Today we are pleased to share our interview with Alexandr Primak.
Would you please tell us about yourself?
I am Alexander Primak. I was born September 4, 1957 in Kyiv (Ukraine).
In 1975 I graduated from high school. Then I served in the army. After that, I worked a
lot in different places and in many professions. I worked as a plasterer on Sakhalin Island.
I studied the profession of a turner and worked at a motorcycle factory in Kyiv.
After working at the factory, I worked for a long time in a printing house. Many photographers came to us to fulfill various orders. Watching them work, I became interested in photography. In 2006, I bought my first camera. I began to travel around Ukraine and take pictures of landscapes, monasteries and ancient fortresses. And in 2008 I was admitted to the Union of Photographers of Ukraine. I am a member of this union to this day.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
The turning point in my work was a master class on oil print technique, which was
conducted by Moscow photo artists Maxim Zheleznyakov and Mikhail Kalamkarov. They
came to Kyiv and taught how to print photos in this way. In addition, they showed their
project The Subject of the Game which told about the backstage life of the theater.
The work that is included in this series were made in the oilprint technique. I became so interested in this technique that I studied this printing method and created my project Way of Life. In this project, I talked about the difficult life of people from villages that are located near the border of Ukraine and Belarus. I also printed this series, which consisted of almost 100 prints, using the oilprint technique. Since then, I began to study the historical methods of printing photographs.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has inspired you.
I really like the photo artist – pictorialist Leonard Mison. I don’t have one favorite image of this photograher. I love all of his work, without exception. His lighting technique is amazing. His photo processing is impressive. He printed with bromoil and later with mediabrom. He is a genius.
What inspired you to work in gum bichromate?
Gum bichromate is one of the many historical processes that I have become interested in.
As I said before, I like to study the historical processes of printing. When I see something
new at exhibitions or on the Internet, I start looking for how to do it. In the process of
creating a photograph, I like it’s uncertainty the most. The moment you press the camera
shutter button, you don’t know what will happen in the end. You wait for the film to
develop, you decide what you will do next, how you will print. You print (not always
successfully), redo it, try something else and finally it works. And the result is quite
unexpected. And all this uncertainty is what I like the most. That is why I chose alternative
printing methods in which there are no repetitions, where each print is unique.
Today I am proficient in many techniques: such as Oilprint, Cyanotype, Callitipia, Gum bichromate printing, Gumoil, Carbon printing, Lit printing and others. Why am I doing this kind of photography? Maybe because I try, like athletes, to increase the level of difficulty, to get a higher result, to see a new effect on the image. I like the challenge. Therefore, I study new printing methods.
How do you work through these times?
How can I work during this time? If I say the same as before, it will not be true. The war
changed a lot. My workshop is 25 km away. from my house. So I have to cover 50 km every
day by car. Gasoline has become very expensive. In addition, constant air raids, rocket
attacks and power outages, unfortunately, do not add any optimism. But I still try to work. It
helps to distract and it seems that everything is as before. It is good that there were small
stocks of paper, chemicals, pigments. This allowed me not to think about where to buy all
this. When I get into the workshop, all difficulties disappear. I stop thinking about them and
completely immerse myself in creativity. I cannot exist without my work.
What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding?
In my opinion, first of all, in order for the picture to take place, it is necessary to photograph
it correctly. This requires good light. It is very important for gum dichromate to have
beautiful colors. The picture must be bright. And of course, the photo should be interesting.
In Photoshop, I only slightly improve and correct the photo, and if everything that I have
listed is not there, then a good photo will not be achieved. One of the main conditions for
obtaining a good picture is the quality of the print. After all, at this stage it is easiest to lose all of the work that you have put into it,everything. But still, the most useful thing is to take a beautiful, interesting photo.
What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?
All the tools that I use are very important and necessary. Of course, these are qualitative
negatives. Color rendition and precise alignment of layers depend on them. Brushes play an important role. For a long time I have been looking for brushes that do not leave a streak and evenly distribute the pigment on a sheet of paper. Very important in my work is the SACK ultraviolet unit, which has a vacuum glass clamp and a relay for the amount of light emitted by the lamp in lumens. This allows you to receive the amount of light that is set on the display. All tools and fixtures have been collected over the years and they are directly involved in the birth of the picture.
Does your art affect the way you see the world?
When I look or photograph the world around me, I see something that is real right now, at
this moment. But when I print what I once saw, it will not match what I saw. Many
sensations are forgotten. Sometimes I print a photo that I took many years ago. And of
course, I don’t remember how I felt. Often the picture has changes that distinguish it from
reality. Either it is more colorful, or the sky is more dramatic, or some artistic techniques
were applied. But the fact that I photographed this or that scene suggests that at that
moment the world around me influenced me. And it made me take a picture of it.
What’s on the horizon?
I plan to keep working. I dream of the end of the war. I want to learn new methods of
Thank you Alexandr.
“I am such a huge fan of Alexandr’s images and his consistently exquisite printing of those images. His photographs are always spot-on in choices made– composition, lighting, tone– and he interprets those in the challenging gum bichromate process that renders them hauntingly beautiful. I had the opportunity to see a solo show of them at Bob Carnie’s Toronto Gallery last September. And they are even more spectacular in person.
Thanks for the great interview!” Diana Bloomfield
“What an exceptional artist and interview. All good wishes for your safety and for your art, Alexandr.”Robynne Limoges
“Thanks or this interesting presentation. Alexander Primak certainly has mastered the gum bichromate process! Hope his fine work will be an inspiration to photographers interested in this magical process.” Cedric Muscat
“These are very beautiful. Thanks to Alexandr for creating this work and to Rfotofolio for introducing me to this photographer’s vision.” Norm Snyder