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.


Web-site of the photographer


People, emotions and the question of tact

In photography, as well as in life, I love short and succinct definitions, a kind of aphorisms that allow formulating the essence of a question. For example, I admire the credo of Ralph Gibson: "I exclude all the unnecessary things out of my pictures," or, say, the idea of Alexander Lapin: " All the objects in the picture turn into the corresponding signs which are able to interact with each other, eventually creating a new meaning”." Do you have such formulas or statements?

In fact, I also often try to extract such definitions from life.

This probably has something to do with the years spent on the mastering of exact sciences. The consequences of, so to speak, scientific and technical education. That’s why I, naturally, try to build a structure out of anything I devote myself. Hence, first comes the definition, then the axiomatics.

Many times I myself tried and asked the students to define as widely as possible but at the same time very precisely what a good photograph is. And every time I recall a wonderful joke about Sherlock Holmes Dr. Watson.

They fly in an air balloon. Suddenly a strong wind swoops down, they lose their orientation in the mist. They ascend and see a man walking, Watson pops out of the gondola and shouts: "Sir!" - "Yes, sir" –replies the man. "Sir, where are we?"- Watson asks. "On a hot air balloon, sir" – the man replied. Then Holmes said: "I bet this man is a mathematician" - "How do you know that?” - wondered Watson. And Holmes said: "Firstly, because the answer is absolutely correct, and secondly, it’s totally useless."

And I think that all the formulations of this kind tend to be like that. Formulating the most general definition, we make it, in fact, useless.

How does the age of the photographer affect their images? What comes and what goes away with time?

This is a difficult question. If there was a chance I could observe in some magical museum the skull of 15-year-old Alexander of Macedon together with his skull at the age of 20 I would be able to estimate the metamorphosis which had happened to him. It’s just that I took up photography rather late. As a matter of fact, my career as a journalist started when I was 36. That's why I do not know what would be if I had became engaged with it at the age of 22. Sometimes I think that I have spent 10-15 years in vain. However, nobody knows how things would turn out today without all the foregoing background. I think the ideal age for a photographer is 28 years. So I look at my students, I look at all sorts of different photographers, and I see that somewhere at this age people start to shoot well.

You know, I have recently come to exactly the same conclusion. By the way, I noticed another pattern: many portraitists live very long. Take, for example, Yousuf Karsh, Irving Penn, Moses Nappelbaum, Leonid Levit, etc. I explain it solely from the Christian point of view: these artists cherish an extraordinary love for people. Could this feeling be regarded as the driving force of a photojournalist?

Perhaps, in some sense, yes. However, I'm not sure that we shouldn’t take pictures of people we don’t love.  One of my most famous photographs is a portrait of Vladimir Putin. But I find it hard to admit any particular love for him. Let me put it this way: It's hard to shoot a man without having at least some emotions for him. But emotions can be very diverse.

Well, speaking of love - I do not know ... Love is such a strong word. If one would have a closer look on my feelings, the statement that I love people would be very pretentious. But the fact is - I am interested in people.

What is the essence of your life? What inspires you and gives you hope?

Nothing exotic: I love my kids, I love my wife, I love what I do. Take it away and my life will become empty and stale.

In one of your television interviews you claimed that there are two major consequences of the arrival of IT into photography. First, they allowed photography to become part of popular culture. Secondly, they brought women into business. But where are the results? The winners of the majority of photo contests are mostly men!

I’m afraid I can’t agree with you. There are a lot of women who participate and win various contests. If you look at the results of the last nationwide photo contest, you'll notice that girls make up around 40% of all the winners. The digital revolution happened around five years ago. We'll see. The girls still have some time to catch up. Taking into consideration the potential of today’s starlets I must say soon we’ll witness some great victories.

And of course, Alexandra Demenkova. It’s the second time in the history of Russian, Ukrainian, and all the post-Soviet photography, when someone from this part of the world won the contest for the right to participate in the World Press Photo Joop Swart master classes.

Tanya Plotnikova holds many exhibitions abroad. Her works are being exhibited in many countries around the world, including the most famous museums and galleries. The same situation is with Margo Ovcharenko, Dasha Yastrebova and many others. All of them are very young and very talented.

I often give lectures. And lately I’ve noticed a tendency that the proportion of boys and girls is approximately three to seven. Girls are better listeners and they shoot better. And the most important is that they don’t go crazy about buttons and technicalities. I do not think we should divide the photography into "male" and "female". If you see the works of Tanya Plotnikova you’ll notice that it's a very rigid photography.

I think that there could be feminine and masculine approaches to photography. The girls are fairly focused on what they do and think less about technology. As for the boys it is necessary that they fisked it with precision. They know a lot of rules about what is possible, but more about what is not. They know all about the settings of the flash and technical specifications. In almost every new group of students there’s a boy with a distinctively big head and a thin neck, who’s always asking me what I think about the gain-frequency characteristic of a particular lens.
To be honest, I do not think about them. Well, just do not think at all! Almost any lens can be used to produce a reasonable picture: you just have to focus and shoot. As a rule, such boys vanish after three lessons simply because they came for a different reason. Speaking of girls, it’s a completely different story.

Can you say what the style of a photojournalist is?

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