Alexandra Demenkova studied in the photography department of the Union of Journalists in Saint Petersburg. Since 2004 she has been active as a documentary photographer; among the awards she has received is the prize for the best Russian photo correspondent. Demenkova explicitly places people at the heart of her work. “If photography is not about people and done for people, what’s the use of it?”, she says of her work. In 2008 she received a grant from the Prins Bernhard Fonds, and was an artist in residence at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten. Her last work was shot in January 2011 and is about rural Moldova. Alexandra is also carrying forward a long term project about Russian province that will go on this summer too.
What did attract you to photography?
I asked my parents to give me a camera as a birthday present when I was 10. But, they didn’t give me a real camera, they gave me a Lego kind of thing. So, I got my first camera when I was about 19, when I came to Saint-Petersburg and started to see photography at the exhibitions and was enchanted by it immediately. I believe, one of the most important factors was its seeming accessibility. It was something I could do on my own and at that very moment, unlike other things that seemed impossible.
Have you ever worked within the fashion world? Why?
No, I’ve never worked within the fashion world. It’s simply never happened before, I would love to, though, if I ever have a chance.
What was your best exhibition experience? Why?
The first exhibition that came to my mind is the one I participated in at Nordic Light Photography Festival in Kristiansund, Norway, because the people were very nice, the exhibition space was nice and the festival itself was great. And, its important to mention that people were really interested to see the exhibitions, which is not always the case.
The second one is an exhibition of Humanity Photo Awards in Dazhou, China, an open-space exhibition in the central square of the city. I remember the feeling being there at night, when a lot of people were walking through it, to see the pictures and somewhere nearby there were groups of people having tango classes and gymnastics…
Is there another medium you’d like to experiment with besides photography?
Yes, I’ve always dreamt to make documentary movies. I don’t know if I ever dare to try though. I think, it might take another lifetime to learn how to do it.
Do you enjoy collaborations? What was the best collaboration you had?
Not any I would remember of. I think I enjoy working on my own at most.
Could you please tell us more about the book “Land. Country life in the urban age”?
I don’t have it at hand at the moment to have a look. Its a book accompanying the main exhibition of Noorderlicht Photography Festival held in Groningen in 2010. The exhibition was beautiful, very big and diverse, held in Groningen Museum. The book is very well-designed and well-published, I was proud to be in it.
What is the most interesting place you’ve ever travelled to?
All the places I travelled to were fabulous, each one in a different way. The ones I probably think most and feel nostalgic about are Georgia and Cuba…
I would like to go back to every village I’ve visited in Russia, to so many places, but for one village in Moldova where I almost got killed twice in two days in succession.
What is the most difficult photo you did take?
It probably is a picture of an old man in a cart (nicknamed “Shipok”), going home after the picnic. They were five men, all of them considerably drunk and I didn’t feel confident about going with them, but I couldn’t resist. One of the men was staring at me the whole way with a scary gaze and making nasty jokes, etc. We were meant to go back to the local farm. But, at a certain point, instead of going straight on the road, they abruptly went to the right and down, by the river; I believe, it was their secret plan. At the same time, the man who was staring at me and the other one, who was managing the horse, fell out, the third man jumped out and I found myself in the cart, jumping back and forth in it, having nothing to hold on, the horse galloping freely and two drunken elderly men (Shipok and Misha, who was meant to “protect” me) sleeping peacefully in the cart. I tried to stop the horse myself, risking to fall out all the time and to die under the horse’s hind legs and cart’s wheels, but I only managed to make the horse turn right and precipitate into the void – into the frozen river. I jumped out of the cart, the moment after Misha woke up and stopped the horse… And what came next is another story.
Who s the woman you’d like to see featured / interviewed here?
Tatiana Plotnikova, photographer from Saint-Petersburg.
File under: Interview