on the set.
Forson: What steps do you take in preparing for a shoot? Whether on location or getting a model; what is the coordination for making sure everything works out right?
Kuznetsova: If I do a full production I would of course start with an idea, looking for the right location. Usually, I love to see the location before I shoot there; checking weather conditions is essential and I always prepare a back up plan; I book everyone on the team.
Forson: You’ve also done video work. (I love your films.) What it says to me is that it is very important to have women eroticize the body, and not the gratuitous way men have depicted women and continue to do so. I think of women filmmakers like Claire Denis, Agnes Varda, Sally Potter.
What is the process for your film-making? How do you go from original concept to filming and post-production?
Kuznetsova: Actually, all my films are personal productions and I kind of followed the flow on most of them as I wanted to do sort of mood films. So, it was quite spontaneous and I was definitely inspired by female beauty which I always have been.
I think two of my favorite films that I have done are “Love Affair with New York” and “Being in Love With You As I am”; both shot in NYC. “Love Affair with New York” because it is about innocent, natural beauty, both of a young woman and old New York. I had this feeling when I was shooting it.
Forson: This has been a life lesson from someone I find to be truly special. Thank you once
again for making this possible.
Kuznetsova: Thank You Kofi! It is a big pleasure and I appreciate it from your side.
Forson: What is your one great philosophy for life and living?
Kuznetsova: Be kind; be curious; stay hungry!