Maria Vinogradova was a merit selection in the 2021 Rfotofolio Call.
Created by using medium-format film, slow exposures, and the 19th century photographic printing process of gum bichromate, these images offer a beautiful and timeless view of Moscow cityscapes. The artist has removed any signs of present-day, and in so doing has offered viewers an intriguing world that seems both real and imagined. The slow exposures work to create these dreamlike scenes, further enhanced by the painterly quality of the gum bichromate process. A spectacularly beautiful body of work, the stellar hand-applied printing is even more impressive in that each image was printed with a single b&w negative. Each perfectly composed image stands easily on its own, and- as a whole- creates a powerful visual story. I also appreciated the artist’s words about this work— lovely and poetic writing. Diana Bloomfield
Would you please tell us about yourself?
I love art, architecture and long lonely walks. I was born in Moscow, Russia, in 1970 and had led quite a normal life until I took up photography. From that day I’ve been constantly pursuing and doing something of what I don’t quite understand the final purpose.
Where did you get your photographic training?
I am mostly self-taught. My father gave me my first camera and showed me how to shoot, but the real passion for photography came later. It developed from my general admiration of the arts and a need to express some bits of my experience in a visual form.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
Most of all – great photographers of the past. Since I’m specializing in historic, 19th century printing processes, I’d like to believe that to some small extent I continue the tradition of Russian pictorial photography of the late 19th – early 20th century. I’ve been strongly influenced by landscape photographs of Nikolay Andreyev and Alexei Mazurin, to name a few. At the same time, I wouldn’t like my creative process to be an accurate historical reconstruction of antique methods and techniques; rather, I want to revamp them with a fresh perspective. I prefer to live in today’s world and have always been open to inspirational ideas which I get from those contemporary artists whose work I admire.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
Masao Yamamoto’s black and white image of a waterfall. Highly minimalistic in the means of expression and with such a deep meaning. I often have it in my mind’s eye when I’m thinking about beginning a new work, or facing a new task or challenge – that powerful white body of water, which reminds me of a brush stroke in white paint and its antagonism with the other, black half of the image.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson.
Once I took a picture of a woman walking along a narrow path in heavy snow. I was setting up my tripod to photograph big trees which looked like grey ghosts behind the dense snowy curtain, when I saw her – an almost immaterial figure in a strange striped fluffy coat. I had time for just two shots, and she disappeared. It took a while to find a suitable printing process for that image – van dyke brown toned in blue iron toner, – which, I believe, allowed me to convey the surreal, ghost-like quality of the scene. The lesson it taught me was not to give up on my creative ideas, rather give them time to grow, flourish and bring fruit.
Please tell us about the work you submitted to the Rfotofolio Call.
I began this series as an experiment with long exposures on the Yauza river embankment (that’s one of the two rivers running through the central part of Moscow). I took shots with a film camera with two dark ND filters on. Long exposures allowed me to remove cars and people from the scene which, as a result, looked still and surreal on the final images. Sometimes, in busy areas with heavy traffic, I kept the shutter open for up to 15 minutes. Some funny things happen during the process. Many people approached me with questions; they wanted to know what exactly I was doing – for most people that looked like I was just standing still for ages next to the tripod. Once an elderly woman came leisurely into the shot and began to feed pigeons with breadcrumbs. Luckily, she soon left, but dropped an empty plastic bag which stuck to the embankment fencing as a white untidy blur. I had to rush and get rid of it.
Although I had shot on a black and white film, I later decided to make color prints in order to add dusky, dreamy light to my cityscapes.
What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding.
Gum bichromate printing is a slow process – you should go patiently layer after layer, try not to lose your concentration when applying the emulsion or developing the exposed print, make sure that the layer is completely dry before moving to the next one etc. But it’s not mechanical at all. At every stage of the printing process you actually create, build up the print, give it color, depth, contrast. By introducing little changes – to the exposure time and the amount of pigment, for example – you can change the final look of the image.
That’s liberating, but at the same time that makes your creative path more challenging – you don’t follow the roadmap, but rather go by little steps in a fog trusting your intuition. The process may be very frustrating at times, but nothing is more rewarding then the understanding that you’ve done everything right and the final print will turn out the way you wanted it. To me that’s the best part and the moment of joy; it usually happens somewhere closer the end of the printing process, but before the final layer is put on (or it may not happen at all, there’s not guarantee – gum bichromate printing may be quite unpredictable depending on many variables and external conditions).
