An Interview with Alexsander Petrosyan

We finally managed to finish our chat – Alexsander, as everyone has been, was brilliant at humouring me with my quirkiness (and genuine curiosity), and I’d like to thank him once again for his time.

KB: You were apparently “accused” of overusing Photoshop or collage (like it’s a crime!) on facebook, does that mean you dislike photography that is overly edited? Many people forget, I believe, that editing and ‘touching up’ a photo has been with photography since its inception – is it really such a bad thing, Alexander? In what situations do you think it is appropriate and when is it not?

AP: This or that photo editing has always been. It does not matter whether you print photos on paper under the magnifier, or make a file on the computer, you somehow change the original frame. The main thing is to stay within the limits of the acceptable one in the genre in which you work.

KB: Yep, totally agree – genre/context is paramount.
I read that when walking around SPB it’s better to leave the map at home and just ‘”follow your eyes” (which I like to do here in southern Italy). What about you? Almost all of your shots seem spontaneous and candid. Do you ever pre-plan or stage any scenes? Have you done any tableaux photography?

AP: I think that the production can be good only as the initial stage of the shooting, in the hope that the unpredictability factor will continue to fit in, and everything will go more interesting than you intended.

KB: Regarding your (amazing) POLICE series, there seems to be a lightheartedness, a funny side (and ironic) to these shots. Was that intentional?

AP: Many aspects in life, including the police, are such that if you take them too seriously, you can go crazy. Therefore, it is some adaptation of reality in my perception.

KB: Yeah, wouldn’t want to take things too seriously! I read that you prefer the ‘beautiful’ or the ‘grotesque’ (the grotesquely beautiful/beautifully grotesque?); bearing in mind how subjective those two terms can be, what exactly do you mean when you say grotesque/beautiful?

AP: In our world, many concepts have long turned into their antipodes: you can admire the ugly and turn away from the beautiful. This is all subjective, but mixed in us depending on the environment and the context. The meaningful connotations and meaning of many things have long ago become such cubes, playing by which you can get completely opposite readings of any situations.

KB: Once again with the COMEDY series (some truly wonderful captures!), there seems to be a lot of humour, was that all intentional or just a lucky find? Do we have to be in the right place at the right time? Surely there must be a lot of skill to even “see” a possible future shot and predict that moment and THEN be in the right place to capture it? Probably a long way from lucky…

AP: I’m not a theoretician and do not know the exact recipes of successful personnel. Everything is very unpredictable. The only thing that is valuable to me is a humanistic super task, which should be present in every photo. A humor is all in just a way to look at life without anger and with sympathy. There are no secrets or recipes for a good frame, except how to keep your heart sincere, early and often go out into the open world.

KB: Wow, that’s quite beautiful, and I agree, it’s important to get out there and start shooting!
It seems to me that you use wide-angle lenses a lot for your street photography (24mm? 28mm?), why is that? Is it – as Kertész did – to add context and situation to the subject? Do you find them more dynamic as opposed to standard primes or zooms?

AP: Yes, and that too, but also the classic “effect of presence”: as Kappa said? – (.. “If your pictures are not good enough, then you were not close enough” ..) I agree with this opinion, and the wide-angle in this case is an excellent Assistant. My favorite focus is 24-70.

KB: Yep, I know what you mean – it adds so much, right?. I also adore the 24mm (to 80mm)!
What type of messages or stories (or thoughts) do you want the observer to have when they look at your work? Should a photo be accompanied by TEXT or a TITLE (or a DISPLAY effect) to contextualise the image? How much do you think that the viewer should be allowed to interpret the image on their own (as if that could be stopped!)?

AP: I really do not like to do textual accompaniment to photos (except for filming for editorial offices and agencies).

KB: Ok, I find it brilliant though how it can inform us, as well as confuse us at the same time – I’m a fan of ambiguity with text – I don’t, however, want to stop the viewer from participating or even overload them with too much info.

AP: Yes, I think that the explanation is extra crutches, which limit the perception and imagination of the viewer. It is easier to add descriptions of what is not in the photograph, and this is already “literature”. A good photo should be perceived as music – directly and directly.

KB: Saint Petersburg seems like a city full of charming superstitions (Tonya the Hippo; Chizhik-Pyzhik; The Atlantes of the Hermitage; the Lions on the stone walls of the Strelka etc.). Can a photographer capture that superstitious feeling or mystique of a city? How?

AP: All these artifacts are not accidental: St. Petersburg itself is one big myth city. Therefore, it is not surprising that supernatural sensations begin to permeate you, as soon as you live in this city for a bit.

KB So, it really is everywhere, is that why it always crops up in your work there?

AP: Of course, you can resist it or not believe it, but in some mysterious way it shows up in your photos.

KB That’s amazing, thanks a lot for your time Alexsander

AP: Many thanks!


Alexsander Petrosyan (

After taking up photography in the year 2000, Alexander Petrosyan realized that, in order to truly understand the world around him, he must first try to capture it through the camera lens, something at which he has continuously succeeded. Petrosyan finds true joy in exploring and portraying his subjects in innovative ways, photographing not only the beautiful but also the grotesque aspects of life.

Working for My District magazine from 2003 to 2008, Petrosyan became a true professional, able to accurately present the three-dimensional with only two dimensions, and to illuminate the infinite levels of his environment in a single photograph.

At present,  Petrosyan is a staff photographer for “Kommersant” (, where he continues to push the limits of his surroundings, proving that there is something extraordinary about even the most, seemingly, ordinary aspects of life.


Petrosyan’s work has been featured in a multitude of acclaimed publications, including, but not limited to: «Newsweek», «National Geographic», «GEO», «Russian Reporter”, “Spark”, “Money”, “Power“, “Kommersant”, “News”, “Arguments and Facts”, “Komsomolskaya Pravda”, and “Business Petersburg”.

