Visit the Drop: East Meets West: A Tapestry of Lens & Oil

Brady Walker: What are the stories behind these photos?

Olga Shpak: All these photos are from different years and in different styles. 
Pauline is my young model. Then I took a series of photos under the old masters of painting and her mother wanted a portrait in this style. We found a costume and a ferret, there was a stylization of a portrait of a girl with an ermine. 

Dana is one of my favorite models. Here I have already started from the face of the model. I wanted to convey the beauty of the girl and the transience of life. This shot with natural sunlight from the window. I remember that we had half an hour for the shots, as the light was going out. 

The photo “Closer” is part of a series of photos about spring and love. This is one of my first shoots about the love of two women and this is especially valuable to me. Previously, I did not dare to raise this topic so clearly in my works. This coincided with the time of self-perception and self-acceptance.
I wanted to convey the delight and simultaneous anxiety from the emerging feeling.

Closer by Olga Shpak and Closer Still by David Cheifetz

BW: Has seeing the “adaptations” from these three painters affected the way you see these photos? Did you get any new ideas from seeing the paintings?

OS: I am really fascinated by the resulting pictures. First of all, the ability to draw is magic for me. And yes, I would take each photo again, rethinking it.

Arne brought mysticism, it’s interesting for me to think about who this girl is. It exists outside of time. 

Tania got a plot portrait, she brought the story. And this is very valuable and interesting for me. I’m interested to know what the letter in Dana’s hands is about. And I will definitely ask Tania about it. 

David is the texture master. I adore his painting technique. I would like to have such a picture at home. He conveyed the mood of my frame very closely. The colors at work are amazing and in the characters of the girls, it seems to me, he gave more determination.

Pauline by Olga Shpak and Pauline Redux by Arne Spangereid

BW: What was your initial reaction to the idea of this collaboration? Would you be excited to do more collaborations of this sort?

OS: I was very pleased with such cooperation and it would be interesting for me to continue this experience. My photos have already been painted before and it’s always interesting. The most important thing for me is that people from my portraits, subjects acquire new character traits and meanings. After all, the artist did not personally communicate with the person being portrayed but only saw his photo (in the photo I also display only one of the sides of the person, what I want to show myself). And it turns out a whole chain of stories. And this image will remain, and the person will grow up and change.

BW: Your work is surreal and wholly your own. Can you describe the ideation phase behind your work? Do you start with stories or simple images? Do the photos end up faithfully reflecting the original idea or does the idea drift as you move forward?

OS: A lot depends on the shooting genre. If it’s a portrait, then I look at the person and see the image in which I want to portray him. Often, I literally “get sick” of someone’s face and I can’t calm down until I take a picture. I work in the genre of staged photography — so it’s always some kind of image of a person. I am very delicate with people and do not like to get into the soul, but often the portrayed tell me that I saw them real in the photo. It pleases me. 

As for the plot shooting, the idea is primary. It’s hard for me to say how she is born. Sometimes you can just walk down the street and see a tree leaf lying under your feet, an interesting texture and images are born in your head. For example, in the last year, I often meet dead birds on the road. It’s very symbolic. 

I also watch a lot of movies and read. Images are everywhere. I am still interested in basic human questions about life and death, love, and relationships. During my studies, I read a lot about symbols, myths, and religions of different cultures. 

When the plot is invented, I make a storyboard of the shooting. I’m looking for locations, I’m thinking what kind of light I need. And for such shooting, I conduct casting models. This is the most difficult stage since models must not only fit the image externally but also be able to interact with each other. 

One story (in the end it’s two or three frames) can take a day of shooting. Sometimes I’m not very happy with the result and I reshoot. And of course, in the process of this work, new ideas can be born right on the set. After all, models are personalities, and everyone can bring something new to the shooting. I’m not even talking about the fact that something always goes wrong on the set — for example, we can find some interesting object, or the weather will change and give a new mood to the frame.

Dana by Olga Shpak and Letter to Dana by Tania Rivilis

BW: How would you advise artists entering their first collaboration? 

OS: I would advise them to be open to the new. See each other’s work and understand whether the creativity of the artist with whom you will cooperate responds. Give full freedom to the artist and trust him. The exchange of experience and cooperation mutually enriches, gives new ideas… And it’s just interesting – communication. I think the possibility of dialogue is the most important thing in our life.

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