Interview: Viktoria Sorochinski

© Viktoria Sorochinski, Susanna & Alex, from the series "Silent Dialog" 2011

Viktoria Sorochinski was born in the Ukraine in 1979, lived in Russia from 1982 to 1990, immigrated to Israel in 1990 where she received a high school diploma and finally immigrated to Canada in 1996 where she received a Bachelors of Fine Arts from Concordia University in 2006. Currently she lives and works in New York City where she received a Masters of Fine Arts in 2008 from New York University.

Since 2001 she has been participated in various group and solo exhibitions in Canada, the USA, France, Italy and China. She has been a finalist and winner of several international photography competitions and awards such as Magenta Flash Forward 2009 and 2010, PDN Photo Annual 2010 and 2011, J.M. Cameron Award 2010, WPGA Award 2010, Voies Off Arles 2010, IPA Award 2009 and 2010, ONWARD '10, Review Santa Fe 2010, Descubrimientos PHE 2011 and BluePrint Fellowship 2011. Additionally, her work has been published in many magazines, in print and online, worldwide including The New York Times, PDN and the British Journal of Photography.

In addition to answering our questions, Viktoria has also provided three images from her new series "Silent Dialog" to accompany the interview. She was interviewed by email; her responses were received August 24, 2011.

fototazo: Give us a sense of who you are outside of photography.

Viktoria Sorochinski: That is a tough one. I guess I should start by saying that my identity was shaped and influenced by the several immigrations that I have gone through. Therefore at this point I feel in many ways that I'm an international citizen, but at the same time, mentally I'm mostly grounded in Russian culture. For as long as I can remember, I was always interested in various forms of art-making. I tried working in many different mediums, such as painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, installation and video. However, my first "love," before I even realized that I was interested in photography, was dancing. I've been dancing for about 16 years, and I even thought that it would become my main profession, up until I fell in love with photography. I also play guitar and sing, and write songs as well (mainly in Russian), but this is really only a hobby; I have never considered myself a musician.

f: You talk about nature in the statement to your series "The Space Between" as "the only common thing that unifies every place in the world." In other projects, such as "Anna & Eve" you apply the framework of a myth or a folk tale to the image. Myths - according to Joseph Campbell among many – also connect us as a way of sharing and passing down common knowledge.

Do you think your interest in using nature and myths as elements that unify and connect us relates to your own life as someone who has immigrated or migrated frequently, as a way of connecting the spaces of your own life across languages and borders? How much are the themes that you work with autobiographical?  

VS: You have pinpointed the exact essence of my work strategy. I think that initially (and maybe even subconsciously), one of the main reasons for working with elements that unify all of us was the struggle to find this point of encounter between myself and the other cultures I was trying to fit into. I'm interested in people as human beings who, in my point of view, have much more in common than we tend to think, regardless of cultural heritage. Therefore, I'm trying to access the threads that only our psyche may sense, where language or culture don't play any important role. I don't think that there is anything really autobiographical in my work, except "The Land of No Return" project, which started particularly from my nostalgic feelings and memories of a Ukrainian village where my grandfather used to live.

© Viktoria Sorochinski, Untitled #2, from the series "Land of No-Return" 2009

f: A number of artists work with creating myth through a highly articulated system of symbols and evolve an almost personal mythology, such as Matthew Barney's Cremaster films and his Ren and Guardian of Veil performances. On the other hand, it seems you go about myth creation in the opposite way: by creating images in which you give the viewer open-ended elements from which to create their own meaning. Talk about this as a strategy for image-making and why you think it is successful.

VS: This is exactly what I mean when I say that I'm interested in accessing the psyche or the subconscious. That way mythology is only a tool that I'm using to access the common knowledge. I leave it open-ended because my goal is not to make a particular statement, or an intellectual exercise on a particular myth, but allow the viewers to live with my images. I want them to create their own stories, because each person has his own little door to the wonderland, and I just want to facilitate this journey. People often come to me with their ideas about the meaning of the images or with their personal stories that my work makes them think of. I'm happy when my work makes people think or feel; this is all I want.

f: In your artist statement you talk about working with individuals and close pairs of people in moments of conflict. Talk about why you limit the emotional range of the work to conflict [as opposed to rapture, jealousy, disappointment, etc.].

VS: What you are talking about are particular emotions, such as jealousy or disappointment, etc., whereas I'm more interested in complex feelings. When I say that I'm interested in moments of conflict, I mean that this state of mind could not be described clearly as rapture, sadness or any other emotional state. I'm talking about a "bouquet" of various processes going though someone's mind that may lead sometimes to some kind of revelation about themselves, or others, or life in general. This is the invisible moment that is often so hard to grasp onto or describe.

© Viktoria Sorochinski, Eve's Kingdom, from the series "Small Epiphanies" 2009 (Anna & Eve, 2005-2010)

f: Let's pick two images and have you talk us through making them. Did the elements you found to work with lead to the final image? Or did you have a vision or story beforehand that guided you to the setting, wardrobe and pose? How much does the photo lead you and how much do you lead the photo?