Assignment Five, Photography Is Simple: Genus Comune, or, Where Things Are Most Definitely Queer; Tutor feedback

Overall Comments

Congratulations on completing the course!   You’ve produced some highly individual and engaging work throughout; each assignment you made your own, exploring new ideas supported by thorough research, looking for creative and technical challenges.  Your approach to the coursework has been diligent and expansive, approaching exercises with the same depth of interest and commitment as the assignments. Your independent research has been of an extremely high quality with essays, projects and a range of interviews with contemporary practitioners, nine in all, evidence of the highest level of engagement with contemporary practice.

 Feedback on assignment

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

Your concept, development and execution of Assignment 5 has been the most challenging.  A highly conceptual piece that required the exploration of narrative, creative and technical skills; I think you pushed yourself to the limit (at least for the time being) with this project.

The origins and main influences of this project range from Duane Michals, Moore and Gibbons ‘Watchmen’ graphic novel, Evans and Rodchenko’s early work (and political response to Stalin). The narrative exploration stems from your reading of Barthes and Landa/Jaén

The images are presented in a conservative/conventional ( I read this as ironic) magazine format which offers an opportunity to explore narrative and exposition through text.  Although I see this as something that someone like Magritte or Max Ernst might have done.

You suggest that you may have bitten off more than you can chew and pushed the boundaries too far, but that is the purpose of exploration and experimentation, to see how far we can go, push the envelope and see what emerges.

The opening image, with reference to Reinhardt, Malevich and Fludd – what a company – is a darkly atmospheric black smiley image from Watchmen– a starting point, and for many younger people I guess, the beginning of a mystery.

Your reworking of Rodchenko’s portrait of Malevich follows, a kind of emergence from the dark to the medium shot of someone holding a newsprint page of a grid of portraits each anonymized by a black bar across the eyes. The Malevich is at the centre right in the company of Warhol, Moore and other celebrated images.  The accompanying text has a reference to each – an interesting game to play identifying who is who.

With the next image, the wide shot of the subject reading the paper sitting in an old fashioned train/metro carriage, we begin to understand how the narrative is unfolding.

The image is captured and displayed on a mobile phone which rests on pencil text in a simple lined notebook, and then re-presented a la Sugimoto in an old fashioned film theatre.  I particularly like this image as now, the action of the hand about to pick up the phone looks like a giant close up frame still on the screen. There is a nice visual irony here with the ‘film’ in colour, and the setting in monochrome. This is accompanied by a text from Sugimoto talking about the inspiration and intent behind his theatre series.

There is a surprise in the shift of scale and place as the image is re-presented again, framed and sitting on a bookshelf with the Watchmen novel in the background and (your) large collection of contemporary graphic novels.  Here, the shot is personal, a memento and then a sudden shift …

And again, a conceptual conceit, as a monumental ‘canvas’ hanging in a gallery, well composed to enhance the scale and with the two viewers foreground and middle.  It plays with the idea of cultural and material value, and the text comments on ‘cultural behaviour’, an object ‘public yet isolated.  Influenced by Thomas Struth’s work ‘Museum Photographs’.  This strikes a personal note for me as I am fascinated by the behavior of viewers in museums.

The next image takes us back to the carriage and the back of the paper, a simple of crop of the following shot to reveal a young boy reading this paper this time.  The text is extraordinary, from the ‘1938 Northern Line London Underground Train Rant, unexpected, surprising, throwing a different light on the viewing experience; a shift in time and ethos??

The image now on a computer monitor – bit on the dark side in the version I’m looking at, but that is perhaps part of the emergent play on the ‘shipping forecast text’ which ends ‘Moderately good occasionally very poor eventually dark or even black’, before the cycle ends in a final shot from Watchmen, the embossed graphic defaced, subtle strokes of light against a matt black of the original smiley and the upper section defaced, wiped away as in the Malevich portrait.

There is a clear narrative connection and a set of references to define the images – and you articulate this very well in the A5 mag –  but the journey is open to interpretation, from the simplest one of connecting disparate images like a montage in a movie – I mentioned the ‘Laughing Montage’ from the Coen Brothers’ Hudsucker Proxy in our email communications – to an enclosed world of a cycled statement, one that we must continue to reiterate – like Groundhog Day.

The pdf of the magazine includes a set of ghost pages alternating with your images – fascinating and curious material, but maybe too much for the assessment?

Finally then, you set out a list of bullet points of your aims for the project, and I think you achieve all of these.


 As with rest of your coursework throughout EYV, the exercises you carried out here are detailed and go beyond the brief in terms of research and exploration. For 5.2, using the Harold Egerton shot, you explore a range of options before creating a very funny pastiche – the imminent demise – (my interpretation) with great skill, and with reference to your reading of Barrett’s essay ‘Photography and Contexts’



Your approach to research is exemplary; as you write in the conclusion to your pdf presentation ‘This fascinating journey into some amazing photographers as well as photographic techniques has really pushed me to define how I understand (and have understood) photography, particularly my own, up to now’.  This has been evident in your approach to work from the beginning of the course..

Learning Log

Your Learning Log provides much evidence of proactive learning and enquiry, independent and in addition to the course materials – from reading and exhibitions to interviews.


You may want to add to your Log some documentation of any conversations, discussions, feedback you may have had, given or received from your OCA peers.

Suggested reading/viewing


Pointers for the next assignment / assessment


 We can discuss submission for assessment over the coming weeks.


Tutor name Russell Murray
Date 14 May 2017

Assignment 5 – Photography Is Simple: Genus Comune, or, Where Things Are Most Definitely Queer.


Genus Comune, or, Where Things Are Most Definitely Queer.


The following sequence is primarily influenced by, firstly: Duane Michals’ Things Are Queer sequence in terms of narrative concept and the use of text with photography (even if Michals didn’t with his sequence, and I chose to use colour over B/W); and secondly, A. Moore and D. Gibbons’ seminal 1987 graphic novel Watchmen in term of visual sequencing and style.
The glue that amalgamates these main conceptual elements is undoubtedly André Rodchenko (his defacing of his own work during the Stalin Purges in 1937), and particularly Walker Evans’ work: both his Subway Portraits, 1938–41, and his work on the Penny Picture Display, Savannah. 1936 cover; as well as a small homage to the first edition of LIFE magazine, which was, serendipitously, also published in 1936 – the year being another unifying, homogeneous element to the assignment.

