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 lensculture.com 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.
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