Photographer of the week: Olga Mest

When we approached Olga about this interview, she first was thrilled, then horrified. She admitted that she tried to sound professional, serious and knowing but finally chose to just be herself. Despite the fact that she is one of the more humble photographers that we interviewed, her work is exceptional. Enjoy this glimpse intoOlga's phantasmagorical world.
 Thanks to Yvette Depaepe for conducting the interview. You will find more photos by the end of the article.

 

Briefly tell us about yourself, your hobbies and other jobs.
I was born in Moscow into a kind of international family and at the age of eighteen I decided it was  high time to follow the family tradition and change countries. I've lived in Barcelona ever since. My lovely husband has suffered because of the fact that I can't focus on any hobby for more than two minutes. Only two things have prevailed over the years, the animals (I work with several shelters) and the arts. It was my better half who introduced me to photography, nagged and encouraged me and finally, about three years ago I abandoned the charcoals and dived into 'shooting' people rather than drawing them.

What first attracted you to photography?
I've always found amazing the shapes beauty comes in. Having lived in different countries as a child gave me an opportunity to see the variety of landscapes, faces and realities. And one simply cannot choose. So you go places and you see things and then you encounter those wonderful works of art that show you how other people have seen those places and things and how they felt about them and you find it so different yet similar and absolutely captivating, be it literature, music, sculpture, painting, photography or any other form of art. Like Proust's Madeleine, art has intrinsic capacity of triggering emotions. Photography has this magic quality of painting emotions with light, simple at first glance yet incredibly challenging at the same time.

Why are you so drawn by Conceptual photography?
I love this question. I had no idea my photography was conceptual. I suppose it actually is. I love all forms of photography. 1X displays an incredible amount of stunning works in all the genres and I love browsing through them. As I said before, beauty comes in many shapes. Now, the sad truth is that I suck at landscape or animal photography, let alone street photography. I tend to hug animals instead of taking pictures of them, feel horrible when taking pics of people without their permission and am simply not good enough when it comes to creative editing, architecture, macro or landscape. What is left? Thinking of some emotion and random idea, finding a person crazy enough to let me do whatever I please and trying to transmit the original idea as faithfully as possible. And here we go, the conceptual photographer is born.

What is more important to you, the story behind your images or the technical perfection?
It is always the story. It just happens to be that quite often in order to make the story shine you need technical perfection. I am talking about the fact that one simply cannot transmit the things the way one wants to without without the proper technique. Sometimes, a seemingly imperfect photograph is actually carefully created. There is beauty in imperfection, but not all imperfection is beautiful.

What generally is your relationship to your subject matter beyond being an observer?
I tend to work with female models of different ages and fall in love with all of them. Otherwise it just doesn't work. I need to admire something in each person I work with and it is just so easy with women. Each one is beautiful in her own way and finding how to transmit this beauty together sometimes creates a long-term friendship. I am immensely grateful for the trust they place in my camera.

Do you carefully prepare the locations or settings before shooting?
I tend to shoot indoors which is wonderful for someone as disorganized as I am. There is this magic wardrobe in my studio, behind the little blue door, where props and crazy objects live. I usually think of a couple of ideas before the shooting but more often than not it all goes down the drain. I improvise a lot. When it comes to shooting outdoors, I usually take some small objects that fit into a rucksack and can be used as props and then use them. Or not.

What gear do you use and what software to process your images?
I've got Sony Alpha 77 and the original 16-50 lens. When I work in my studio, I use the black and white vinyl backdrops and a couple of Elinchrom flashes. That's about it.

Then, it is a horrible thing to say but I have no idea of how Photoshop works (besides a vague idea that it's a very cool software for intelligent and patient people) so all my pictures are processed in Corel Painter and  Paint Net is used for the simple crops and black and white conversion. It's alright, I am officially ashamed, you don't need to tell me how horrible it is.

Can you tell us something more about your work flow?
It all starts with a coffee and croissants. There is no happy model if she has not been previously  fed. It works the same way for the photographers. So we have some coffee and talk about the shooting. It gives us an opportunity to break the ice, get to know each other better, discuss the possible ideas and directions of the shooting and see how the model moves, her facial expressions and so on. I always have some calm music in the studio even though the models are invited to bring their own soundtracks if that makes them more comfortable. We start with some standard poses so that the model relaxes and then it is just a couple of hours of improvisation, me running around the model shouting: 'don't move', 'don't breathe', 'stop laughing, pretend you're sad' and so on. I am sorry. It is not glamorous at all.

Once the shooting is over, I check the result and start working. It all boils down to three things: 1) what the original photo transmits 2) the music that is playing while working on a photo 3) the number of pets on top of the tablet (I'm blessed with a dog and four very active cats who believe their help is a must). In a nutshell, it is always a mystery how the photo might end up and there is no plan whatsoever.

What is your most important advice to a beginner in conceptual photography and how do you get started?Love what you shoot. Try to open your mind, in a silly way if necessary. Don't shut down your emotions. Don't kill your inner child. Play. Don't be afraid of not following the rules or of following the rules. It's ok both ways. I truly believe that if you enjoy what you do, sooner or later the quality of your work will improve. 

Who are your favorite photographers and more importantly, how has your appreciation of their work affected how you approach your own photography?
There are just too many. I have not been exposed to much photographic culture so I keep discovering the classics. Nevertheless, it's 1x photographers that awe and inspire me a daily basis. You people are amazing. It's great how each brain is lit in a different way. There is Milan Malovrh with his magic horses, Barbora Binovcová and Durante's amazing portraits, the parallel worlds of Daria Endresen and Monika Vanhercke, Elena Lopez's and Victoria Ivanova's common objects living their own passionate lives, DDiArte's baroque imagination, Jacob Tuinenga who amazed me with his black and white nature at first and then started uploading beautiful portraits. Matjaz Cater's fairytale-like landscapes, Gilbert Claes' abstractions, Ben Goossens' soft craziness.... and I still think it's unfair to mention these names first and not the other ones, because there are so many great photographers and stunning works here. Every day I see your works and it's like: 'oh my, how on earth has he/she done it/ think of it?' Your works open my mind and I am tremendously grateful for all the inspiration you bring.

Describe your favourite photograph taken by you and why it's special to you?


I don't really have any, but perhaps this one is special. It's title is 'Self-contained Joy' and it's the first one is the series of photographs that belong to a project I'm currently finishing. I met this adorable couple the day they were taking part in an anti-animal cruelty protest. I was taking photos of the protest when I saw them, embracing each other, protecting each other and it was one of the most emotional things I had ever seen. So that was the day I thought of starting a project depicting the beauty of female couples. None of them are professional models and that is precisely the point. The gesture in the photograph is not faked, there was no direction, it's genuine. The genuine bliss of two loving people.

What do you think about 1x as a home base for your work?
I love it. I love the quality of the works exposed. The day I opened an account here, some three years ago, I made it my New Year Resolution to have one, at least one photo published among all these great works. It never ceases to inspire me. The kind spirit of the fellow photographers is great, one can learn from so many people and in so many different areas of photography.  My work is still about portraiture but there is no doubt that if I ever want to try something new, I will learn from the very best!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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