Presentation and format

I have decided to present this assignment differently to my previous assignments by using a magazine format inspired by the cover of The Penny Picture Display, and with the aesthetic touch of including adverts from the first edition of LIFE. This format, I believe, will help emphasize the narrative effect – staying faithful to that ‘surprise element’ so prevalent in Michals’ own sequences.
The choice of the title Genus Comune – first discovered in Image, Music Text (Barthes and Heath, 1978, p115), and later in Narratology (García Landa and Onega Jaén, 2014) could be seen as highlighting the mixture of narratory styles (the narrator’s point of view with that of the subject – as well as the observer’s) which I feel are present throughout the sequence; or it could just simply be seen as a homage to both Barthes and Michals.

Why use text?

The idea of incorporating text is a contentious one as I’ve never really done it before for project work on this course, and also, I think it can make or break a photo. I have recently come across so many great uses (in my opinion) of accompanying text used with photography to heighten narrative effect in very different formats and with very different results – too many for this assignment, although, I have tried to include quite a few. I have decided to stick with a Duane Michals’ inspired poetry style under each photo; even accompanying text, not produced by myself, has been ‘rendered’ poetic by the way it is presented – to hopefully keep some homogeneity and cohesion both visually and conceptually. I feel the texts are exciting, challenging and engaging, just as they are distracting, invasive, and annoying even; I wanted to play with that power, clarify or confuse, and to toy with their subtle ambiguities.


I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this assignment, and, you could argue, it is a little crowded and over-thought to some extent; however, I feel that this is my project, my nod to many past/present inspirations that I have had for years (and have discovered recently) and that alone is surely justification enough. I feel satisfied that there’s clearly been thought put into this: developement of ideas, creative endeavour, revamping of concepts, planning and critical thought, merging of styles, awareness of past and contemporary artists, research and reflection, with a healthy dose of mistakes and a pleasant sprinkling of luck thrown in; all of which, I would argue, sit nicely within the brief for this assignment.
This fascinating journey into some amazing photographers as well as photographic techniques has really pushed me to define how I understand (and have understood) photography, particularly my own, up to now.
Duane Michals’ work  – discovered fortuitously thanks to David Hurn – has really caught my eye (and mind); as has looking at Walker Evans’ work, reading through Barthes’ (tricky) analyses, and delving into the often murky (but glorious) waters of Russian Constructivism and Suprematism which I found particularly illuminated by Rodchenko’s art (and others such as Lissitzky, Klutsis but not forgetting others elsewhere such as, Bayer, Heartfield, Moholy-Nagy etc.).
All of this has helped me to appreciate photography as not just a Europe-centric, or American phenomenon, (although, respectively, that’s where it all kicked off for sure), or as some social media fad either, but rather a genuine visual and intellectual language that can be (and demands to be) presented and read in many different ways, and that is undoubtedly culturally bound, yet can (usually) cross those invisible borders with ease.
A fascinating, evolving, dynamic language that I will probably be (and look forward to) studying and observing and learning for many years to come.

Genus Comune
, or, Where Things Are Most Definitely Queer.


“This city is afraid of me
I have seen its true face*
Of what Reinhart and Malevic didn’t see
And of which Robert Fludd left no trace.”

Shot-1: 1/6 sec., F/7.1, ISO-200, 42mm. *First two lines from Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Watchmen, 1986-1987, DC Comics (p1, issue 1, caption one).


“If I were dim as the sun,
Night I’d drill
with the rays of my eyes.”

Shot-2: 1/40 sec., F/5.6, ISO-3200, 42mm; Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1916, excerpt from: To his Own Beloved Self The Author Dedicates These Lines; photo by A. Rodchenko and sketched over by me.



“Mapplethorpe’s anguish like Margaret’s smile,
Was De Mesquita’s pupil with no mathematical guile;
Volkmann’s impassiveness would make Kertész ask,
If, like, Gillian we’re always wearing a mask;
And if Moore opened the door to perception,
Would Ted Hughes’ muse be Godwin’s intention?;
Marjane’s stories and Andy’s construe,
Would make Rodchenko black you out too;
Then what of Peggy Sue in a Daguerreotype?
And Amelie in a Hollywood stereotype?
As Muslim girls dance in Amsterdam,
Was Strand more French than Uncle Sam?
From those amazing blueprints by Sir Herschel,
To Turk’s fake portrait commercial;
In awe of Cameron’s Iago with his downward gaze,
Never to see Gaiman’s gift to amaze;
Yet here I am to witness them stand tall,
On my train ride going nowhere, nowhere at all.”

Shot-3: 1/25 sec., F/5.6, ISO-3200, 42mm; text by K. Byrne, mid Dec 2016; image inspired by Walker Evans’ front cover of the 1936 Penny Picture Display, and Evans’ Subway series of photographs.


Squealing under city stone
The millions on the millions run,
Every one a life alone,
Every one a soul undone:
There all the poisons of the heart

Branch and abound like whirling brooks
And there through every useless art
Like spoiled meats on a butcher’s hooks
Pour forth upon their frightful kind

The faces of each ruined child:
The wrecked demeanors of the mind
That now is tamed, and once was wild.

Shot-4: 1/13 sec., F/3.5, ISO-3200, 14mm; text by James Agee, 1937 (Reuter, 2016); inspired by Walker Evans’ series Subway Portraits, 1938–41.


