Yulia Gorodinski: When Images Tell a Story

A Tête-à-tête with the Photographer

Self Portrait of Yulia Gorodinski

The self-portraits of Yulia Gorodinski is a monologue. Her work is a continuous exploration of her own personality and her emotions from within. In her creative discourse, she is the model and the photographer. In her quest of knowing the ‘self,’ she is tearing down the barriers within, that lies in each one of us.

Born in 1984, Yulia Gorodinski spent her early childhood in Belarus, the country of her birth. But at twelve she migrated to Israel where she completed her studies with MA in English Literature from The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 2010. Since 2007, Yulia started working on her self-portraits.

You were born in Belarus, and later on, moved to Israel during your teenage years. How did these differing cultural environments in your formative years influence you and perhaps help in the development of your artistic milieu?

I do sometimes wonder about whether if we’d stayed in Belarus I would be doing photography in the way I do now, or perhaps at all; maybe not since it seemed like such a small turn of events that got me into it, as it sometimes is for lots of things in life: you have no inclination to be doing something, then some small change occurs and you suddenly want to be doing it more than anything else. But, had I stayed in Belarus and taken up photography, around where I lived I certainly couldn’t have gone to places alone to do self-portraits, it just wasn’t secure there like it is in Israel. Nor that it is safe everywhere in Israel, but definitely not like in Belarus. Also, my style would have been very different, as it’s often so cold and overcast in Belarus whereas it’s always so sunny in Israel. In terms of culture it’s hard to say for sure; I always try to create my portraits the way I want to, but of course their setting plays a great part in their tone, whether urban or rural, so however the culture has shaped the landscape will be reflected in some way within each picture, though I also enjoy mixing in other elements and props that contrast with the setting, since the juxtaposition gives rise to new ways of seeing a place. But these days many of the world’s cultures overlap, if not physically then certainly through the media, so I can imagine someone who has only ever lived in one place being influenced by other cultures too. It’s merely the manner in which you choose to express that which makes a difference.

Self Portrait of Yulia Gorodinski

Photography as an art form provides myriad means of visual storytelling. What prompted you to capture your own experiences and emotions from behind the camera lenses? How has self-portraiture (by photographic means) aided in your self–discovery?

What inspired me to get into photography was seeing interesting self-portraits by other girls on a photo-sharing site. I picked up a camera and started practising. At first, I didn’t have any intention to produce something meaningful or to capture my emotions; I wanted simply to take some good images of myself and tried to find interesting places in which to do so. But then taking image after image, naturally I started capturing my emotions in photographs; it helped me cope with some things I was going through at the time – though it hadn’t at first been the intention. I think that’s what you find when you start doing artistic things, you may start off for fun, but the more you do, and the deeper you think about it, the art starts having an effect on you and pushes you to think in ways you hadn’t perhaps expected.

From conception to creation, what is your workflow like? What degree of spontaneity do you allow in your photoshoots? How do you scout for ideal locations?

I think about half of my work has been created spontaneously. There are times that I just go to a certain location (sometimes equipped with props, few outfits, or perhaps with nothing extra at all) without any specific idea and improvise on the spot, drawing inspiration from the landscape, or the trees, building structure, and light and shadow. When I do have an idea of what I want to do, I think where best it should be executed and go to that specific location. But I can’t really say that I specifically scout for locations, there are places that I know about or there are places that I happened to find by accident, I just try to remember them in case they fit with an idea I might have. But most of my images are taken in my town simply because I don’t drive, and even I did I couldn’t be going to remote locations by myself, it can be very risky, especially when the picture involves nudity. I think it’s important for any artist in any discipline to make the most of what is immediately around them, to prove oneself within the ambient constraints and limitations, yet always striving to move beyond what one thinks and knows, and always taking advantage of a new situation when by chance it occurs.

‘Nudity’ as a subject has the capability of polarising views. For the purpose of creative expression, you have utilised artistic nudity. What has been your experience or interpretation of the topic as an artist?

I have always been a big fan of artistic nudity in photography as well as in paintings. I really enjoy doing conceptual nudes, especially when using a natural setting. I feel that with nudes I can emphasize aspects of vulnerability more than when clothed for the simple reason of the sense of exposure it brings to the image, both physically and metaphorically. But I also love to use the nude in relation to being freed and at–one–with–nature. So there is at once an interesting contrast there: the closeness to nature vs the vulnerability from outside elements. Yet I do have ups and downs with making nude photos; there are times I feel like I will never do nudes again, mostly due to negative comments from my mother, who strongly disapproves of me doing nude photography. I can understand her point of view, but sometimes I have to think about what is right for the picture I want to create, over and above what someone might say about it. So even after saying never again I always seem to find myself going back to it when that’s what the picture needs. As to nudity polarising views – that will always occur no matter what I do. Sure, the normal thing these days, and has been for thousands of years, is to wear clothing when in the company of others. But I don’t think anyone would dispute that one of the greatest aspects of any art is its power to move beyond the ‘every–day’ view of life. How individuals respond to that is not for me to say.

Self Portrait of Yulia GorodinskiSelf Portrait of Yulia Gorodinski

Of all your creations thus far do you have any personal favourite? If yes, then why?

