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

Before answering this question, let's define the notion of style in general. In fact, it’s a set of artistic techniques.

However, such a definition is more applicable to painting rather than to a photo ...

Why? Take, for example, Martin Parr and Paolo Pellegrini. I often tell my students: "Recognition is the key to success." When a person looks at your picture and recognizes the author without reading the title – that’s success. It is very important for a photographer to differ from others. There is a common mistake many young people tend to make. When they see good pictures in a magazine, they read the caption. And it says, for example, Yuri Kozyrev. What they decide is that success will shine upon them if they shoot like Yuri Kozyrev. But its the other way round. If you happened to figure out how to shoot like Yuri Kozyrev, then you need to shoot in a completely different manner. That’s been confirmed many times.

What would you advise young photographers who are dreaming of finding their own style?

‘Do not make it Mayakovski-wise, do it your own way!’ A common knowledge. When I went to Iraq (and this was my longest trip, before there were Chechnya and Afghanistan), I had no idea for how long I had to stay there. This trip was very expensive. I called Jamie Wellford, a senior photo editor at Newsweek, and asked: "Jamie, i would need your advice." And he said: "Don’t shoot like Associated Press». That doesn’t imply that he didn’t like the style of the Associated Press. No, it’s because they already had this style. The tasks of a photojournalist have been going through changes for the past twenty years. Today it is important to not just provide a photo report on certain events; one must show their own vision and understanding of these events.

Today you are approached by many young people who want to take up photography. How do you think, can modern glossy magazines and photo communities in social networks spoil the idea of photography as an art?

You need to understand that my students are people of a particular kind. My audience consists of people who saw my pictures and try to run away from cheap glitter which we tend to call glamour. Sometimes, of course, pompous boys and girls happen to drop at my studio, but that’s an odd exception.

Although, generally speaking, the tendency is as follows: more and more people are moving away from glamour, they are sick and tiredof this pink lusciousness! After all, what is the russian glamor? – It’s how the lowbrows understand beauty. Kitsch will, of course, remain. But I think we will anyway get to a different level. There is far less glamour in the majority of developed countries. If you page through the women magazines in Italy, France or America, you’ll be surprised to find that most of them publish rigid social stories. Today it is difficult to imagine stories about self-immolation of Afghan women in the Russian Vogue or Marie. It is, however, a common experience for Western glossy magazines, because they understand one rule. If you want to sell your magazine, it should be interesting, it should surprise.

I think that the main problem of Russian and Ukrainian press is that there is an absolute dictatorship of the advertiser. Take Stern for instance. 50% of its revenue comes from advertising, and 50% from retail. Speaking about any Russian magazine, 100% of the profits come from advertising. There are some magazines, which gain no profit from retail at all, moreover, they have to pay to be represented at newsstands and in supermarkets. Thus, it’s the advertiser who’s the boss.  All things considered, it’s impossible to see a serious publication in such sort of a magazine. And that’s why almost all the Russian gloss and many TV channels resemble nuisance. But I feel that many people are already tired of it. And it’s not only hipsters, but also ordinary men and women.

The traditional question: whom do you regard as your teachers, whom do you respect, which photos do you like viewing?

I learned from what I happened to like. And I was’t spoilt for choice – at that time the Internet wasn’t that widespread. That’s why I learned from my colleagues’ works. For two years I studied at a school of photography. Then I was lucky enough to get to Chechnya.  The reason I call it luck is not because of the place, but because I accidently found myself around photographers I regarded very highly. Among those were Yuri Kozyrev, James Hill and some others. I also learned from my peers and editors, well, nothing special.

Are there some photographers today whose work you particularly admire?

It’s very hard to list all the people, as there are too many of them. I think, however, that the last person whose influence on my work had been especially high was not at all a photographer, but rather a journalist and a writer. That was late Peter Wail. We worked together a lot. Now that’s what I call real education! The truth is, the main part in the word ‘photojournalism’ is, in fact, journalism. Unfortunately, many photographers do not realize that. Konchalovsky once said: ‘Till the age of 40 I cared about how to film, after the age of 40 I care of what to film’. Now I also think only about what to shoot. Me and mys students 90% of our discussions dedicate to the question ‘what’ rather than ‘how’.

As for that ‘how’ question, well, there are many people like Alexander Lapin to give you an answer. Lately I don’t bother myself with question like that.

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