“I’ll use you when I want to – not when you do.
I’m so in control, so strong, so deluded it’s untrue.
A modern God making me the walking dead,
Who knows what it’s doing to my head.
I’ve become like a ‘mombie’ on the march,
But not me, no way.
No, no, you’re wrong”

Shot-5: 1/50 sec., F/2.0, ISO-800, 50mm (100mm Eq.); K. Byrne, mid Dec 2016


Immediately I sprang into action,
experimenting toward realizing
this vision.
Dressed up as a tourist, I walked
into a cheap cinema
in the East Village
with a large-format camera.
As soon as the movie started,
I fixed the shutter
at a wide-open aperture,
and two hours later when the movie finished,
I clicked the shutter closed.
That evening, I developed
the film,
and the vision
exploded behind my eyes.

Shot-6: 2 sec., F/10, ISO-200, 14mm; text from, H. Sugimoto, (2016).


“…What this one here?
Yeah, well,
she gave it to us years ago
when she last visited us
– can’t remember now when exactly
but it was years ago.
I never really liked it at the time, to tell you the truth,
seemed pointless to give us something like that.
I mean, we see that sort of stuff all the time here, you get me?
– ten to the dozen round here they are.
Don’t get me wrong,
we weren’t ungrateful or anything,
it’s just, you know, what could we do with it?
No disrespect or anything,
but we would’ve been better off
with the bleedin’ money,
you know? [laughs]…”

Shot-7: 1,6 sec., F/4, ISO-100, 50mm (100mm Eq.); In conversation with the author, late June 1989; later published in Madstock’s The Definitive Guide to Being Blatantly Screwed by the Local Community’s Ridiculous Take on Those Numbnut Tourist and Their Willingness to Part with Pots of Money for a Pile of Arranged Rocks, 2nd edition (C. Twat., 1990). [Bill Owens/Jim Goldberg/ inspired].

A5 9 orange

“Conscious of looking
not only at the clearly depicted subject
But also at the photographic form
into which they have been projected
Reveal much about collective cultural behaviour
Public yet strangely isolated and mannered
as they individually engage with the spectacle of history
the potential for including a marriage

of a contemporary moment and a historical moment
in one photographic plane
to retrieve masterpieces from the fate of fame
the depicted scene, deliberately and conspicuously engages
the idea of the physical permeability
Nothing more than a pictorial fiction
in the end almost actively indifferent
to her very existence

that sense of exclusion
the sense of uncommunicating realms”

Shot-8: software edit of shot 7; modified version of Thomas Struth’s Art Institute of Chicago 2 gallery shot; text from an amalgamation of snippets from essays re Struth’s shot [my selection from Cotton (2009, pp97-8); Higgins (2014, p60); and Fried (2008, pp119-121)].

A5 9

“Evans explored the United States of the 1930s
—its people, its architecture,
its cultural symbols (including photographs)—
with the disinterested eye of an archaeologist
studying an ancient civilization.
Penny Picture Display might be interpreted
as a celebration of democracy
or as a condemnation of conformity.
Evans takes no side.

Shot-9: software edit (crop) of shot 10; This text is taken from the MOMA website where you can see Walker Evans’ front cover of the 1936 Penny Picture Display from which I got the fictional cover (and magazine) idea used in this sequence.


“All these years of arseholes;
arseholes farting on and staining me with their putrid stenches;
Bitches and wenches, drunks and punks,
leaving their dust and tears to enter every part of me
like I don’t do enough for them as it is;
plastering me with their symbols, and images all of which come and go;
sad as it is, I am not alone,
there are the others with me – they too ripped from their duties,
stripped of their meanings, placed in this place,
put in the dungeon – this prison of nostalgia,
in this resource wasting waste of space;
gazed upon like freaks of nature, freaks in a show;
relics of your vanity, remnants of your passage through time,
watching your noisy brief journey, your wonderfully sad raping of everything;
we are glorified by your lights as ours have grown dim – you shelter us, this at least we accept; but let us decompose naturally as all things should, without your eyes, and photographs, without your pity or your pride;
I have wheels yet I cannot move,
let me move again, roar again; let me live again.
Or just leave me be.”

Shot-10: 1/25 sec., F/3.5, ISO-3200, 14mm; Excerpt from The Train Carriage Interviews (this excerpt: 1938 Northern Line London Underground Train Rant, edited version); thanks to the London Transport Museum for this photo opportunity.


“Variable 3 or 4
Becoming southeasterly
at times
Rough, or very rough
occasionally high
Showers everywhere
Moderately good
occasionally very poor
eventually dark
or even black”

Shot-11: 1/25 sec., F/2.0, ISO-3200, 50mm (100mm Eq.); text inspired by Mark Power’s The Shipping Forecast series.


“Suffice is to say,
proud though we are of this work of fiction,

We humbly acknowledge that the truth
is infinitely more wonderful;
depressing though it is to consider
that Richard Nixon’s signature
is on the moon,
the fact that there really is a smiley face
on the planet Mars
is strangely heartening.

Keep smiling.”

Shot-12: 1/200 sec., F/1.7, ISO-1600, 50mm (100mm Eq.); text from Watchmen (absolute edition, 1988), Dave Gibbons’ concluding comments.

Sources (2016). Duane Michals – Artists – DC Moore Gallery. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Nov. 2016].

YouTube. (2016). David Hurn at The Eye Photography Festival. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Nov. 2016].

Wales Arts Review. (2016). David Hurn at The Eye International Photography Festival – Wales Arts Review. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Nov. 2016].

YouTube. (2016). Photographer Duane Michals Talks About His Career. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Nov. 2016]. (2016). Undercover: XXXXXXXX XXX XX XXXXXXXXX XXX. – RockPaperInk. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Oct. 2016]. (2016). | Interactives | Exhibitions | 1998 | Rodchenko | Portraits of Mayakovsky. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Dec. 2016].

Mayakovsky, V. (2016). Poems of Vladimir Mayakovsky. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Dec. 2016]. (2016). Watch Videos Online | Genius of photography – 2 | [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Nov. 2016]. (2016). ZC. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Nov. 2016].

Moore, A. and Gibbons, D. (1987). Watchmen. New York: DC Comics Inc.

