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Alex Avgud


A selection of Avgud's body of works.

Q: What is the impact of cheap cameras or instant filters on portraiture in photography?

A: I think first of all they have altered people’s psychology, and the way people see themselves rather than actually changing photography per se. People now have a much more solidified view of what is beautiful about them, and what isn’t, since they’ve already tried all the imaginable angles with their phone, and don’t necessarily need any other person, an artist or not, to discover anything new about their features. Photography, in turn, has always been a very technology-dependant artistic medium, and industry trends are intertwined with the progress of technology, either embracing it, or with resistance to it - we’ve seen a revival of old techniques in the art photography world at the same time that phone photography became a thing.

We can also speculate how different our view of the past would be if cameras became easily affordable earlier. Did people smile less in the XIXth century, were the exposure times too long, or was it a bit of both - we just don’t know for certain.

Cheap cameras gave us lots of great artists who have shaped the contemporary portrait landscape. Just think of Nan Goldin creating her ‘Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ in the mid-1980s.

Q: If you as a maker look at the portrait you made, do you see a reflection of yourself despite another person in the image?

A: If we speak of my personal art projects - yes, of course, 200%. It’s slightly different on a commissioned assignment, there this reflection is less, often - much less, visible. But I always hope that the portraits I make exist somewhere between me and ‘the other’. Many photographers use a person in front of the lens purely as a shape, as a vessel for an idea, stripping them of their personality. That’s not something I aspire to do.

I try to choose collaborators who are not only willing to embrace my vision but are also able to infuse it with their unique presence - making the final result more rich and complex. That accounts for each shoot producing results that can’t be fully repeated, images don’t become a formulaic template.

Q: When is a portrait image interesting for you?

A: The other day I was passing a police station. Not sure about other countries but in Russia where I live now, there are always low-res photographs of criminals on the wall of a police station with ‘Wanted’ signs and short bios underneath. I was so intrigued by those faces! The fact that those people have done something bad, yet it was impossible to guess what exactly, made them appear very mysterious, and the images gained an extra ‘weight’.

Context plays such a huge part in the perception of images. A similar - but an almost reverse - example to the one above: In Russia there’s a portrait web-archive of innocent people who have been killed in Stalin’s prison camps during the repression of the 1930s. That assembly of images is heartbreaking. When you look at the photos of people and know they’re doomed, their lives are over, and you’re looking most likely at the last portrait taken of them... it does something to you that no artist can possibly achieve.

But if we speak about portraits by artists... Taking a risk to sound cheesy, I’d say an ‘emotional dialogue’ with a portrait is often a semi-magical encounter, ‘je ne sais quoi’, it doesn’t come in a box with a set of the same qualities, hashtags. Definitely a lot of energy comes from the portrayed protagonist. I think the person in the image needs to intrigue and inspire the photographer (or painter), the artist should be in some form of love with the person. The ‘success’ of a portrait is unpredictable - I believe that’s why we keep making them.

Q: Thesis: in the current way of living, the artist is indirectly asked to also assume a digital, 2D identity. My work, for example, shows a lot of bare skin. But that is against the guidelines of many social media platforms because a lot of skin in an image is deemed explicit or sexual. I wonder how I can exist digitally as an artist if this guideline generalizes the way of looking at unclothed bodies. Not everyone looks at bodies in a sexually objectified way. How do you feel about this digital trend?

A: Surely an online identity of an artist using nudity will nowadays be distorted by digital corporate censorship. However, there are social media platforms where nudity is allowed (e.g. Twitter, Vimeo). I read in the news the other day that Vienna’s Tourism Board opened an ‘Onlyfans’ account to promote artists such as Egon Schiele without fear of being blocked.

Maybe Instagram should better develop tools to mark content - it’s already possible with images of violence, which appear covered by a ‘sensitive content’ warning whereby you can choose yourself whether to click on it, or not.

I guess we’re still hoping there would one day appear a social network attuned to the purposes of artists, and not businesses and influencers. Something that isn’t ruled by the power of mysterious ‘algorithm gods’, and maybe not based in the US, a country that is much more conservative and religious than Europe.

Q: How do you deal with the concept of time and space within your methodology as a visual creative artist - and do you deal differently with time and space within the identity of the images you create?

A: Speaking of my relation to the idea of time, my favourite methodology relies heavily on researching how movement and stillness are intertwined. I often, for the purpose of making an image, create special performances, and by asking the model to engage in a movement repetitively over a period of time, I explore the effects of a prolonged physical action on a person’s presence in space.

I feel my still images encapsulate energy in movement usually associated with video or theatre. I’m absolutely amazed by contemporary choreography that defies classical silhouettes, and am puzzled by why so-called ‘dance photography’ is so static, so rigid, so fixed on a ‘beautiful’ pose where everything is ‘right’. I focus on everything ‘wrong’, I think. Vulnerable, fleeting. Mortal. Philosophically, I hope this relates to what the passing of time does to a body.

And in regard to space, for a while now I’ve been avoiding a lot of details in space, preferring empty white rooms. It was on one hand a consequence of researching Dutch domestic interiors - I lived in The Netherlands for 5 years, and almost every house there is a bit hospital-like, clean and white - but on the other hand, lack of use of different spaces was helping to navigate viewers attention towards the human, towards the body and what emotions it signifies. In my current practice space is secondary, however we may argue that the way I ‘don’t’ use it is exactly ‘how’ I use it, and crucially so. Currently I’m curious myself about how implementing space ‘more’ will change the photographs I’m making.


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