VS: The degree of staging in my work always varies from image to image, depending on the subjects, the project, and what I'm trying to achieve in the particular image. I'm glad that you picked the Eve's Kingdom portrait [above], because this one is a good example of my collaboration with the subject. Before making this image I told Eve that I'd like to make her portrait with all of her "friends": the dolls that at the time she was imagining to be her friends, living on "her own planet" with her. So, before I even started to think about how it should look or what she should wear, she began to dress up in preparation for the photo. She was very excited about making this costume, so I decided to let her do whatever she wanted. When she was ready, I picked a spot in her room and we placed her toys around the chair together. Than I asked her to sit in the way that she sees as appropriate for the queen of her planet. After several takes, we had Eve's Kingdom. With the other image that you have picked, Dinner with Daddy, it was a bit different. I knew exactly what I was looking for in this image, so the clothes and the setting were entirely initiated by me, although part of the setting was already there, and I just used it in the way that I though was best for the shot. As for the poses and the look, it was partly improvised of course. I was shooting from outside the window in the kitchen, so I kept talking to both of them trying to bring out a certain dynamic. I don't remember exactly, but I shot 3 or 4 rolls of film for this scene.

© Viktoria Sorochinski, Dinner with Daddy, from the series "Daddy" 2008-2009

f: On one hand you have created work like "The Land of No Return" and "At Home With Strangers," projects that are essentially documentary in concept, and on the other hand are your projects like "Anna & Eve" and "Daddy" in which you construct images that hover closer to fantasy. Talk about the drive to do these two different strains of work. Is there a connection? Do they relate and inform each other at all? Do you see yourself continuing in both modes of work continuing forward?

VS: I think that the main common thread in my work is people. Regardless of it being purely documentary or dwelling between reality and fantasy, it is always about people. However, I think there is another connection between those documentary projects and my other work. Both "The Land of No Return" and "At Home With Strangers" are part of the same interest, which is the dying culture of village life. I see the village as the keeper of tradition and folklore in most cultures. For centuries people who worked with soil where the ones who maintained the oral tradition, and that is how many of the myths and folk tales were brought to us. I think in a way the village represents for me a kind of "raw wisdom" and common knowledge. So I guess this is the connection between those two types of my work. In fact, I would like to capture village life in as many countries as possible, because I think that urbanization is slowly taking over the entire world, and soon no evidence of authentic culture will be left. So yes, I do intend to continue working in both of these directions.

© Viktoria Sorochinski, Room #1, from the series "The Space Between" 2008

f: On your website you integrate recorded monologues into the presentation of bodies of work such as "Daddy" and you made a body of work called "The Space Between" in which you present photographs of installation spaces you created. What does multi-media offer you that traditional photography not offer? Or what does it add to traditional photography that you are looking for?

VS: I already mentioned in the beginning of the interview, that I come from a multidisciplinary background. I worked with various mediums for a long time before I started to concentrate mainly on photography. I think each medium opens a different dimension and adds depth to the subject. Of course it is always a risk, because combining different mediums may also flatten the meaning of a photograph, or become redundant. Therefore I only do it when I feel that it may add another layer. Also, I think that when I work with other mediums such as sound, video, or installation I discover something new in myself as an artist, because it forces me to think a little differently. I think it is very important to break out of your comfort zone once in a while. Therefore, I feel that I want to start working more with other mediums, because now my main comfort zone is photography.

f: Has there been a difference between how your work has been received in Russia, the Ukraine and Eastern Europe and in North America?

VS: Unfortunately, it is not quite possible for me to make this comparison, because my work has not been shown much in Russia or Eastern Europe. I had several shows and publications in Europe, but mainly in France, Italy and the UK. I left Russia when I was a child, and it has never been my main target for showing my work, because the contemporary art scene wasn't as developed there as in other parts of Europe or North America. However, it has changed over the past few years, and I'm getting more and more interested in getting my work to the Eastern European art scene. One of my most recent experiences was participation in a Georgian Photography Festival in Tbilisi, where I couldn't be present personally, but I heard very good feedback.

© Viktoria Sorochinski, Laura & Nikolo, from the series "Silent Dialog" 2011

f: There has been a lot of attention recently to the new generation of photographers from Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union. Who would you suggest our readers check out?

VS: I couldn't say that I know that many Russian photographers whose work I really admire, but here are a few whose work is definitely worth checking out: Anna Skladmann, Lucia Ganieva, Sergey Maximishin, Evgeny Mokhorev, Margo Ovcharenko, Evgenia Arbugaeva, Dima Gomberg and Irina Rozovsky.

f: What are your next steps and plans?

VS: I'm working now on a new project called "Silent Dialog" which investigates one of the most complex familial bonds: the one of mother and son. This project, like most of my work, dwells between fiction and documentary. I've been thinking and analyzing this subject for a few years, before I felt ready to start working on it photographically. In my previous projects where I explored parent-child relationships, such as "Anna & Eve" and "Daddy" I was following the same subjects. In the "Silent Dialog," on the other hand, I was working with various families and generations. Regarding my steps and plans, I have a few shows coming up in 2011-2012 in Italy, Paris and Chicago, and I'm currently working on a monograph of "Anna & Eve."

© Viktoria Sorochinski, Yana & Eightan, from the series "Silent Dialog" 2011