DC. (2016). WATCHMEN. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Nov. 2016].

McCloud, S. (1994). Understanding comics. 1st ed. New York: HarperPerennial.

McCloud, S. (2016). The visual magic of comics. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Nov. 2016].

The Museum of Modern Art. (2016). Walker Evans. Penny Picture Display, Savannah. 1936 | MoMA. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Nov. 2016].

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, i.e. The Met Museum. (2016). Walker Evans | Penny Picture Display, Savannah | The Met. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Dec. 2016].

Short, M. (2011). Context and Narrative. 1st ed. 1000 Lausanne: Ava Publishing SA. (2016). MoMA | Walker Evans. Subway Portrait. from the series Subway Portraits. 1938–41. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Nov. 2016].

Reuter, K. (2016). eCUIP : The Digital Library : Social Studies : Chicago: City of Neighborhoods. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Dec. 2016]. (2016). Hiroshi Sugimoto. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Dec. 2016]. (2016). Young Boy, Gondeville, Charente, France | Paul Strand | V&A Search the Collections. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Nov. 2016]. (2016). Magnum Photos Photographer Profile. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Dec. 2016]. (2016). Magnum Photos. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Dec. 2016].

O’Hagan, S. (2014) The photographer who caught the heartbreak on both sides of America’s social divide. Available at: (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

Goldberg, J. (2016) Raised by wolves. Available at: (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

Kev Byrne 1971. (2017). A5 prep 1: ideas and statement of intent. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 May 2017].

Kev Byrne 1971. (2017). A5 Prep 2 (text with image ideas and notes). [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 May 2017].

Kev Byrne 1971. (2017). Ex 5.2. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 May 2017].

Kev Byrne 1971. (2017). A5 Prep 3: B/W dummy run with accompanying texts. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 May 2017].

Higgins, J. (2013.). Why it does not have to be in focus. 1st ed. London: Quintessence Editions.

Cotton, C. (2009). The photograph as contemporary art. 1st ed. London: Thames & Hudson.

Fried, M. (2008). Why photography matters as art as never before. 1st ed. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Marien, M. (2014). Photography. 1st ed. London: King.

Curtius, E. (2013). European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. 1st ed. Princeton University Press.

García Landa, J. and Onega Jaén, S. (2014). Narratology. 1st ed. London: Routledge.

Barthes, R. and Heath, S. (1978). Image, music, text. 1st ed. New York: Hill and Wang.

Contact sheets


Alternative presentation of sequence without text (click through)


An Interview with Danila Tkachenko

An email interview (summer to December 2016) with Danila Tkachenko primarily about some of his projects – namely Restricted Areas and Escape – after having read about him on a few months ago. Danila has been very busy over the last 12 months, and yet still managed to find time to have this insightful chat which we concluded at the beginning of January 2017 (many thanks to Ilya Fomin, Danila’s assistant, for helping out massively with translating and acting as the “middleman” – top job!). Danila Tkachenko is a visual artist working with documentary photography he lives and works in Moscow, Russia. He is currently (Jan 2017) working on his exciting new project called Lost Horizons.


KB: Why do you think it is that we (especially the Western world) have this dependency on “things” and objects? Or is that just me?

DT: I don’t consider that a dependency, it is what the nature of the Western world is only. Perhaps it was before that in the East people weren’t depended on “things” but now, unfortunately, the contemporary world is more democratic in this sense; capitalism rules everywhere and everybody. I think that capitalism is characteristic of the human, it’s his/her inner model of behavior.

KB: Yes, everything seems to be merging as we accept capitalism, although I’m not so sure it is a “characteristic of the human” as you say (if I have understood what you mean by that), but rather we have been submerged in it for so long now that we no longer question it so much, or are even aware of any (valid) alternatives.
And let’s be honest, Danila, how much of all these modern plastic toys we surround ourselves with do we really need? Have we been conditioned to think we actually need all this rubbish and illusions that surround us?

DT: I think it was becoming little by little. Humans always created utopias and started to believe in them. Often human life is too routine so people imagine other worlds to get away from reality, make different things and build illusions just to avoid the meeting with the real world.

KB: Hahaaa, and then the illusions become reality and we look for illusions within illusions…
Regarding your Restricted Areas project, did you manage to go inside those scary looking residential buildings [shot 2 from the website] in that abandoned polar town? Or was it too dangerous?

DT: I got inside some of the buildings, they are empty. That’s not dangerous at all. Perhaps you should beware of the homeless people who can live there, but it was too cold and I didn’t meet anyone there.

KB: Surely too cold and isolated for any people in there right? What about Chelyabinsk-40? What was it like going there? Unbelievable. Was the disaster really kept secret?

DT: Yes, that’s true. It’s more famous as Kyshtym disaster and kept secret until 1989 – a year of the collapse of the USSR. It happened that horrible incidents were passed over in silence by the State from people. But for justice sake, it happened not only in USSR, the western world also had its secrets.

KB: Oh yes, of course, I should imagine that even innocuous countries like Costa Rica have secrets! Why on earth did they build that 4 KM shaft in the Murmansk region??

DT: The shaft was scientific and was built for studying of the lithospheric plates. That’s not the deepest shaft, for example near there was another one which depth was more than 12 km.

KB: Really? Amazing. Something to see I should bet.


KB: Has the language of the “wild people” deteriorated? Could you communicate ok?

DT: All of them cut off society around 10-20 years ago, they weren’t born in the forest so they know the language and I could communicate with them well. But as they live separately from the world I needed to gain their confidence. That wasn’t easy but I helped them and they allowed me to take some pictures.

KB: Wow, that was quite brave of you! Do you think these people have “found themselves”, or are they just lost?

DT: I can’t say whether they have found themselves or not. “Lost” and “found” are very abstract definitions. But they live how they want to live and I guess they are happier in the forest than in the city from which they have escaped and to which they aren’t going to return.

