Union of Photo Artists Launches a Project for Authors of All Ages
On December 3-5, the ‘Photo Union. Unity’ (‘FotoSoyuz. Edinstvo’) Open All-Russian Festival will take place in Suzdal. It was preceded by a contest of the same name. The contest brought together Russian photographers of different ages working in different branches on one competition platform.
Natalia Udartseva is a well-known curator, journalist, and photo editor with incredible experience. Today, she is a mentor for many young authors. The expert explores new trends in contemporary art with great interest. In her interview with the Global Women Media, Natalia Udartseva shared her vision of high-quality education for the younger generation of photographers. She also told about a new competition project and the potential of young artists.
journalist, photo editor, curator of large-scale photo projects, lecturer, photography expert, Board Member of the Union of Photo Artists of Russia, Chairperson of the Moscow Department of the Union of Photo Artists of Russia
Natalia Udartseva has managed and taken part in the implementation of several large-scale projects. Those include the International Festival of Photography in Uglich (2010-2014), ‘The Best of Russia’ exhibition project (2008-2018), the ‘Evolution of Sight. 1991-2016’ project, and other initiatives. The expert headed the photo service of Ogonyok magazine, the Firm’s Secret publishing house. She is CEO of PhotoMap, founder of the School of Visual Arts, and curator of the Young Photographers of Russia project (2005-2022). All that is just a small part of her active professional and creative life.
Competition and festival projects of the Union of Photo Artists of Russia representing one of the largest initiatives aimed at supporting, promoting, and educating in the field of photography in Russia occupy an important place in Natalia Udartseva’s activities today.
– You are not only a photography expert but also an experienced mentor. What role does pedagogy play in the art of photography? What should a good teacher be like?
– I believe that pedagogy should never be separated from the field of art and creativity. That is an important element of culture, upbringing, and personality formation.
For many years, people have been discussing what education in photography should be like, how it should differ from education in any other field. Those are topical questions for discussion in the professional environment. However, it seems to me that thinking in that way is not quite correct. We should not consider educational processes in different fields as something separate and independent of general principles.
Education in the field of photography is part of a larger educational process aimed at gaining knowledge from various fields. Any person engaged in creative work is first and foremost an author. In this regard, much depends on how interesting and developed his or her personality is.
An artist (and a photographer as well) always projects him- or herself onto his or her works. Such authors can be excellent at photography techniques and have in-depth knowledge of the nuances of using different tools and materials. However, their works can still not echo in the hearts of viewers. Why does that happen? The reason is that the author can be not interesting as a person. In this case, he or she is unable to cause emotions in the audience with his or her visual message because it is either banal or ‘dead’. Yes, today’s criteria for evaluation include the notions of ‘live’ and ‘dead’ photography (like in Russian fairy tales about live and dead water). However, people often put their own meaning into those concepts.
Visual experience, in-depth knowledge of literature, education, and cultural richness are particularly important. In the Russian language, the beginning of the word ‘education’ and word ‘image’ sound in the same way. The personality of a teacher or a mentor is extremely important irrespective of the subject.
In my student years, my groupmates and I greatly enjoyed classes by Ilya Tolstoy. He taught the syntax of the Russian language. Thanks to him, we easily grasped even the most difficult topics. I still remember a great impression from the classes by Dietmar Rosenthal, our outstanding lecturer of Russian stylistics. By the way, his Russian language textbook is still a bestseller. I often recall Elizaveta Kuchborskaya, our lecturer of ancient literature. I remember her artistic talent, the plasticity, the timbre of her voice. The huge student audience of the Faculty of Journalism of the Moscow State University listened to her holding their breath and being afraid of missing even a single word. It is the way how you teach that matters, not the subject. Of course, sincerity, passion, and love are necessary for good teachers.
In today’s age of rapid digital development, automation of many processes, and total digitalisation, the personality of the teacher is becoming even more important. One can always find dry information on the net without leaving one’s own home. Education presupposes a deeper process, which requires live communication. It requires talented teachers able to inspire and interest students and deliver information in a way making it possible for the listeners to ‘absorb’ and ‘experience’ it, not just hear it. For artists, that is no less important than practice.
– What is your vision of the most valuable things in communicating with the younger generation?
– I believe that any educational process presupposes an exchange of energy and information, an obligatory interaction between two parties. A good teacher is prepared not only to give knowledge but also to learn from the audience. The interest of the one party generates the interest of the other one. That makes the educational process very human-focused and effective.
Respect, I believe, is another important element of such communication. That is the teacher’s respect for the audience and the listeners’ respect for the teacher. People always feel how they are treated. We can not just listen to people but also hear their point of view and accept their opinion when we respect them. That is important for both the teacher and the student.
I enjoy teaching. It’s a pity that I haven’t been able to deliver many lectures and training sessions lately. That is caused by my involvement in projects. Fortunately, the projects also give me enough opportunities for communication, interaction, and analysis of the current changes.
– What projects are the most significant for you today?
– Young Photographers of Russia. I have been running it for eight years already together with my wonderful team.