It always changes. I used to have favourite images that I no longer like at all. Currently, my favourite image is a newish one where my body is sprawled over the corner of a huge fallen tree-trunk. I really love old gnarled trees that have fallen and are in some stage of slow decay. When I found this tree I instantly wanted to make a photo there. The image didn’t work in colour, since the tones of sky and earth clashed and gave the wrong atmosphere for what I had in mind, so I decided to convert it to black & white as I noticed the tree itself had a fairly pale wood, as though bleached by the sun, which would contrast with the darker tangle of growth behind it whilst also matching my own skin tone. In the past, I have never converted to black & white. I like my work to be in bold colours, so I never intended to have any black & white work, but when I tried it on this image I really liked the effect and I’m now exploring the use of black & white imagery in other new pieces. Another reason for liking this particular piece is that having taken it, it reminded me of the works of pre-Raphaelite painters, which I adore.

Self Portrait of Yulia Gorodinski

You majored in English Literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Tell us something about the influences it has on you as a human being and as an artist.

I do hope that my studies have influenced my current life and work even though sometimes it’s not always easy to see how. I think it can be very interesting for an artist to study one subject and then to spend all their time practising in a totally separate discipline. Of course, the literature contains a lot of imagery as well as thought and dialogue and philosophy, but though it has the difficulty of using words to conjure the exact image in the reader’s head it also has the ease of explaining what it’s all about; it can simply tell you in words. A photograph can’t do that: it just has the bare image, and then the viewer perhaps makes words in their head to describe it to themselves or understand it, or maybe they simply take in the picture as it is – a direct transfer. Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed those books where imagery was more prominent; or the image alone, without explanation. James Joyce’s work with not only his stream of consciousness but his stream of imagery and the details of place and time and how those aspects of his stories create such richness as you read. Dickens has a wholly different style to his stories but they also have a deep richness of detail with sharply defined characters. I like that richness, and I feel sometimes that my images are indeed telling a story, maybe not a long story, or sometimes a story without beginning or end, but I would like the viewer to see the figure in the picture and her surrounding world and think: who is she? And why is she there? And what might she be going through? I like to use myself differently almost to create different characters. Sometimes with different styles of clothing or hair or body–position. Yet for all their differences the pictures are linked because there’s that same girl in each, just as we as humans are all linked (for all our differences) merely by being human. We have the ability to relate to and empathize with all sorts of people who we have never met, in locations and circumstances that we might never experience, yet still, somehow we can feel what they are going through. Perhaps I learnt that from the Greek tragedies of Sophocles: how we can relate to stories and peoples of thousands of years ago. We can share their pain. The story, the picture, the feeling, just has to touch on the right note and we are right there with them, going through what they are going through, feeling what they feel. If my pictures are able to conjure up such similar emotions in those that view them, then I will be happy.

Tell us of a fond memory or any anecdotal story from your photographic excursions and experimentations.

There have been a lot of stories, but most of them are unpleasant experiences. I don’t think I have a fond memory as such. A fond memory might be simply being able to take a picture peacefully with no one’s interference or intervention. People like to interfere when they see me taking pictures and they start to bother on purpose even if I ask nicely for them to leave. There was one particular occasion at the beach before the swimming season had begun, while the beach itself was still quiet. I was walking along the beach and there was a man with a DSLR camera as well. I waited for him to pass and when he was out of sight, I started setting up and taking my pictures, which on that occasion were semi-nude. Then after about twenty minutes, I spotted the same man hiding in dunes, taking covert pictures of me. I stopped at once, dressed, and yelled at him. He then came over and offered help, which naturally I didn’t need. I asked him to delete the pictures immediately. Of course, he didn’t want to, but I was furious and demanded he did so, and at length, he started deleting them in front of me. It was a horrible experience. I was both angry and upset. Since that day I don’t think I’ve taken any more nude pictures at the beach.

Do you draw inspiration from any personality from or beyond the world of photography, both past and present? Going forward how do you see yourself developing on your existing body of work and broadening your artistic boundaries?

Of course, there are many aspects of life that influence my work whether I am aware of it or not. I admire many works of art (one of my favourite photographers is Guy Bourdin) and dislike many others – so both of those aspects will affect my decisions when composing new pictures. Yet I do try always to come up with images that I feel are my own, that I have not encountered anywhere else. I don’t like the thought of copying another artist’s style. Not even as a homage. Still, my main limitation presently is that of location. I feel sometimes I have exhausted my town and surrounding area for good locations. So in the future, I hope to be able to travel further abroad. I would love the opportunity to do conceptual nude photography in natural settings around the world. But my means for doing so don’t yet stretch quite that far.

Self Portrait of Yulia Gorodinski

Yulia Gorodinski

Yulia loves holidaying in Santorini and being surrounded by the azure expanse of Aegean sea. Her favourite film happens to be Double Life of Veronique and music Friendly Fires. She loves devouring on a plate of delicious pasta. A photographer who spends a significant amount of time outdoors for the shooting is bound to learn to admire the green growth of foliage.

Find more of her work at her website.

Image Courtesy: Yulia Gorodinski