KB: Going off to live all alone – assuming they are alone – could be seen as running away or as a very risky thing to do. What about the government, don’t they do anything about them?
Do you think that becoming an outcast (or “lunatic”) is the only way to “remain yourself”, as you mention in your accompanying text on the website?

DT: I don’t know exactly what “remain yourself” is. The people that I shot don’t «remain» themselves, they just run away from the society for different reasons. They couldn’t accept the world, it was too difficult for them so they decided to go away and I don’t think that was by reasons of self-contemplation or something like that.

KB: What, you mean they don’t contemplate the self? Are they running away from themselves or going to find themselves, whoever they are? But aren’t we who we are wherever we are? Are we all so blind? I don’t think we are.

DT: Yes, we can’t run away from ourselves, but we can run from the others. The people from this series got away from the society and they like it.

KB: Ok. What about you? Do you really feel the need to escape the “social context” and “feel the real you”(again as you mention on your website)?

DT: No, I don’t feel the need in this. Social [context] is around us and it’s difficult to escape from it.

KB: Yes, I see.
Danila, may I ask you an awkward question? Who IS the real you? (Sorry, I find it hard to actually answer that type of question myself…)

DT: I’m the artist who works with the documentary photography.

KB: OK, thank you for the insights into a truly fascinating study.


KB: According to a BJP article you would like to “present a selection of Russian photographers to a European audience through a series of exhibitions“, right?

DT: Yes, those were my words.

KB: Have you managed to do that? Any luck?

DT: No, it happened that during the last 2 years I was concentrated on my new projects and didn’t have the time for anything else.

KB: Ah, OK, I understand.
I adore Rodchenko’s amazing work, could you recommend any other great Russian masters (old and new)?

DT: Yes, besides Alexander Rodchenko, I can recommend that you look at works by Leo Borodulin, Naum Granovsky, Anatoly Boldin.

KB: That’s great! I will definitely check them out. Thanks again, Danila.



Данила Ткаченко родился в Москве в 1989 году. В 2014 он закончил московскую школу фотографии им. Родченко, класс Валерия Нистратова. В этом же, 2014 году Данила Ткаченко стал лауреатом конкурса фотожурналистики World Press Photo 2014 с проектом Побег/Escape, над которым работал три года. В марте 2015 закончил работу над проектом Закрытые Территории / Restricted Areas, уже получившим ряд международных призов, в том числе European Publishers Award For Photography, грант Burn Magazine, и включенным в голландский журнал Foam Talents. Серия была опубликована в таких изданиях, как BBC Culture, The Guardian, IMA Magazine, GUP Magazine, British Journal of Photography. В данный момент Ткаченко работает над двумя проектами, география которых охватывает значительную часть России и несколько соседних стран.

Danila Tkachenko was born in Moscow in 1989. In 2014 he graduated from the Rodchenko Moscow School of Photography and Multimedia, department of documentary photography (supervisor Valeriy Nistratov). In the same year he became the winner of the World Press Photo 2014 competition with the project Escape which he worked on for 3 years. In March 2015 he finished the project Restricted Areas which has already received a number of international awards including European Publishers Award For Photography, Burn Magazine grant, and included in the Dutch magazine Foam Talents. The series was published in such magazines as BBC Culture, The Guardian, IMA Magazine, GUP Magazine, British Journal of Photography. At the moment Danila Tkachenko is working on two projects which are being shot in a significant part of Russian territory and several neighboring countries.

LensCulture, D. (2017). Danila Tkachenko | LensCulture. [online] LensCulture. Available at: [Accessed 6 Jan. 2017].

LensCulture, A. (2017). Restricted Areas – Photographs and text by Danila Tkachenko | LensCulture. [online] LensCulture. Available at: [Accessed 6 Jan. 2017].

Tkachenko, D. (2017). Danila Tkachenko / Projects. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Jan. 2017].

Tkachenko, D. (2017). Danila Tkachenko / Projects / Restricted Areas. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Jan. 2017].

Tkachenko, D. (2017). Danila Tkachenko / Projects / Escape. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Jan. 2017].

British Journal of Photography. (2017). Ones to Watch: Danila Tkachenko. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Jan. 2017].

A1 Tutor’s feedback and my comments

Student name Kevin Byrne Student number 515754
Course/Unit Expressing Your Vision Assignment number 1
Type of tutorial Audio-Visual  

NB Something I’ve been meaning to finish and upload for a few months. Not really fair as I am now viewing the assignment (A1) and feedback with loads of hindsight (over 6 months’ worth!), but enjoyable and enlightening all the same… Kev Byrne, 27/12/16

Formative feedback

Overall Comments

This is a good start to the course. Reading through your notes on preparation, it seems you had a bit of a tortuous time deciding on subject and approach – maybe over-thinking this a little?  The quote from Bunnell is pretty apt: “Half of the photographer’s work is in the discovery of his subject.” Looking is perhaps the most important part of that process – and often without a camera.  With this first assignment, there is a tendency to over conceptualise and strive for something that is ‘different’.  As you say, the brief can appear somewhat intimidating. One approach I always suggest, as part of any preparation, is to walk around a location at different times of day and just look; then after an initial shoot, return and shoot again  – time permitting of course – there is always something different in the way we observe on a 2nd and subsequent visits to a place.
Ok, I see what you mean about taking the view in, looking around to see what you see, something that is easy to say perhaps (for me) but not all that easy to do what with commitments elsewhere. I’ve found myself over the years always noticing things/views/shadows throughout the day with the idea to go back and shoot them later – which doesn’t always happen but I find really useful when it does. So, I see what you mean about revisiting a place, view, subject or whatever, makes sense.

This is a good submission with nine images supported by brief comments, a concise and articulate refection and a set of detailed notes about preparation and workflow, with three sheets of contacts to demonstrate the full range of images captured for the assignment.