Twenty years ago, the Union of Photo Artists of Russia created that project combining competition, festival, and educational components. Its participants are talented authors from all regions of Russia aged between 18 and 35 years. Dozens of currently well-known and successful authors were first recognised at that contest. I am grateful to many of them for their interest and participation in the project as experts, jury members, and speakers.
The new project called ‘Photo Union. Unity’ expands the age limits and creative scope for artists. That is a new big project that we carry out jointly with the Vladimir Suzdal State Museum Reserve. The project brings together beginners and experienced authors working in all branches from documentary to conceptual photography. The project is not only a contest and a festival but also research making it possible to identify the trends that are currently popular in Russia, the techniques used by authors, and their topics of concern. Thanks to the contest, we acquire an interesting review of Russian photography with all its diversity countrywide.
Is it fair to have people of different ages taking part in the contest? I believe that such a question can’t be applied to the field of art. People may have varying degrees of technique and skill but the potential of an artist is always apparent. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote his first symphony at the age of 8. Before that, he was known in Europe as a child prodigy and a wonderful music performer.
– Can you describe the process of the contest?
– Both the Young Photographers of Russia and the ‘Photo Union. Unity’ projects have the same principle of organisation and holding the competition. We talk about the competition at various venues and invite everyone to participate in the contest in advance. We collect works for a few months on the website of the Union of Photo Artists of Russia. That makes it possible for people from any region of our country to participate in the contest. Then the first qualifying round begins. It is aimed at identifying the projects taking part in the exhibition of finalists. Voting is carried out in an open form: everyone can watch how the jury works, see the artists' works, and the number of scores.
The Young Photographers of Russia 2021 photo competition brought together 1107 authors from 72 regions of Russia. The jury considered 1849 projects and selected projects by 102 young authors for the final exhibition. Twenty of them won prizes in the competition. More than 40 artists received special certificates for their participation.
This year, the ‘Photo Union. Unity’ contest had 1293 projects by 663 authors from 68 regions of Russia. Then 120 projects by 106 authors were accepted to the final phase of the contest. They will be included in the final exhibition available to viewers in the Kremlin museum complex in Suzdal from December 3 to 12. They will also become part of the contest exhibition in the category ‘Young Ancient Suzdal’ exhibited in the Bishop's Chambers of the Suzdal Kremlin until January 16, 2022. The opening of both exhibitions is to take place on December 3. It is timed to coincide with the first day of the festival.
The second round of voting is closed. Participants can only find out the results at the festival traditionally held at the end of the event. Winners are selected in accordance with eight key categories. I think this number will increase in the future. Photography is developing rapidly and new directions are emerging constantly. We would like to cover all that diversity.
Both projects (the Young Photographers of Russia and the ‘Photo Union. Unity’) are primarily social, not commercial. The most valuable things gained by participants include experience, knowledge, and an opportunity to find new professional contacts, mentors, and partners for joint creative initiatives. We strive to support talented authors at all levels. After identifying the contest winners, we apply to the Ministry of Culture of Russia and ask to include them in the list of applicants for state scholarships for artists and cultural workers.
The Young Photographers of Russia festival takes place in Kaluga on July 5-9, 2022. All those wishing to take part in it can start preparing right now.
The ‘Photo Union. Unity’ festival will be held in Suzdal on December 3-5. The programme will be bright and eventful despite its three-day period. We have prepared several exhibitions, tours of the museum spaces, lectures, and workshops by renowned professionals.
The registration for the festival is open and we have already received upwards of 100 applications. That proves the interest of people and the necessity to hold such activities.
– Why did you choose Suzdal as a place for holding the ‘Photo Union. Unity’ festival?
– We hold festivals in different cities of Russia. They are all beautiful and interesting. However, I fell in love with Suzdal literally at first sight. I have visited it several times and was impressed by the spectacular magical light accompanying me throughout the day! It reminded me of the atmosphere of Saint Petersburg in winter with its delicate water-colour-like views. Suzdal is a photographer’s paradise with its combination of stunning light and unique historical sites. It invites the visitors to enjoy its museums, exhibition halls, the Suzdal Kremlin with its walls of the 18th century, and other interesting places.
Suzdal also has a wonderful centre for supplementary education called Istok. It is an old historical building with wooden stairs and cast-iron railings of the 19th century. When you enter it, you are charged with inspiration and a desire to create. I was lucky enough to watch the classes held there. The children were painting, sewing, doing crafts, and communicating with one another. They seemed very well-educated and enthusiastic. The centre agreed to become our partner and provided a venue for the practical sessions of the festival programme. The event will also take place in several similar spaces.
Our project is not a one-time action. It is devoted to preparation for the 1000th anniversary of Suzdal and presupposes long-term collaboration with the Vladimir Suzdal State Museum Reserve and other cultural, public, and scientific institutions of Suzdal and the Vladimir Oblast. We plan to share the experience of cooperation gained throughout the project with other regions of Russia.
