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Pavel Romaniko
Pavel Romaniko is a photographer in Rochester, NY. Pavel Romaniko

Exhibitionist + Visual Art
Photographer Pavel Romaniko Makes a Pilgrimage to His Past

January-February, 2008

Mental Contagion: When and why did you move from Russia? Did you move directly to New York or have you lived in other locations?

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 cultural confusion.

Pavel Romaniko
"Margarita Grigorievna" | 2007

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 Go Hunting?"

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.

Pavel Romaniko
"Bed" | 2007

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.

Pavel Romaniko
"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.

Pavel Romaniko
"Red Corner" | 2007

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 theme?

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.

Pavel Romaniko
"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.

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