Assessment potential

Assignment 1

You may want to get credit for your hard work and achievements with the OCA by formally submitting your work for assessment at the end of the module. More and more people are taking the idea of lifelong learning seriously by submitting their work for assessment but it is entirely up to you. We are just as keen to support you whether you study for pleasure or to gain qualifications. Please consider whether you want to put your work forward for assessment and let me know your decision when you submit Assignment 2. I can then give you feedback on how well your work meets the assessment requirements.

Feedback on assignment

This set of nine images certainly meets the brief and gets across your interests, ambitions and motivations about the course and about you as a photographer.

You explore a range of techniques and approaches to reveal a level of technical expertise and the set, as a whole, is very well considered in terms of communicating the content in an engaging way. It communicates more of a sense of your working day than your environment, which was a surprise given that you live overseas (I wouldn’t have been able to tell that from this set).
Re the last point, I was trying to do something differently but still stay within the brief:
However you choose to approach this assignment, it should communicate something about you: your interests, motivations, and your ambitions for your photography.
I believe this is what I have done with this selection. Also, couldn’t my “working day” be seen as the environment in which I live (it is, after all, however tight and close the images portray that environment)? My environment is what I see (create?) and that which makes up my routines and habits – and besides I wanted to steer away from the familiar territory of shooting what I know (angles/shadows and abstract views), wanted to look at who I am and what I do (which, I thought, is not that much really while thanks to this exercise, I realise that it is actually loads at the same time!) – which is obviously effected by the environment in which I find myself. But I have always been ME wherever I have lived; I’m not sure my surroundings (or my ability/inability to capture them) would reveal all that much (more) about me. Or maybe I’m wrong?

I didn’t grow up here – although I have definitely grown – and I have lived here long enough for it not to be so ‘new’, so my take on this brief was to look again at my world and try to snatch a few snippets of it (with a newer way of seeing), which, all said and done, I feel has been accomplished, right?
You wrote that, “…a surprise given that you live overseas (I wouldn’t have been able to tell that from this set)”, yeah, ok, fine. But my objectives here were not to show anyone where I lived by looking at the selection, I’m not so interested in the physical ‘where’ (although it plays a huge part no doubt), but rather the who, and how the where is perceived. Am I waffling? I am, right?
And as I wrote above though, I wanted to keep away from the norm, this dull [my words] set, is me trying to ‘see’ in a slightly different way, I think, to force myself to think differently (anything but ‘dull’), hopefully without losing myself in the form, defying the point of the assignment by hiding behind the image so to speak. Surely this is also keeping to the brief’s suggestions of
“…to take a fresh and experimental look at your surroundings”, as well as, “…it should communicate something about you: your interests, motivations, and your ambitions for your photography.”

My “ambitions” hopefully being communicated: I am prepared to experiment and move out of my comfort zone without too much fear of messing up either, yet quite willing to accept that I have no real idea what I’m doing at this stage of the course!

It’s good that you are using prime lenses and have an awareness of depth of field, but you need to be wary that this, while defining and isolating a focal plane and point, it can often create a distracting level of blur. For example, in your first shot, the blur is a little too dominant, taking in the whole of the bottom half of the frame.
Fair comment, just love it though. Although, can’t see what the kitchen table or the plate or the background window or any other details would have revealed any more about ME personally – I was focusing on food, breakfast (or the storytelling of that action) and not the environment where we find that action. Am I not revealing how focused my brain is, how narrow I can be? Surely I am showing the viewer how I am able to filter out the peripheral and concentrate on what I need. Am I sounding too defensive here? Just trying to think about things. Am I being too myopic about this? Is there a risk of actually revealing too much (how exciting)? Knowing when to draw the line which isn’t all that clearly defined can be tricky.

While the image of the cable and plug socket makes a narrative point, it’s not particularly interesting, whereas the following shot of the broom and dustpan offers a good balance in composition between shape and colour, and an interesting blur that hovers above and yet connects the two.
Yes, agreed, not too interesting – although I didn’t shoot it to be interesting, but rather explanatory, and new (for me) in terms of subject and narrative effect. I personally dislike this shot and its lack of anything other than itself, but I like the fact that it is exactly that: something I don’t usually do (in photography) but which I physically use on a daily basis (razor/trimmer) and thus communicates something about myself and my (admittedly close) surroundings. The plug and cable shot was also a reasonably quick, off the cuff type of shot so, again, something new for me there really.

Better use of DOF in the shot of the mouse, with the subject placed well to capture an angled light that helps define shape, mass and texture. A narrative in this image might better be communicated with the device being held in hand, and maybe a larger background context – even in soft focus.
Yep, I see what you mean – I’ve got a soft spot for macros though, so no real experimental stuff going on here! Although, I could argue that this is actually revealing something about me and my photography more than the context of where it is being taken – again, this is part of the brief too, right?

Indeed – what constitutes a dull photo?  There’s a major movement in the medium that deals with this type of image,  the art of the mundane, one devoid of any emotional content and thus (for me) narrative.  It’s all about the personal (or collective) aesthetic, and it has its place. I’m not sure the angle or reduced depth of field help this shot become more interesting – perhaps a wider and more engaging context (desktop peripheral that define the user, and more atmospheric light might intrigue?
I must be honest, this is unchartered territory for me, I just tried something new in terms of subject matter, lighting, and composition and I think it works in those respects. Although it doesn’t do much for me aesthetically speaking (whatever that actually means) – this is not the type of photography that I do, enjoy, look at, or clearly understand. (What do they call that, deadpan?)
Still, I suppose that is why it is challenging (and presumably beneficial) to me to attempt this style, or approach, and be open to its novelty.

There are strong graphic elements and a good use of colour in the following image, and yes I can imagine that, given you are looking for engaging subject matter at all time, then you’ll find this most anywhere, washing line included.  There’s a good balance to this composition with the varying layers of soft focus background, expanding horizontal white lines and the broken text at the bottom of the shot.
Yeah, this is what I usually do (or prefer doing – or know how to do?) with my photography, so more revealing as to what I know (and what surrounds me constantly?) and not where I’d like to go? These shots pop out all the time for me, I adore them, but find that as soon as I have captured them, edited them, they are done: they no longer interest me. Is that normal? Feels normal to me, I suppose it means that it’s time to move on and look for the next capture, next view, the next fix even (if we can call it that).

