+ Visual Art
Photographer Pavel Romaniko Makes a Pilgrimage to His Past
Mental Contagion: When and why did you
move from Russia? Did you move directly to New York or have you lived in
Pavel Romaniko: I moved from Russia
to Blaine, MN in 1997, where I spent seven month attending Blaine
high school. After, I lived in Roseville, MN for four years while
working on my undergraduate degree from the Northwestern College.
I stayed in Minnesota for another four years afterwords until I moved
to Rochester, NY in 2006 for graduate school.
Mental Contagion: What
do the photos from the "Russia" series mean to you?
Pavel Romaniko: I ask myself
that question every once in a while, actually quite often. It is
a body of work that I have worked on for many years now. I would
say that I look at those photographs as fictionalizing the culture
and the life that I mostly not a part of anymore, but desperately
wanted to be for many years now. The work is largely personal and
a great deal of sentimentality stems from that and is
apparent in the pieces. However, I try to work towards a larger concept,
and think in terms of broad metaphors of loss, memory, longing and
"Margarita Grigorievna" |
Mental Contagion: Do you approach
photography from a place of non-judgement? Or do your personal leanings
enter into the work?
Pavel Romaniko: I don't think a photographer
can look at his/her subject from a point of non-judgment. I think
whenever the framing occurs and the shutter is pressed there is already
a judgment in that. One chooses when and where to take a photograph.
It is a selective process, thus it is already biased and has personal
leanings in it.
Mental Contagion: From your perspective,
do mysticism or de-mysticism (or both) exist in the series "I
Pavel Romaniko: These photographs came to be as a
playful sketch. I took all of them within one day in around my father and mother
in-law's house. Hunting is a one of their yearly events and "rituals" so
to say. And the metaphor of ritual was what I thought of when I photographed.
It reminded me of some stories that I read about the warriors that hunt and have
this profound relationship with the animals they kill and the meat that is taken
and then later consumed. It is the life of the animal is taken in order to preserve
the lives of the others, The religiosity of the whole thing is what fascinated
me. At the same time
I know that this is just a part of the culture; it is a sport, not necessary
for one's survival. So yes, I would say both mysticism and de-mysticism exist
in this series.
"Untitled" | 2005
Mental Contagion: Snow scenes and white décor motifs often appear
in your work, offset by dark or color rich objects. Technically speaking,
is it challenging to achieve fine detail in the white and richness in the
darker areas of the image?
Pavel Romaniko: No, I don't find it very challenging. I am not concerned with the technical
questions most of the time, though I do strive for the most sound photograph
that I can possibly master. I photograph on film and I think it allows me more
leniency in technical aspects of my photographs.
Mental Contagion: How do you
choose your subjects—are they people you know, people you meet? How do
you interact with them to accomplish the desired outcome? Do you talk to them
or are you mostly silent?
Pavel Romaniko: I photograph everybody. It can
be people I know, or it can be someone I encountered on the street. I am more
interested in the subject, the theatricality in the appearance of the photographed,
once they are put in front of the lens. I believe that most of us take on a
different personality, once confronted with the camera. For example, through
the years my mother refuses to be photographed unless she is well-dresses,
styled and has full make up on. So, I prefer to ask people to be photographed
when they are the least ready for such. I work with a large format camera,
so it usually takes me a few minutes to set up, and that's when I believe the
most interesting transformation within the photographed occurs. People tend
to relax, because I think they feel less violated or attacked, which happens
during a snap shot. Now they realise, that this guy is not going to take our
picture and run off with it. One has time to think of how they would like to
present themselves, while my equipment is being set up. I talk very little
but I do try to keep a conversation going. I also never let my subject know
when I will press the shutter. I wait.
Mental Contagion: Your portraits have
mastered the art of stopping time. The subject of the photograph (seemingly)
stops the task at hand and conveys a moment of consciousness and awareness.
Often, the entire body is contained within the frame and both shoulders are
aligned to the viewer, eyes looking to the camera—body posture is subtle
and natural. This takes place in context of the (former) task environment
and both the viewer experiences a sense of witnessing the subject. What is
your objective with this style?
Pavel Romaniko: My objective is to confront. I
ask that question of myself each time I take a portrait. Why do I take it?
I think it is all about the theatricality that I have spoken above. The psychological
state of the subject shifts once they stand in front of the camera, it for
a second turns one into a performer of his/her inner self. I get to preserve
that onto the film.
Mental Contagion: Do you prefer scheduled photo shoots or spontaneous sessions?
Pavel Romaniko: I prefer spontaneous sessions. Though I do both. There is so much more possibility
if a subject is not anticipating to be photographed.
"Roger" | 2006
Mental Contagion: On average, how much
time is spent in a successful portrait session? How many shots are taken?
Pavel Romaniko: Fairly short. Fifteen to thirty
minutes at most. I usually take two shots (i use up one film holder), unless
I make an error or a mishap occurs. I guess, many things that I do when photographing
became more of a ritual. I have these rules (that I break all the time),
but that I try to follow, and one of them is to take only two shots.
Mental Contagion: Do you spend time styling
the location of a scheduled shoot? If so, how much time do you spend? Are
wallpaper and decorative carpets already in place in the houses of the subjects,
or do you spend time creating the look of the rooms? Do you ever bring objects
into a shoot, or do you use only items that exist in the space already?
Pavel Romaniko: It depends. Most of the time I
leave everything in tact. I don't bring any objects unless they are already
there. I do occasional rearrangement if I find it necessary or crucial for
the composition of the photograph, or if it would help to give my image necessary
symbolic reading. I see a photograph as something that is already constructed
and arranged according to a photographers eye to start with, so I have no problem
with manipulating the spaces or objects within my photographs.
"Red Corner" |
Mental Contagion: In your
graduate work, objects are very deliberately placed at the edges of tables
or balanced precariously atop other objects. This theme appears to extend
to the "Russia" series,
but is achieved with strength and subtlety. What is the significance of this
Pavel Romaniko: I looked into history and writings
of still-life genre for that body of work. In many instances the compositional
choices are connected to the metaphor of the "fall" that I have been
working with. In this case I speak of the moral and cultural fall. I see my
country as living in transgression toward its own past. And one living in transgression
is always confronted by a moral struggle within and in many instances forced
to commit actions that are motivated by necessity to preserve the secrecy of
such existence. Therefore, I chose the genre of still-life as something that
gave me an opportunity to make
photographs that are symbolically charged and which through the history existed
as a tool for moral commentary on the society that it they are created within.
"Unititled" | 2007
About the Photographer
Pavel Romaniko was born and grew up in the city of Pereslavl-Zalessky, Russia,
a few hours north-east from Moscow. At age 17, he moved to United States
to attend a year of high-school and later went on to receive a Bachelor of
Arts in studio art from Northwestern College in Saint Paul, MN. In 2001, looking
predominantly to explore metaphors of history, loss, memory, nostalgia, remains,
becoming and longing, Pavel began extensively photographing his hometown in
Russia when visititing his family. The travels became a pilgrimage to his past.
In 2005, he began to work exclusively with a large format camera, focusing
on people and changing culture within the remaining landscape of his—and the town's—past.
Pavel is currently
in the process of working toward his graduate degree at Rochester Institute
of Technology in Rochester, NY.