From Anna and Eve by Viktoria Sorochinski
Anna & Eve is a long term narrative project that I started to work on in 2005. This project (as well as most of my work) dwells in between fantasy and documentary. Even though, all the scenes are staged, they reveal a real relationship of a mother and her daughter. Anna and Eve were particularly interesting to me because the boundary between the child and the adult woman was blurred to an unusually high degree. This was primarily due to the mother’s young age (23); it seemed at times that she was more of a child than her 3 year-old daughter. It was often hard to tell who held the power and control between the two, and who was learning the essence of being a human in this world.
Perhaps anyone who is a parent can identify with this feeling of power play within the parent/child relationship. Yet the dynamic portrayed in Anna & Eve brings with it a unique and unsettling role reversal which forms the basis of the success of this project. Drawing upon the fantasies and soliloquies of Eve (the little girl) Viktoria has created a fictional world of illusions, other worldliness and mythology which seems to encompass the mother and daughter, uniting them against the rest of the world. They appear set apart from usual definitions and expectations of childhood and motherhood. Like fairy tale heroines they remain contained in their own creation, locked away from the constraints of normality, co-existing together, dreaming.
Viktoria Sorochinski achieved her MFA at NYU in 2008. She has exhibited widely in both solo and group exhibitions since then and received numerous awards including Discovery of the Year at the 2012 Lucie Awards. She is represented by Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago and her monograph Anna & Eve was recently published by Peperoni Books.
She is currently based in Berlin but we met in Braga.
Do you ever get the sense that meeting Anna changed your career forever?
Well, it’s really hard to say, because I met them when I was still doing my bachelor’s degree. I do think of it as a very important encounter in my life. Certainly working with them has changed my artistic vision and even determined in a way my interest in the family dynamics as a subject of exploration. When I met them I was still very “fresh” in my mind and full of inspiration in general. I think that it was a lucky coincidence all together – the right encounter in the right time so to say. I also met them at the time when Anna was feeling a little bored without art. Her education is also artistic and with the birth of Eve she didn’t have time to develop her own career. When I started photographing them, I felt that she was also very inspired and engaged because of that.
When we are alert to these encounters the potential for something amazing can be realized. How would you advise artists to stay alert to these moments? How do you know when they happen?
You know, this is a very tough question, because it has to do with intuition, which you can’t really explain to anyone. When I met with Anna and Eve for example, I had no idea that it will go for so long and certainly that this project will bring me success. However, I new that I found something very inspiring, and I was very exited when I started photographing them. Later when those feelings didn’t go away, but were becoming even more pronounced, I felt that I want to go on as long as it will be possible. Also, just before meeting them I was in the moment of search and artistic dissatisfaction. I was ready for something sudden to happen, and it happened. I think when you are internally looking for inspiration you become more alert and receptive to those possibilities that are around you. I guess the secret is to have your eyes always wide open and searching, then there is less chance to miss something important. Although, I realize that it might be hard to do when you are already fully engaged with something creatively.
From Anna and Eve by Viktoria Sorochinski
Tell us about the first time you met. The first time you went to their house.
The first time I met Anna she was without Eve, it was in Montreal in some Russian cultural event. When I saw her, I honestly thought she was a 15 years-old teenager. I started to talk to her by coincidence and I was shocked to find out that she was actually exactly my age and that she also had an almost 4 year-old daughter. She told me that her daughter was very special, but you know that every mom thinks this way of her child, so I didn’t really take it very seriously at that moment. Then shortly after I saw both of them together, and I had my camera, because like I said I was searching for new inspiration at the time. When I saw Eve’s gaze through my lens I suddenly realized that she really is special, and that I should try photographing her, or maybe both of them together. I didn’t really have a clear idea of what I wanted to do exactly in the beginning. When I stepped into their house I had an impression that I entered a different world. I was even more inspired immediately. They had this strange bohemian atmosphere in their house, which I haven’t encounter anywhere before. I felt like it was already part of some fairytale, I was almost hypnotized by it. The beginning of my work with them was particularly exciting because I was discovering something new every time. The fact that they interacted like two sisters between them was so strange, so intriguing. Anna was talking to Eve as if she was supposed to understand everything on the level of an adult, and the striking thing is that she really did understand.
