|Select magazine number|
Igor Haiday’s photographs from his pictorial series Ukrainians at the Beginning of the 21st Century
Igor Haiday who has been working as a professional photographer for twenty five years now, is considered to be one of the more noticeable figures in artistic photography in today’s Ukraine. He is the only one, anyway, who has a studio which is equipped at the cutting age of modern photographic technology (incidentally, situated right in the heart of Kyiv) and his own gallery to show exhibitions of his works. In this issue, WU begins publishing Mr Haiday’s photographs from the series Ukrainians at the Beginning of the 21st Century. According to Mr Haiday, this series does not pretend to be “the portrait of the nation” — it is rather a study, an artist’s view. Looking at dozens upon dozens of my country fellows and peering into their faces has something intriguing in it. I hope some of these photographs will be edifying glimpses into the life of today’s Ukrainians — the moments captured and frozen for us to take a better look at.
Mr Haiday, all these people are so very different. How do they get along under the cover of one album?
Yes, they are very different indeed. There’s been an element of arbitrary choice, a chance, in choosing the faces for this album. At first, I wanted to have a gallery of faces which would look different in a multitude of ways. As a portraitist I sought a diversity. I did not pursue the line of “photogenic attractive faces.” The faces of good-looking models would not give you an idea of what the Ukrainian nation is really like. That’s why I kept looking for expressive faces.
My second step was the search for distinctive personalities. Consequently, I began taking pictures of the famous people, cultural and political figures, and so on. Their portraits make up about a half of all the photographs in this album — but it’s not a collection of “famous faces.”
Frankly, I find it hard to accept that our political elite can give a true picture of “the face of the nation.” I find that there’s a huge gap between the Ukrainian nation and those in the high echelons of power. You’re not apprehensive about a possibility of being accused of having fawned on the powers that be?
An artist is always vulnerable and is often accused of being a toady. I have always followed my own line, I was not commissioned to take the pictures of the high and mighty, it was all my free choice and that’s what is important for me. It’s my artistic project, it’s not a scientific research, it’s an artist’s view. Once, I randomly put many pictures of politicians, businessmen, show biz people, peasants and men in the street on the wall of my studio — and you know what? Looking at them I discovered that there were many common features in their faces, or maybe hints at similarities, some fine points, that united them all. It was truly a revelation for me. All the portraits in my series Ukrainians at the Beginning of the 21st Century have been done in one general style — black and white against the neutral background, taken from one and the same angle — and no makeup. I wanted the viewers not to be distracted by the colour, background, social status and concentrate their attention on the persons represented. I wanted the people in my portraits look equals, equal in the profound sense of the word.
Do you think you’ve managed to present the right “mixture” of faces?
It’s hard to tell. I don’t think an all-correct answer can be found to your question. My gallery of portraits is my — I emphasize — subjective view. Ukrainians over five are all so different in their appearance. I sought to look for the contrasts — the contrasts of faces, characters, inner energies. I wanted to show the uniqueness of each person and at the same time I looked for what may unite them. I want those who will look at the portraits I’ve made, to experience different emotions, to have different impressions and thoughts. That’s what’s important for me.
But how impartial was your own approach? Did you look at the people you made portraits of as an outsider?
Yes, I tried to be impartial. It is this impartiality that was my guiding force. And the push to start my project came five years ago when I spent some training at a photo studio in the French city of Toulouse. One of the photographers there asked me: What do Ukrainians actually look like? I was at a loss, I could not find a proper answer. It’s very difficult to describe in words a collective portrait of a nation. I had with me a number of photographs of Ukrainian models but I realized that to show them would be a wrong way of giving an idea what Ukrainians looked like as a nation — these girls are beautiful but their faces are “a standard issue” — the fashion models look pretty much the same all over the world. I did not have any pictures with me that would show ordinary Ukrainians in everyday situations. When I came back to Ukraine, I looked at the photographs that I had taken ten or fifteen years previously and I could clearly see that they did not reflect the changes that had occurred in our society ever since. When in 1998, my commissions dwindled because of the then economic crisis, I felt I could devote myself to making a collective portrait of the nation. It does not mean I claim I’ve managed to really present a comprehensive portrait.
By now, you have already made one hundred and twenty pictures. Do you go on working on this project?
I think this number is representative enough. Maybe, I’ll add a few more but basically I think I’ve done what I was aiming at. Now I’ll have to start looking for financial support to have the book published.
Isn’t it the most difficult and unpleasant part in the work of an artist?
Frankly speaking — yes. The main thing these days is to keep the right balance between the creative activity and business. I’ve learnt this skill in the west — to know how to sell your work well and how to go about it.
Did you make any other important discoveries in the west?
Maybe it’ll sound not too modestly but I think that Ukrainian artists have a certain advantage over the western artists. The advantage is our versatility. When I showed my photographs to the French photographers that I had taken with me to France, they were surprised that all of them had been taken by one and the same person. They just did not believe it. They are accustomed to thinking that narrow specialization is a good thing and that one and the same photographer cannot take good pictures of still-lifes, landscapes and portraits. By contrast, I find narrow specialization to be badly wrong, I cannot accept it. It binds you, takes away your freedom. But it’s all one and the same sun that shines on us, we all of us operate by the same laws of light and darkness and balanced compositions.
Why then specialization is the guiding line in the west?
There may be several reasons for that. One of the reasons lies in the commercial schools that teach art and photography. Even at school, the students are divided into specialized groups. It seems to me that they don’t know the basic things, the foundation, the algorithm. I studied photography at the Kyiv Theatrical Institute, at the department which followed the curriculum and programme of the Cinematography Institute in Moscow, then the leading institution of its kind, and it was only during the fifth year of studies that we began to major in our chosen fields — photography in movies, on TV, and so on. That’s why we have had the basics firmly put into us. In the west, they keep on introducing new techniques and methods and from the business point of view everything is working fine. But they do not have to look into the neighbouring fields, to see what’s going on there because the whole mechanism is working smoothly and all they have to know is their narrow field. Yes, the western photography in advertisement is excellent and of a very high level, but in the philosophical sense it is important to try to probe into the profound issues and comprehend them, to go through all the phases of the creative process, and if you don’t do it, your personality is robbed of something very important.
In my project Ukrainians at the Beginning of the 21st Century I did not follow the lines I pursue in my professional work which by ninety percent is taking photographs for advertisement. I’ve used quite different principles, incompatible with ads. I felt it was a great step forward for me in the artistic sense. It was really a creative work. I have not been following anybody’s requests, I was not limited to any particular schemes — I’ve been looking for capturing the most important features of human personalities. And this in itself is a rewarding creative process.
Myroslava Barchuk, WU Senior Editor,
has recently interviewed Igor Haiday, a leading Ukrainian photographer.