Am I an artist or a photographer?

Am I an artist or a photographer?

Dasha Veselkina
Dasha Veselkina

It is an open question for Anya Marchenkova.

Anya Marchenkova is an Ural artist working mainly with photography and installation, author of some social shootings for the various media, and a graduate of the Rodchenko School.

Website is a professional stage

Anya started thinking about making a website three years ago, when it felt inconvenient to introduce herself in words anymore. Personal website is a professional stage, you can describe yourself as a photographer or an artist with it: “Driver has a car. He or she is not a driver without it. Similarly, a photographer is not a photographer if he or she does not have a camera, a computer and a website,” says Anya Marchenkova. To admit that photography is not a hobby, but a profession, you need to go through stages, to achieve some important results – a good series of photographs, some exhibitions and publications. Self-awareness also calms the inner critic, who, in difficult moments, starts talking about failure.

The website serves for self-presentation, it also becomes a collector of meanings of the artist and photographer. Anya found herself in a situation where it was necessary to decide who she was and how to talk about it. Am I an artist or a photographer? Why do I want to split my activities? What for?

Level reached, but which one?

All of Anya’s works include photography. For her graduation project “Subtle Structures” at the Rodchenko School Anya made an installation, in which photographs in the glass cases get gradually covered with mold. During her residency at the Metenkov House, Anya made the project «Interference in Landscape», where she studied the cultural and ecological landscape of the Urals – photography was the main means of expression for the landscape that was changed by man. And the logo of the “3M” company referred to the process of creating photos that includes hoax, scaling and flickering. “3M” encrypts these processes. In the project for the Art Residences program of the 5th Ural Industrial Biennale the artist used photography as the only possible means to document and illustrate the processes that were transferred to the exhibition space from the Asbestos production facility.

In addition to creating exhibition projects, Anya is engaged in social and post-documentary shootings and throughout the entire time she stays with a vibrating question: what to do with the division into a photographer and an artist?

There is more from craft in photography: “I look in the viewfinder and I know what I’ll see,” says Anya, “and when I’m doing an art project, I don’t know what will happen in the end.” The mechanics of shooting and creating material for the exhibition are different. Documentary social shootings fix a real chain of events. As a photographer Anya can shape the reality or she may not interfere: “I make casts of an event and transfer those into the photographic format”. In art projects Anya can “simplify everything to a diagram” or “make up fables.” These are different approaches that divide work into the photographic and artistic, but their medium is the same.

Load and burden

What’s common in social photography and exhibition work is completeness. It can vary: include long months of reflection, analysis for the sake of some goal, or it can consist of an easy and quick action or idea. “Any work should contain a complex of thoughts, nothing can be accidental. Thoughts can come from all the directions, so that in the end one gesture or click holds many layers behind it”, says Anya.

Any work should include non-random ideas and the responsibility for quality. Work is made for a customer-viewer with a thought that it can’t be done badly. Such an approach to any work is a load and burden.

Photography demands less thought than creating a work for an exhibition. Besides, there is no need to add text to a photo: “Writing text is a huge stress. I know I can’t do it alone, so I’m looking for help in writing in advance”. Alongside, sooner or later, social shootings lead to emotional burnout and the deformation of optics. “I came to a dance class. There we were asked to do an exercise: some people relax, while others make movements with their bodies”, – says Anya. “Then I saw a child with SMA in a relaxed body” (spinal muscular atrophy). 

Anya says that after participating in the Art Residences program of the Ural Biennale, she started talking only a month later – due to the tension and responsibility she felt in the project. During this period, Anya filmed a lot, social shootings provided an opportunity to get distracted, to switch from one difficult task to another. “You need to be responsible for the opportunities that are given to you,” such an attitude is the result of education and training. 

As if labor and complexity make up a layer that should necessarily accompany any viewer’s order.

A striking idea of lightness

Anya took part in two projects that turned out to be unusually easy. At the Ural apartment, Anya presented the series “Tan”: “I printed and hung photos of people who sunbathed in the summer at the stadium. When I took these photos, there was no extra effort, from which you grunt, sleep badly and then be rude to other people. “At Stas and Yulia Sharifulin’s workshop the “Impossible Territories: Listening to the Sound Landscape of the City” at the “Looch” festival, Anya worked with sound: “There was a performance at the end of the workshop. At some point I heard that my piece was playing. I was very impressed that the process was not demanding, complicated and time consuming. I realized that I want lightness, which I lack in my photographic projects.”

Ease appears in those moments, when everything that has been thought of, intuitively comes to one point. It includes long work, experience, and groans. It means that lightness and heaviness can occur simultaneously, depend on each other. What if a photographer and an artist can coexist in the same way?

– Anya, how should I write: an artist or a photographer?

– For me, this is an open question. It is important for me to collect and admit my variation, to understand that it exists, that there are two different persons in me, a photographer and an artist – this is normal, – Anya answers.

This answer has ease, though hard work, search and comparison of meanings continue at the same time, and this all can stay with Anya as much as necessary.