20 March 2009

Spotlight on....Julia Pogodina

How did your career in fashion photography unfold?
On July 15th, 2006 I quit my job as a foreign associate at Sidley Austin law firm in NY and started doing photography full-time.

But I guess it all started much earlier. As a child, I stayed up all night with my Dad in our homemade darkroom watching him develop b&w pictures from our family trips to the Black sea. Then it was my first camera, a 35mm Lomo compact that I received for my 8th birthday. And lots of art books in my parents library, weekly trips to the museums and exhibitions with my parents, beautiful art pieces & pictures on the wall of our apartment in St.Peterbsurg where I grew up. My parents always encouraged my artistic beginnings (my Dad himself is an antique restorer & jeweler) but the harsh reality of post-Soviet Russia didn’t allow the luxury to pursue your inclinations when it was time to choose where to go to school. Instead, stable income and prestige were the criteria in choosing your future career. The latter together with my excellent grades in school brought me to St. Peteresburg Law school at the age of 18. It took me 9 years to realize that it was a mistake. Without regretting the past I moved on to a very uncertain future and started a new career, fresh, without proper education, at the age of 27.

Honestly, there was no smooth transition between being a corporate lawyer and becoming a fashion photographer. I guess there couldn’t be. It was abrupt, unexpected, scary, and very exciting. I’m not sure I’d be able to do it again if I had to... It takes not only guts but also some kind of blind fearlessness, courage and sense of adventure. It’s like jumping with the parachute for the first time. I loved it! But I would be very cautious to recommend anyone to repeat this path.
2.5 years later everything is different now starting with my self. The way I look, the way I spend my day, my circle of friends and acquaintances, the place where I live. Elegant suits and high heels were replaced by jeans and converse sneakers. My tiny studio in a fancy building in the West Village was abandoned for a spacious loft in East Williamsburg. But the biggest changes happened in my head. Living your dream is a difficult thing. Dreaming about being an artist is easier then becoming one. It is not an overnight process and I still have a long and exciting journey ahead.

Can you talk about collaborating with stylists, makeup artists, models, etc. Each designer has a task but you are all working together to create a look, how does this collaboration work?
In fashion photography – opposite to fine art photography, for example, - team is a key. A glossy picture that you see in a magazine is always a collaborative effort – of an art director, photographer, model, stylist, set designer, make-up artists, hair stylist, photo retoucher, layout designer, etc, etc. It’s a huge production, and each level of it is crucial.
I personally always liked that part. I love working with creative people and this is one of the reasons I’m in this industry. It’s different from the type of team work people talk about in the offices – here it’s not as technical. It is a mix of creativity & different personalities. Magical in a way, and very powerful. Sometimes you feel that you have no control over it; this is when beautiful things are happening – when each team member is in love with the project and you see everybody’s unique touch in the final outcome.

There are no rules in this process, I believe. With my team I’m usually the one throwing initial ideas on the table. Some inspiration, a couple of reference pictures, a short description of a concept. Then each member of the team starts working on his own part. Here I usually give complete freedom and always encourage them to experiment and create something unique. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but at the end it’s all a learning curve, where an ultimate goal is to find and express yourself.

What inspires you?
Lots of things. The people around me. The places I used to live or visit. My childhood memories. Literature. Movies. Exhibitions. Music. Sometimes inspiration is very directional, for example, I can watch the Pillow book by Peter Greenaway and my head starts spinning with ideas about a fashion shoot inspired by the style of the film. But usually it’s more complex. Ideas come as a mix of experiences and aftertastes, dreams and fears, sounds and quotes, flashbacks of emotions.
What photographers, artists, books, fashion designers, or mentors, etc. have influenced you creatively?
If I ever need to write down all the acknowledgements that will constitute a whole book which will be interesting only for those mentioned in it. And this list continues growing every day.

I am blessed to be surrounded by incredibly talented, wise, creative, big-hearted people who always inspire and encourage me. At first it was my Dad who taught me to draw way before I could read and write; my childhood was filled with color pencils, watercolor sets, and canvas paper. My Mom was the one who cultivated a taste in fashion in me; she was the one sewing all my clothes since I was little, and always making me “the-best-dressed” girl in high school. Then it was FTV channel – one of the first foreign channels in post-Soviet Russia along with MTV. I was 16 and I was addicted. I could watch show after show all day long (skipping classes in school, of course). I knew all of the designers and their collections by heart year after year. The first fashion photographer I met was Andrey Borichevskii, my good old friend from St.Petersburg. He was the one who introduced me to names like Mario Testino and Nick Knight. He also showed me Italian Vogue for the first time. There were many others later on: photographers, artists and friends, each of whom added his or her little touch & inspiration to forming this passion in me .
As of now I’m breathing editorials and ad work by Steven Meisel & Steven Klein, Craig McDean, Marcus & Piggot. They are my virtual mentors when it comes to style and quality in fashion photography.

What does the medium of photography mean to you - and why did you choose it?
I like photography for its immediate and true results. I’m not fascinated by the process of depicting a subject (for example in painting) but instead by the subject itself. In my case, it’s beautiful people - and the moment they live in. In a way it’s all about pre-production – my team and I are spending days prepping for the shoot and hours creating a look for the camera. This look usually lives for just a couple of minutes. The camera gives me a chance to capture it imminently, intimately, as I see it - and deliver the message to the viewer later on. I think only video can compete with that, but that’s a different story.

What is the most difficult part of what you do? What do you like best about what you do or create?
The most difficult part is the people. This is also the part I like the most. This is the only part of the job that is always unpredictable, always out of control. It makes it challenging and magical.

What do you like to do when you're not shooting photographs?
Sleep. Read. Watch movies. Travel. Cook. In random order.

What is your dream project?
My dream project is to shoot the Pirelli calendar. Or to travel on assignment from Vogue to an exotic location – like Africa or Iceland – with my team.

What words or philosophy do you live by?
The sky is the limit!

Julia Pogodina moved from Moscow to New York in 2005 to pursue her dream. After 7 years of being a corporate lawyer she quit her office job and became a freelance fashion/beauty photographer. Her pictures stand out for their saturated colors, dynamic compositions, profound lighting and dreamy locations. Julia's commercial and editorial work, along with a list of publications can be seen at http://www.nymfea.com/.

Thanks Julia!