There is a sense of mystery in the following image, with the two arrows set on the paved ground and yet no context to suggest their purpose.  As you say, and as I mentioned in my opening notes, going back to the location to capture this in better light and thus enhance the atmosphere is good practice.
Ok, I see. My incessant need to catch these views I always observe around me does tend to crop out other details (isn’t that the beauty of this type of shot though? It is for me!). If I included the supermarket car park wouldn’t these contrasting symbols be contextualized and thus their intended true meaning revealed? And wouldn’t my meaning(s) become irrelevant and be lost –  totally destroying the whole point of me framing them?  (My meanings being: the juxtaposition of the arrows, their (beautiful) conflicting, incongruous nature; my knack/need to capture them to demonstrate how I see the world around me.) Am I looking into this too much? Or not enough? Or just the wrong way? As if there is only one way anyway.

The zoom effect has it’s uses, but for me, once seen quickly forgotten. Worth trying out to see what it offers. As with all of these type of effects, they have an ephemeral appeal and it’s style over content – something that we have to be wary of.
Yes, I lost interest in this technique rather quickly too!
Still, the books are there, they can be seen, I think the movement doesn’t obscure them or my intended idea too much (idea being that I like books but they also baffle/dazzle me too!). Again though, I am simply trying something new for this assignment, trying to move out of my comfort zone, however beautiful or ugly or (un)comfortable that actually makes me feel. I must admit though, I enjoy the uneasiness it creates and the creativity that brings (or tends to).

The shot of the student at work is too cropped to offer any real information in this context and could essentially be anyone, anywhere, anytime.
No, I disagree. If the picture were presented on its own without any ‘co-text’ as well as context then we could say that, we could call it incongruous (although I bet there are those that could argue against that too). But this image comes within a brief, and is also part of a set, and is presented on a blog (with explanatory text) within a page with images before and after it, so, I feel it does offer information within the context of the sequence of images and through its presentation. Besides, what does it even matter who it is? It’s obviously someone, or an image of someone at least, that I have chosen to include through its (their) relevance to me, to the story that I want to tell and to the narrative context I have chosen to provide it in. Is that not right?
“Anywhere”? Well, couldn’t any picture arguably be anywhere and nowhere at the same time? No, wait, what does that even mean??
As to whether any photograph ever refers to any TIME – other than the moment/context in which it is taken (as well as, more interestingly, when it is presented or viewed) – is just as onerous (and fascinating!), don’t you think?

Still, this ‘student shot’, I believe, has a place, it has a “-where” in my view: the inclusion in my series obviously gives it a place – we can assume (and only that) that this photo belongs to my set due to this inclusion, can’t we? I mean, why else put it in there? I’m not mental. Well, not that mental (at least not yet). The text here also serves a purpose, doesn’t it? To clarify, to remove ambiguity, to explain, to contextualize. So, it doesn’t really matter who it is – it’s obviously someone, and someone presumably relevant to my narrative; it’s got to be somewhere – it is – even if you could argue that it isn’t actually anywhere/anything – just ask a jellyfish or something – and certainly nothing more important beyond its intended use in my attempted series of shots here; and it is of course “any” time – as in any moment of time – although I have clearly coerced it into this context, I have given it a time to exist, given it a purpose quite far from the meaning of “any”, I believe: now it has “a” time, not an unlimited amount, it has been anchored (reborn even?) by being placed within my set, placed within my meanings.
I am waffling again, right?

The final image, again a technique worth exploring and in this instance a vertical movement provides the strands of rising light and a glimpse of the nighttime exterior.The lights work well, but there is little to see in the setting – no distinct focal point.
Yes, I found this fun, and different too, and I also found it pertinent in the story I was visually trying to narrate here: tired, walking home, exhausted, night, end, consciousness waning, sliding away… This shot, I would say, has less to do with what is in it (and its settings) and more to do with its meaning (or meanings) – what the viewer could infer from it, and what it actually communicates (or what I intended for it to communicate). Whether this photographic effect captures those meanings (within the context as the conclusion of this set) is for others more qualified than myself to say (or perhaps not, perhaps it should only be up to me? Or equally so?). But it felt right at the time for me: fortuitous even, lucky and weird, weird or lucky, but right nonetheless.

So a pretty good set, and one that certainly demonstrates your interest in the medium, your approach to looking at the world around you to communicate something beyond the ordinary, and a high level of technical engagement.  This is summed up in your thoughtful conclusion, and I’m pleased that you found the assignment engaging and in allowed you to work in a more creative way.


The development work for the assignment is good (see my notes above).


This will develop more throughout the course and it’s important to contextualize your own work with that of your professional peers. It is also important to look at the work of your OCA peers and where possible join the community weareOCA

Learning Log

Your Blog is still in a fairly formative stage, with evidence of reading and research and the current assignment components uploaded.  I’ll be taking a further, detailed look as you progress towards the 2nd assignment.
I have created a WordPress site, but kept the Blogger site as a backup.

Suggested reading/viewing


There’s a comprehensive reading list for the course and additional reference points for you to explore for each project.

Here are a few alternative links to online sites that I recommend to everyone as a resource for a whole range of approaches and styles:

Referring to my earlier comments about ‘dull’ or ‘mundane’ images, Cotton covers this in Chapter 2 of his book – ‘Deadpan’ images.

Cotton, C. (2015). The Photograph as Contemporary Art. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Pointers for the next assignment and Suggested reading/viewing Context

Assignment 2 is ‘Collecting’. You can choose from one of the options offered in the course handbook or may have an idea of you own – feel free to run that past me.

Tutor name Russell Murray
Date 15 March 16
Next assignment due 15 May 16