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Capturing Beauty in Motion
Oleksandr Zadiraka, 62, has been working as a professional photographer who is well known in Kyiv for his artistic photography, for over forty years now. Maryna GUDZEVATA, WU senior editor, paid a visit to his studio, and not only enjoyed what she saw there but was kindly granted an interview.
Oleksandr Zadiraka is a member of the Union of Artist-Photographers of Ukraine. He was educated to be an engineer. In the past, for twenty years, he played rugby in a club that participated in the top rugby division championships of the former Soviet Union. Mr Zadiraka has authored a book that deals with certain aspects of art photography. He is married with two sons.
What comes first for you — an idea, and then search for turning this idea into a photographic image, or you take a picture first and then figure what can be done with it?
deas come first.
When did your career in photography begin?
I think it was in 1965, when I became a student of the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute and began to attend a photo club which was run by Heorhiy Zaytsev who became my first teacher in photography. Then I was offered a part-time job as a photo correspondent for the Polytechnic newspaper. Later, I began to show my photos at exhibitions.
In 1971, I graduated summa cum laude from the Kyiv Polytechnic and landed a job of an engineer. Besides, since 1966, I had been playing rugby.
Soccer was a favorite sport among photographers but rugby did not enjoy a similar popularity among them. I found it unfair, and began taking pictures of rugby games. Gradually, I learned how to do it properly and well, though it did take some time. These days, beginners can get a lot of information from various sources, and the photo equipment is much more sophisticated and user-friendly too, but in those days I had to proceed by trial and error, with little or no help from anywhere.
Do you remember any of your early photographs which you like in particular?
Let me see … Yes, there was a photo of a small bridge made from trunks of birch trees. I took that photo in 1967. I was riding a bicycle and suddenly caught sight of that bridge. There was something in it — that bridge caught my fancy.
Do you still have that photograph?
Yes, I do! You can have a look at it — it’s hanging over there, on the wall!
Also, among the many photographs I took on tours, there was one of an old man, somewhere in a godforsaken place — it is another of my favorites.
Do you remember what your first photo camera was?
Of course, I do! It was quite an old one, called FED-2. In fact, I did not own it — it was a borrowed one. When in the eighth grade in school, I had a crush on a girl, my classmate, I did not have a camera and I borrowed one from a friend — and began snapping pictures of that girl right in class! The teacher was not too pleased with that and ordered me to stop.
I bought a camera for myself when I was a student of the Polytechnic. To earn some money, I worked unloading freight cars at the railroad terminal at night. I saved some money that I earned by this “hard labor”, and at last bought a camera. It was a more sophisticated one, Zenit-3.
But photography remained hardly more than a hobby for me until I got injured during training — and that was not my first injury either. I realized I had enough of rugby and wanted to find a different occupation. A friend of mine, who also used to be an engineer and who had gone into photography, began to talk me into going pro — in photography, that is. I talked to my family, to my friends — all of them insisted I should stick to my engineering. Incidentally, my father had been against my doing rugby right from the start. Neither was he happy with my infatuation with photography — he did everything he could to discourage me, and when I mentioned an intention of abandoning everything for photography, he said it was not a proper occupation for a qualified engineer. But I did make a decision that changed my life. And, incidentally, I began to earn considerably more from photography than I did working as an engineer.
Originally, it was black-and-white photography but gradually I graduated into color photography. In those times, in the Soviet Union, you had to print your own photos — which meant you had to buy the right sort of chemicals, create the right sort of conditions for developing the photos and then you had to print photos from the negatives — all in your own bathroom or any other room that could be turned into a darkroom. I recorded all the steps I took in improving my photography in a sort of a diary, experimenting but also listening to advice provided by the more experienced photographers. My efforts began to bring good results. But the problem of having your own studio remained. I kept looking for rooms where I could work, and among the places I turned into a sort of studios were basements infested with rats. Once, I even rented a tiny room in the morgue… When I found work at an advertisement company — soviet-style company, of course, they found me a place to set up a studio at. There was little you could buy in the stores then — so I had to make most of the things I needed with my own hands.
I know — and see the confirmation of it on the walls — that nude is one of your favorite subjects.
It sure is. I even wrote a book, Nude Photography. It was written in two weeks, during the summer of 2004. In that book, I give certain tips and recommendations based on my own experience.
I consider the female body to be the ultimate, divine creation, the Beauty incarnate. Starting from ancient times, painters, sculptors and more recently photographers have been trying to capture this Beauty in different materials… Probably because at the early stages of my photography career I took photos of sports events, I wanted my models also to be in motion. I think I was one of the first who began photographing nude in motion rather than in static poses. Nude is a very difficult genre of art photography. You have to be very careful not to slide into vulgarity. I despise and reject naturalism and what might be called “indecent exposure.”
Has sports photography remained among your favorites?
Absolutely. In sports photography, you are after capturing a moment, be it an exhilarating moment of triumph, or a dramatic moment of failure. Sports offer unending opportunities for photography and it keeps being a very exciting subject for me. In fact, I’m toying with an idea of writing another book — this time devoted to taking photos of sports events.
I know that your elder son is a photographer too. Was it you who encouraged him to go into photography?
No, not really. Vlad was a businessman but two years ago he started his photography career. I offered him my help but he flatly refused it. Recently, he had some of his photos shown at his birthday party at a restaurant — it was a slide show projected on a big screen. His are large-sized photos. What I saw at that exhibition impressed me greatly. I’m very happy he has that gift. He is becoming a sought-for artist very fast — and he is doing it in his own way.
Have you shown any of your photographs at international exhibitions?
Yes, I have. Several years ago, a friend of mine talked me into sending some of my photographs to be shown at an international exhibition. I was awarded a prize. Since then, I’ve been sending my photos to international exhibitions once in a while, and I’ve kept winning top prizes! In France, Austria and Portugal, to name just a few.
Do you have what is usually called hobbies?
If fishing and hunting are hobbies then I have them. Also, I play football with friends two times a week. I have a dacha, which is situated about a hundred miles from Kyiv. My friends and I have a tradition to celebrate the New Year at that dacha…I want to start painting in oils. My father had always dreamt of doing some painting but he never actually came round to doing it though he lived to be 92. Painting became my ambition too and I will do it, — I’ve even made the first steps. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find enough time for painting.
Do you do any traveling?
Oh yes. I love traveling around Ukraine, and, of course, with my camera.
Are there any places that you like in particular?
There are so many places which I would call “favorite” — among them are the Sofiyivsky Park in Uman, the town-fortress of Kamyanets-Podilsky, the fourteenth-century Bakotsky Mykhaylivsky Monastery. The monastery is situated on the River Dniester on the hill called Bila Hora (Mount White), not far from the site where the village of Bakota used to be. After the construction in 1981 of a dam nearby, a large artificial lake was created, the water covered a large territory and the village found itself on the bottom of the lake. But the place is gorgeously beautiful!
When I worked a lot in sports photography, I traveled a lot around the world, and now I continue to travel, but not as widely as I used to. Last year, I visited China. Among the places I’ve been to and liked are Paris, Amsterdam and Switzerland. But there’s no place like home — Ukraine is my home and I would not be able to live anywhere else.
Oleksandr Zadiraka with his sons, Vlad and Vladyslav. 1990s.
An Old Man. 1969