A separate nomination in the ‘Photo Union. Unity’ contest was devoted to Suzdal. We saw a lot of interesting projects. There were works based on one colour only. The author was looking for such plots in the city where all objects were green only. Some photographers decided to show the contrast of the ancient and the modern in the image of Suzdal. They had to capture shots with the two facets harmoniously combined or opposed to each other. The contest also included works about Suzdal from different points of view, Suzdal in summer, Suzdal in winter, Suzdal in the multitude of the fair colours, etc. As a result, we had a very beautiful exhibition called ‘Young Ancient Suzdal’.
When holding festivals in different cities, we attract visitors from other regions of Russia, engage local infrastructure and small economy, and make cultural life more intense. The Photo Parade in Uglich became an annual event held another five years after my withdrawal from the project. It is a pity that the event no longer exists. Today, other significant photo festivals include only the Young Photographers of Russia, ‘Photo Union. Unity’, and ‘PhotoVisa’ in the Krasnodar Krai. The geography of our projects is expanding gradually and constantly. Last year, we held a week of young photographers in Novosibirsk. That included 4 platforms, 13 exhibitions, and many educational and cultural events. We were even invited to return there next year. On December 9, the exhibition ‘Young Photographers of Russia. 2010-2020’ will open in Krasnoyarsk. Next year, we are planning to hold the Week of Young Photography there.
People interested in young photographers and their works are looking forward to seeing our projects. Such large-scale ‘mobile’ projects attract attention and contribute to the cultural evolution of the regions and the decentralisation of cultural events.
– You work a lot with young contemporary artists. Are there any projects that have impressed you greatly?
– It’s very difficult to single out one or even a few projects. Contemporary authors present a lot of unique works that you can explore infinitely. I am pleased to see that the notion of classical genres in photography is slowly changing. Those authors who work with portraits, still life, and landscapes often give up patterns and present interesting new approaches in the implementation of their ideas. The textual descriptions of the projects have become more meaningful. We can also witness the trend towards multidisciplinarity in one project. We are trying to take this into account. For example, next year, we plan to add a photographic film or multimedia to the two current categories of the Young Photographers of Russia contest (‘photo project’ and ‘photo book’). I cannot yet name the exact titles of the new nominations. However, I would like to see different combinations of photography, video, sound, animation, and interaction with the viewer. I’m thinking about the name of the nomination and I’m open to suggestions.
I like the moments when artists not only create beauty but also strive to be as creative as possible in expressing their thoughts and ideas. Fortunately, the younger generation of photographers is becoming incredibly talented in this field.
– What is your vision of today’s generation of photographers?
– This year, the Young Photographers of Russia contest witnessed a different kind of photography. This year, members of Generation X (people who were born before 1986) have left the age range of the project. They have been replaced by the Millenials, young people who grew up in a digital environment. They can’t imagine life without gadgets and computers and have a different perception of everything around them and happening to them.
This generational shift has also resulted in a change in photography trends. Today’s young authors are different because they are not afraid to talk openly about their inner problems. For them, a photo image is a way to tell about themselves, their emotions and feelings, to declare their attitude to a certain problem.
The older generation is rather sceptical about such openness. Nevertheless, we are surrounded by contemporary art created by the young. We should not oppose it.
This year, the Young Photographers of Russia participants included young artists who were not ready to limit themselves to photography only. Many of them simultaneously work with sculpture, painting, film, video, performances, 3D art objects, and interactive installations. Even when working on photographs, young authors often use additional tools. They create photographs with drawings, 3D objects, and collages on the images. They are interested in the enormous opportunities for creativity provided by modern reality and technologies.
– According to you, the older generation does not always understand and accept younger artists. What is your own attitude to contemporary creativity?
– Lovers and connoisseurs of the classics find it difficult to immediately immerse themselves in the art created by the new generation. This is because contemporary creativity, approaches, topics, and methods are radically different from our habitual ones.
I am an open-minded person. I find it incredibly interesting to explore the new cultural trends and art objects at the junction of different visual arts. I find it interesting to communicate with young artists. They think differently and even have a different perception of reality. When starting any kind of communication with young people, adults must remember themselves at that age. When we were young, we were not always understood or accepted. Everyone tried to teach us something, to explain that we were ‘doing wrong things’ or doing something ‘not the way it should be’.
There has always been a generational difference in the perception of the world and many other things. Today, due to the acceleration of technological progress, that difference has become only greater and sharper.
I want older and younger generations not to compete but to learn from each other. They should at least try to understand positions and thoughts that might be different from their own. After all, creativity has always presupposed continuity, collaboration, and interaction.
I am happy that the Young Photographers of Russia project is gaining popularity. New authors come to us annually. They want to take part in the contest. In my opinion, that is a sign of trust. As the project’s curator, I believe that there is nothing more valuable and important.
I hope that our new ‘ageless’ project ‘Photo Union. Unity’ will bring together different generations of photographers and reconcile them with one another. The project will enrich mature photographers with new ideas. In their turn, young photographers will learn from the experience and mastery of their older colleagues. That will contribute to new opportunities for creative interaction.
Marina Volynkina, Viktoria Gusakova, Global Women Media news agency
Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov