Capturing Dreams with a Camera: An Interview with a Street Photographer. 

One late summers afternoon I met with Ilya: tall in stature with shaggy, mousey brown hair he towered over me, but his presence was not overbearing, it was rather the opposite. As typical of the climate in Saint Petersburg, the clear blue sky had turned to a menacing and ominous shade of grey, and in response to my observation regarding the weather, Ilya remarked that although it was admittedly not the best light for photography, we should never approach the street with presumptions, and preceded to quote an old Russian tale: «Go I know not whither and fetch I know not what».

As we navigated through the back alleys of Central Saint-Petersburg with no particular direction Ilya told me about his life, his passions and his aspirations, occasionally interrupting himself to snap at strangers passing by. Originally from Khabarovsk, his decision to move to the cultural capital nearly two years ago was spontaneous. Ilya earns a living as a street musician, entertaining the faceless masses with a recorder. Earlier this year, he was shortlisted in two international photography competitions: ‘Urban Picnic Street Photography 2013’ and ‘International Street Photography Awards 2013’. Currently Ilya conducts a street photography excursion on Sputnik and today I had the pleasure of interviewing him, as well as trying my hand — and eye for that matter — in a little street photography myself.

What sparked your interest in photography?

I began taking photographs about 4 years ago. My romance with photography began when I found an old telephone. Before this I did not have one as I was not willing to buy it and I was fine without this device. Of course when I found it I began to use it. There was a very small camera inside of it and I found it fun to take pictures of still life. Then I acquired a copy of the Russian photo magazine ’Digital Photography’ and there was an article about English street photographers. It happened to be a collective of Matt Stuart, Nick Turpin and David Solomon. It was a real discovery for me to find such pictures and I understood what the camera is really for. For a long time I tried to replicate their style but after a while I began to find my own.

How would you describe your own style? 

It’s not easy to describe your own style, I can only describe what I am looking for in the life around me, or the structure. I love the works of Arnold Mindell, the founder of process-oriented psychology. He conducted a study upon Australian aboriginals, who are known for being the most dreamlike people in the world. Mindell was greatly influenced by the aboriginals and created the theory that we as humans dream not only during sleep but our waking life is a dream too. In fact in every minute of our life dreams penetrate our mind and create signs. So I am looking for something dream like around me. But I am also looking for absurd situations, something funny or something beautiful. People living Canada or England when looking at my pictures often ask me ‘where are you living? It’s so strange’, but I don’t think it’s about the place, I think such things happen every where.

What satisfaction do you receive from this particular genre of photography, as opposed to, for example as you mentioned earlier, still life? 
Firstly when you see something interesting on the street, you capture it and sometimes make a good picture. Even more satisfying though, is that it is like a game. It is always continuous and I’m in that game, the world is playing with me and I am playing with the world. It’s a drive and it’s a sense of life for me. Of course, you could play this game without a camera but for me it is more interesting with one.

What are your plans for the foreseeable future? Do you think that you will continue to stay here in Saint Petersburg? 

Saint Petersburg is a city full of opportunity when it comes to photography. I want to stay here now but I would like to visit other places temporarily. It would be great to travel around say China or India. I would like to make a project about Celtic music. There is actually a particular type of Celtic music which some say was composed by fairy type people. This legend mainly comes from the Shetland Islands. So it would be great to go there and make photo project. I think it would be very interesting.

Here're some photos that I've taken during the tour:

Ilya advised that attention to detail is paramount. At first glance something can appear simple, however upon further inspection we can learn to look beyond the foreground.

Life is often complicated and difficult. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with parking your derriere on a bit of astroturf, shamelessly exposing your wearisome some feet in the biggest public square in the city, and doing a crossword once in a while.

Dear loyal readers, please remember that: break dancing + alcohol = break your neck.


Nathalie Ashford

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