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Dossier

Sergei Maximishin


Sergei Maximishin was born in 1964. In 1982 he entered Leningrad Polytechnic Institute in the Department of Experimental Nuclear Physics. From 1985 to 1987 he served in the Soviet Army as photographer of a military club of the Soviet army personnel Group in Cuba. In the year 1988 he continued his education, combining it with work in the Laboratories of scientific and technical expertise at the State Hermitage. From 1996 till the 98th year he studied at the Faculty of photographers at St. Petersburg House of Journalists. Since 2003 he has cooperated with the German agency ‘Focus’.

A multiple winner of Russia Press Photo and World Press Photo competitions.


Portfolio

Web-site of the photographer

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People, emotions and the question of tact

Sergei, you often work in dangerous places. Aren’t you afraid?

I have to disappoint you, but I do not like being ranked as a photographer who works in hot spots. I have little experience working there.

Well, anyway, some of the spots you work at cannot be named peaceful. What is the source of your motivation? Is there anything you want to tell with the help of your works?

It seems to me that any photographer, and not only a photographer - any journalist wants to tell the world how other people live. And that’s, of course, what’s driving me. That’s what our job is all about. Let me assure you that the work of the photographer is not the most dangerous. There are soldiers, doctors, rescuers and many others. To make a long story short, I do not like to talk about the journalistic heroism. It’s just that the journalist can address the public. It’s the ability which the soldiers and rescue workers do not possess. Now there’re dozens of really hazardous jobs, and I think we do not have to make heroes out of journalists.

How do you manage mimicry to the environment?

I never try to do it.

In psychology, there is a term ‘victimization’. It is the ability of a person to become a victim of crime. The reporters often find themselves in the heart of a flashpoint with a camera in their hands. Some people may not like it. How to minimize this victimization?

Well, look, there’s a complicated issue, because we have to resolve two conflicting objectives. On the one hand, the photographer must be seen, because people should know who photographs them and why. On the other hand, the photographer should not turn from a simple witness into a provocateur or even into some sort of a mastermind. Therefore, it is a question of tact.

This question is partly a philosophical one, as there were plenty of moments when the photographers crossed that line. I often tell about such cases. It often happens that we are shooting not the life itself, but the very response of life on us. We will never manage to fully avoid this. But we should clearly understand that it is our task to minimize our own impact on what we shoot.

Concerning personal safety, we should understand that, say, we can grab the camera and come to a Moscow market where many Azerbaijanis are selling their tomatoes. But the idea that you're doing art would be the last coming to their minds. We should always try to look at ourselves with the eyes of the person we’re shooting. And it is clear that these Azeris there have thousands of reasons not to get in the sight of your lens. Some of them live without registration, some are under investigation, someone got away from one woman to another, some had left home not telling anybody about coming to Moscow, and some just don’t not want to be photographed and etc. And that’s the rule that should always be respected. Therefore, we should at least try to spend some time talking to people.

After all, there are two ways to ensure that people don’t stare foolishly smiling at you while you shoot. The first is by using a hidden camera (but it is not what you’d like doing), and the second - a regular shooting. In order to avoid hiding you have to spend much time talking to people. My students often ask me: why do people in my pictures do not look into the camera? The answer is very simple: I spent a lot of time with them. Sometimes it’s half day of talking and ten minutes of work. Very often this approach appears to be better than random shooting.

Sergei, do you have any photographic taboo?

I do not have any particular taboo, but I am convinced that professional ethics of 99% coincides with the personal ethics.


Do you have any reportage shots that do not pass your internal qualification?

Yes, perhaps there are some shots that I won’t show to anybody.

You were born in Odessa. What was the impact of St.Petersburg on your work?


I can hardly be regarded as the citizen of Odessa. In fact I’ve never lived there. My parents studied at the University of Odessa, and I was born in the city of Kodyma which is not far from Odessa.

Regarding St.Petersburg… Well, I do not know. This city has a particular mind-managing quality. On top of that my major is physics – it manages to make your brain work orderly. Moreover, after I had finished the University, I worked in the examination laboratory of the Hermitage for five years. For five years I was observing beautiful things. I think this helps me in some way. However, sometimes I think it confounds me, because I often think that there’s too much “painting” in my pictures.

Tell us how military service has affected your life and career choice?

I think that if it were not for the army, I would have never become a photographer –it’s just that such a stupid idea would have never come into my mind. I'm obviously one of that small number of people who recalls Soviet Army with some sort of cordiality. I wish everyone could have a service like mine. I served in Cuba. In those days you had to be blessed to go abroad. Back then I was well aware that this was my first and last chance to see the world. How could we have known it was going to change? Moreover, I believe that if not for the army, not only wouldn’t I have come into this profession, but also would not have married the person I am married to now as well.

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