Interview with Mariya Ustymenko

Edited by Odeta Catana, Photo Editor

Mariya Ustymenko

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Could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
 
I was born in Kiev, Ukraine, and I now live in London, where I work on my current photographic project, which has recently received its research and development funding from Arts Council England. So that is my biggest personal piece of news and most demanding work of the moment.

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How would you describe yourself and your personality?
 
I think I have a pretty much outgoing personality and I value friendship a lot. I get inspired by my environment, the things I see, and the work of other people, and I like traveling by train, which I currently do a lot.
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Who were the first artists that inspired you? 
 
The first artists that inspired me … and I would not differentiate by media here … were Wols, Maya Deren, Man Ray, Otto Dix, Hans Richter, Alexandr Rodchenko, Dziga Vertov, Mikhail Kaufman, Sergei Parajanov, and Elia Kazan. 
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How did you start taking photos?
 
I started at school, shooting with plastic snapshot cameras and then moved to the fully mechanical Kiev-19 35 mm camera, which I still use a lot.
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What do you want your viewers to take away from your work?
 
Ideally I would like to transport the viewer into a different location or a state of mind, if only for a brief moment.
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Do you take portraits? And if so, in a portrait, what is important for you?
 
Yes, I do, and generally I give preference to portrait work as I find it quite challenging. I always start checking out other photographers’ portfolios starting from the portrait section of their website if they have such a section as for me portraits best represent given photographer’s style, strengths and weaknesses. A good portrait brings significance to a person as an individual and makes  the viewer relate in some way to a certain projected experience that the shot carries
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Do you think it’s important to follow a school to learn how to shoot?
 
No, I think the most fun part of the photographic experience is exploring the world anew through the lens, so thinking too much as opposed to finding out things as one goes along robs one of this best bit of the journey. I think it’s better to get into photography and then enroll on a course  or get into art education as opposed to the other way around, which can bloc many fresh ideas and can be overwhelming (i.e. everything has been done before and arguably much better).
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Is there a personal project that you’ve had in your mind that you haven’t done, and that you probably will never do?
 
Yes, there is. I missed an opportunity to close document the psychobilly subculture in Kiev, and I believe that’s the one project I’d probably never do now as too much water has gone under the bridge.
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Do you think you have your own style?
 
That’s a tough one. I think it’s project dependent in my case and there were periods in my life when I thought I was close to developing one. I think that a signature style is important, but then again it can make one’s work a bit predictable. I’d just like to produce work I am pleased with myself as a photographer. Doesn’t happen often. Hopefully when it does happen, it is actually good.
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Why do you take photos?
 
I don’t think I can actually stop taking them. It now forms a large part of my life, like listening to or making music for people.
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