Through Eve you have connected so powerfully with the inner world of a child; something so delicate and seemingly difficult for an adult to enter. How did you allow yourself to immerse in this world?
To be honest I’m not one of those people who feels exited when they see any child. I never really thought of photographing children until I met Eve. In her I could sense something otherworldly, as if through her gaze I could connect to the universe itself. It was astonishing to me. Especially when I started photographing her, because I realized that as little as she was she was capable of understanding on some subconscious level what ever I was trying to do. I didn’t even have to struggle to explain her anything; she was so natural. Then, when I started to get to know her deeper I discovered her reach world, and almost felt that it was my mission to bring it out. I felt that her parents were requiring from her to be much more of an adult, and her incredible child’s world was staying in the shadow. I believe that children, until certain age, possess a kind of knowledge, that we as adults forget. We just loose this pure connection with our inner self and the universe. I was talking to her a lot, trying to discover her as much as I could. I even started to film her on video at the same time as I was photographing the two of them. I think this allowed me to connect to her better, and Eve seemed to be also inspired by my interest in her.
How much of your own childhood did you use as inspiration?
I don’t think that I was consciously incorporating my own childhood in this project. At first I was really taken by Eve and her relationship with her mother, I didn’t really make a parallel in my mind between them and my own family or childhood, because it was rather different. However, later when I started to analyze I understood that in some subconscious way Eve was reminding me of my own childhood fantasies, and memories. For example, when I was a child I believed that I came from another planet and I “knew” that one day I will go back there. So when Eve came up with her story “My Planet” (which you can find in my book) it really has resonated with me on a very deep level. I think that from my childhood in this work comes mostly the aesthetic and metaphorical approach. And again to be honest I discovered it for my self only later, when I realized how much my vision has to do with the Russian folklore. From my childhood years spent in Russia I remember very vividly that my favorite leisure was listening to vinyl records on which fairytales were recorded. I really liked to look at the cover with an illustration and to imagine the story I was listening to. I also really liked when my parents would read us (me and my sister) fairytales or other books.
From Anna and Eve by Viktoria Sorochinski
Fantasy, fiction and imagination are so vivid in childhood development. How you have portrayed them in this work is a wonderful expression of that time in human development where the expansion of the mind is vast and accelerated.
With this in mind how did you set about taking the pictures? Did the stories form pictures in your own mind which you then recreated or did you recreate Eve’s descriptions? Can you give some examples of where your imaginations combined to create the images?
My work has always been quite intuitive. I never worked from any particular stories, I was rather daydreaming. Sometimes I had vivid images that came up in my mind while I was thinking about Anna and Eve and so I would sketch these ideas before coming to them. However, most of the times these ideas were shifted and modified when I would see them in real life, because their everyday life and interaction would merge in my mind with my own fantasies and then new ideas would emerge spontaneously. I’m having really hard time to trace the particular inspirations for each image because this process vas very organic. When I worked with them I was often in a dreamlike state of mind, where it was hard to distinguish reality from fiction and what comes first. Although, I do remember one example very clearly, where Eve’s imagination was combined with my own, it was in the photograph titled “Eve’s Kingdom”. I decided to do this portrait when she told me about the story that she started to write at the time. It was the story about her planet where she lived with her friends. Later I asked her to finish writing it, and it is now titled “My Planet”. So when she told me about it, I said to her that I will make her portrait as the queen of her planet and we will include all her friends – which were her toys. She immediately started dressing up; she seemed so excited that I decided to not interfere at all in her outfit. When she was finally dressed, she brought all her “friends” and I asked her to sit on her chair and to look at me as she would look being the queen of her planet. It was the perfect gaze, what else could I add to it!
Ambiguity is important to you. What strategies do you use to avoid making your work too closed. How do you recognize open and closed narratives?
See, for me it was not even a question from the beginning. I never imagined precise stories, which had a beginning and an end. They were always open even in my own mind. I was trying to capture certain feelings or psychological tensions, which could potentially begin from many points and could lead to several narratives. Something that I consciously was trying to avoid is giving references to a particular time and place. I was trying to choose clothes that didn’t have a clear fashion or contemporary look, I was avoiding objects that would point very clearly to the contemporary living space or a particular country. I wanted my images to be detached from time and space as much as possible. I wanted my subjects and sometimes the metaphoric objects to be the main center of attention
How do you hope your work will affect the viewer? What have been your favorite responses?