How do you work through times when nothing seems to work?
First I follow “to solve a problem you need to define it” rule and try to find the cause of my frustration. Am I tired? Overwhelmed by something? Or is it a technical issue: wrong pigments, chemicals gone bad, paper issues, incorrect exposure time and so on? Sometimes only minor improvements to the correction curve or a new UV light tube in the exposure unit are needed to make the sun shine again. But if I can’t find what blocks my work, if it’s something immaterial that just gives me that feeling of futility of all my efforts, I try to make a pause and accept the situation. After all, the ability to create is mysterious, – it may come, it may go and then return again – you can’t force it.
What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?
For quite a long time, until I immersed myself in alternative printing, I had believed that a camera was a photographer’s main tool and had constantly searched for the one which suited me the best. Later I accepted the view that the printing process was equally, if not more, important. That idea has strengthened after I introduced myself to “cameraless photography” techniques – lumen printing, photograms and chemigrams. Last summer, as an experiment, I created a series of mixed technique photographic images without the use of a camera and printed them in gum dichromate.
So today I am convinced that it’s the printing that really brings my images to life.
As an alternative techniques printer, I can’t work without a good brush which helps me apply the emulsion thinly and smoothly. I have a set of trusted brushes of different sizes, which took me some time to select. Equally important for me is a reliable contact printing frame – it has to be big enough and provide even pressure to all parts of the image. For my works I use a vacuum screen printing press or a wooden printing frame which I acquired several years ago at Photographers’ Formulary. The frame has proved to be not only solid and durable; it is also beautifully made (of solid ashwood). It gives me additional aesthetic please when I work with it.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
I would like to explore the large format photography at some point of time, but at the moment, it’s merely an abstract idea living in my mind. I don’t feel that the time has come to put it into practice.
As far as printing processes are concerned, there are so many of them! I have got myself acquainted with a just little corner of that universe, and I’ll definitely explore more. I love gum bichromate, and it is likely to remain to be my favorite printing technique. The broad color palette it allows to use and its versatility are very appealing and make me stick to it. In the near future I would like to study the processes (other than cyanotype) which could be successfully combined with gum – gum over silver gelatin comes to mind first.
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
When I see something that moves me emotionally or invokes certain mood or a memory, I mentally turn it into a photographic image. It also awes me how the look of everything that I see around me changes with each season and each time of the day, and how generous the word is incessantly providing themes and inspiration.
How has the pandemic influenced your work methods? Or has it?
The pandemic impacted my life in general on different levels. As to my photography and printing practice, the pandemic related restrictions affected almost every aspect of it. Luckily, despite my worst fears, I didn’t experience a shortage of art supplies. My major challenges bore upon the creative process. I faced serious time restrictions: having to give more care to the family – whenever anybody was sick, needed help (my parents) or required the organization of the long distance studies (teenage children), – I couldn’t allow myself a day-long isolation in a dim room, and had to switch between mundane and creative tasks and to cut my printing work into chunks lasting for no longer than two hours. You can easily do that with gum bichromate process, which is one of its beauties.
Restrictions on travel, movement around the city and attendance of galleries and other public places had the influence on the way I got and developed the ideas for my works. It felt as if the life had shrunk. As if I had been used to gain fresh impressions during the walks in a lush park and suddenly found only a tiny fenced yard at my disposal, where what I saw every single day was the same single tree with a patch of grass under it. In a situation where I got less fuel for my inspiration from the outside world, I had to rely more on my inner resources: my feelings, things that were bothering me transformed into the visual elements… Also, I looked for the beauty to give me that creative spark in things which were close to me and places which were accessible. Returning to the analogy with the same tree that one had to look at every day while in isolation, I may say that I taught myself to find creative ideas in the shadow which that tree casted, in the way the sun played in its branches, in the memories that the raindrops on its leaves evoked in me
What’s on the horizon?
I will continue to work mostly on landscapes. Last year was hard for me, and I want to create a set of images capturing the views which helped me stay hopeful and balanced.
To learn more about the work of Maria Vinogradovaplease click on her name.
I love Maria’s soulful imagery and exquisite printing. A series of images that stay in my head— so impressive. Diana Bloomfield