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Alexander Petrosyan: From Russia with Love

by Editor Vicente Dolz
Published the 8th of May 2020



Today we are going to interview Alexander Petrosyan,  a photographer whose photographs always seem shocking as well as paradoxical and unexpected to me. The city which inspires him the most and which we all know well is St. Petersburg.  It was completely destroyed during the Second World War.




Here we go, with the first inevitable question.  Tell us about your origins and the first time you became interested in photography, Alexander.

I was given a camera as a child, and it all started with THIS. First, I tried to shoot myself. Then, I studied at the Film Photography Department at the Institute of Culture, but I was mostly self-taught. The photographic education available then was far from perfect. There was no Internet we had to collect everything bit by bit. All the achievements were obtained through practical experience, through trial and error.



Where are you currently working? Do you still work for the Russian newspaper Kommersant?

Yes, since 2010 I have been working at the publishing house «Kommersant».




You also worked for National Geographic, Newsweek and My District, haven’t you?

Yes, I have worked with all these publications over the years.




How was your experience there?

It was quite normal. As everywhere when I am confident in my abilities...




You make street photographs but, in my opinion, they have a strong emotional and sentimental component. How do you come across such unique moments?

With a certain skill, you begin to notice them everywhere. This is my attempt to escape from the routine of predicting meanings and traditional stereotypes. The comparison of the incongruous gives rise to a new perception of the habitual.




Tell us about your photograph of the young soldiers with the woman in the green dress, how was that done? Is the colour matching a coincidence? How did you ‘find it’?

Of course, this picture, like most of the others, appeared by accident. There was a dance party at the military school, and I was shooting there. On the street, I noticed this girl going out for a walk during a break, and just then a company of soldiers was passing by. The obvious decision to combine these objects in one frame came immediately!




In my opinion, colour is very important in your photographs. However, I see that you also make them in black and white. Why do you sometimes choose black and white?

Initially, I was engaged in black and white photography, because in those days colour photography was not available to everyone. Then, with the advent of mini-laboratories, I attacked the colour, not really realizing what its meaning was. And finally, with the appearance of the figure, the whole question was reduced to a simple solution (except for the cases where black and white is initially and fundamentally removed): all the files are shown in colour, since people almost exclusively buy colour images. And for my personal portfolio I follow the well-known advice: if the frame in black and white looks, at least, no worse than in colour, then colour is redundant.







Which cameras do you use?

As for the camera, my main requirement for it is not to interfere nor irritate. There is still no perfect camera, so you choose according to your practical preferences. Now I shoot mostly with mirror-less cameras. At the moment I use a mirror-less camera Olympus EM-1 Mark 2: a light, quiet, small and fast camera. This is a big plus for outdoor shooting. The main task of the camera is not to distract and not to brake.






Which lens do you normally use? I have the feeling that you are sometimes very near to people.

Yes, this is the classic "effect of presence": as Kappa said - (... "If your pictures are not good enough, then you were not close enough”  ...) I agree with this opinion and the wide-angle in this case is an excellent assistant. My favourite focus is 24-70.





Are you a photograph “hunter” or “fisher”?

I'm more of a hunter; no wonder the words ‘shoot’ (with reference to firing a gun) and ‘shoot’ (in the sense of taking a photograph) are written the same way: "shoot". You never know if another shot will bring you a trophy, but you try to do it again and again...





Which photographers inspire you? Are you a Cartier Bresonian?

Yes, of course. He is the most authoritative and beloved, and even in his youth... Some Absolute in this genre of photography... The enumeration of all the other authors, whose work I also really like, would take too much space for such a short interview.





Why do you think street photography is so attractive?

By filming life on the streets, you can better understand the world in which most of our life take place... Now such photos remain unnoticed and undervalued, but after a while they will be judged by posterity about our time. And not the sugary-minimising crafts, which many are so used to admire. All these "eye-caressing" pictures, which are dominated by rattling techniques, technologies, etc. Formal frills will inevitably go to waste, because in the technical perfection of the possibilities of the future, all this will turn out to be a trifling archaic, valuable only in terms of studying the tastes and preferences of the past.






False and filtered images will not stand the test of time, and the value of true images as a "document of the era" will only increase, because this can’t be repeated in any films and stylizations!




Which of your photographs is your favourite?

The photo I haven't taken yet.



Do you think that your photographs are a reflection of Russian society?

To some extent, yes, but this is a very subjective view that speaks more about my attitude towards the surrounding situation.  Even if I put my ideas and feelings into my work, the viewer does not agree with them, but with their own meanings, which they give to the photo in question. Therefore, it is hardly possible to consider my photo works 100% objective...






Are there few Russian photographers or few Russian photographs?

Rather, there is little worldwide interest in Russia and everything that happens in it... The peak of interest that coincided with the fall of the Iron Curtain has long passed. Even if you just type the hashtags #New York and #Petersburg into the search engine and then compare the number of requests and mentions, the difference will be huge! Although there are enough world-class photographers in our country, almost no one knows about them yet.







Are you working on any personal projects right now?

My personal project is always the same: shoot the reality in which I live!







Alexander, thank you very much  for allowing us to know a little more about Russian photography.

Vicente Dolz

My personal thanks to Carlota, for helping me with this interview and to Carla for the translation.


Amazing Photos tell stories.
I'm Happy to see here photos of my absolutely favorite Alexander Petrosyan ! For many years I keep in Bookmarks link to his photography's in Nonstop Russian site. It so true point of view on Russia (in my opinion :-) as a person ,that born and raised in this paradox country ). Thank you, Yvette !
Amazing portfolio, Alexander!! Congratulations, Vicente, for this very interesting interview!
This is so nice !!!
Great serial images of a special country ... Superb, thank you for sharing, Vincente and Yvette!!
Thanks Jacob !
Awesome Photos from wonderful Russia..
Excellent imagery and story!
Thanks Ralf.
Fantastic images and fantastic work. thank you very much Yvette and Vicente. Congrats to Alexander !!!
Merci Thierry!
Thanks a lot Thierry!
Superb picture and exciting report - Thanks!
Thanks Nic !
these photos are the exact definition of documentary at it's highest level ... congratulations to dear Alexander
Amazing work congratulations
txules PRO
thanks Ivette for showing me/us a great photographer; his work is mesmerizing and put in a real perspective how bad I am; 1x should be proud of one of his members is a real pro with an incredible portfolio; regards
Never feel like being a bad photographer, you're not!!! Alexander's work is indeed so excellent. Be inspired and improve your own talent. Best regards, Yvette.
txules PRO
Thanks Yvette but.... there are people so talented out there :)
Amazing work, congrats!
They are very good, I like it very much, congratulations
A magnificent interview with awesome Alexander's work. Thank you, dear Yvette, Vicente and Alexander. Have a happy time!
Thanks Francesco. Nice to read that you like the interview and Alexander's work!
My pleasure, dear Yvette! Have a happy Sunday. :)
Grazie Francesco!
Prego, Vicente! Buona settimana, ciao. :)
a lot of directing but like!
Great work! The photos are thougthful, like many stories in dariy life.
Great interview Yvette, and thanks for introducing a terrific photographer who's images are intriguing, thoughtful and inspiring.
Yes, Alexander is a great photographer! Thanks for your kind comment, Peter...
Glad to see Your work on Congratulations Alexander Petrosyan!
All honour goes to this fantastic photographer! Strong and excellent work, thanks a lot Alexander!