I hope that the viewers will be able to connect with my images through their own imagination, fantasies, or memories. I hope that they can find something to grasp on even if the situations or the symbols that I’m using are not necessarily familiar to them. I like when people tell me that my images reminded them of something very personal. Sometimes they tell me their own stories, which I really appreciate. I also really enjoy hearing contradictory responses to the very same image. These kinds of responses reinforce my idea that everyone sees things in very different ways, and this is also why I think it’s important to have enough ambiguity in the work to allow this to happen.
Over 7 years you must have had many sittings and images. How did you navigate the editing process? What decisions did you make to form the final body of work? For example what didn’t make the cut and why?
My strategies have shifted over time, because in the beginning I didn’t know that this project would go on for so long. I first was trying to come up with little series within the project. They were somewhere between 7 and 12 images. Within those little series I was trying to hold on to the same stylistic approach and to make sure that none of the images repeats the same idea and that all together they allow for narratives to be formed. Then, later, I gave up on the idea of having several series or chapters, because I felt that when the photographs from different periods where somewhat interleaved they formed a more dynamic and layered picture all together. I’m quite a perfectionist when it comes to my work, so when selecting images I take into consideration every little detail. There are some photographs in the project that I even reshot several times, because I could see the potential that wasn’t fully executed or there was some small details that was interfering with the reading of the image. In this process of course the images often were turning into totally different ones. Usually when I see a successful image it stands out by its self even if there is another dozen of similar ones that could be also quite good. For me it is important that all the elements fall in place. I think it is like magic, it either happened or it didn’t. And I truly believe that when something really good is born it is not only because I did a good job as a photographer or because my subjects were so great, it is of course all that but it is also the magical moment that comes from the universe. Sounds very romantic… but I believe it’s true. In any case I’m very particular and tough with myself when it comes to editing. Although, there are some images that I liked, but didn’t show them until much later when I could see this project as more complete. I think the hardest decisions were when I started to work on the book. I think there is always a tendency to put more work in the book than is necessary. I also went thought this phase, I reedited it several times, and in the end my strategy was to exclude all the images that seemed weaker then the rest and also all the ones that didn’t add anything new to the overall narrative.
From Anna and Eve by Viktoria Sorochinski
It is impossible to find out who you really are. Mirrors are always crooked or somehow otherwise blemished. Even if someone manages to find an absolutely pure mirror, his eyes will still play tricks on him. And it’s not possible to simply peek inside. Alas, this is each person’s mystery.
Included in the book are some of Eve’s texts. They are extraordinary and she seems like an amazing girl. Do you think, as a photographer working with people, that the subject is intrinsic to the work? How do collaborations work best between a good subject and a great photographer to get the best from both parties?
I do think that subject is essential to the work. However, I think that the most important thing is the vision and the inspiration that the photographer gets from the subject. I think that the most successful combination happens when the subject trusts the photographer and is able to relax and open up in front of the camera. I think that the human connection also plays an important role here.
What have you learnt about ‘success’ on your photographic journey so far?
I have learned that success is a combination of several elements: it’s first of all hard work, your intention and determination, and of course a certain amount of chance. But I think that we as photographers are in a luckier position than artists working in other mediums because there are such a tremendous amount of possibilities and opportunities to expose your work to the professionals in the field. We just need to use those opportunities wisely. However, unfortunately, financial sustainability also plays an important role, because all those amazing opportunities also cost a lot of money, which not everyone can afford.
From Anna and Eve by Viktoria Sorochinski
What do you aspire to be at the end of this journey?
This question sounds kind of fatal to me… I don’t like to think about it this way. Life is so full of surprises. Who knows what changes I will go through? The only thing I can hope for is that I will always be able to find something inspiring that will feed my creativity. In fact, I haven’t always been concentrating on photography; I’m interested in many mediums as well as performing arts. Therefore I can easily see myself doing something very different in a few years or so.