Donovan Wylie at PhotoCinema

To me a festival like FORMAT and the recent PHOTOCINEMA conference in particular is a hub for all these supremely creative people to get together and feed off each other’s talents. It feels like home. It doesn’t matter how well I know a photographer’s work – to me there is nothing like hearing them talk about the “behind the scenes”. This is when one has an opportunity to appreciate their personality and truly connect with the artist’s world.

I found Magnum photographer Donovan Wylie’s presentation most inspiring as he struck me as a deeply sincere person who seems to say only the things he strongly believes in. He is a brave, decisive and reliable narrator who takes great responsibility in expressing his view without prejudice.

His ease and honesty in telling the story behind his BAFTA winning film “The Train” were very refreshing. He clearly left his safety zone – photography, and began an adventure with a highly collaborative craft of moving image. He experimented, inventing his own way of telling a story.  (It brought to mind the Bell chapter in Tarkovsky’s  “Andrei Rublev” with a boy who mobilised a crowd of people claiming he knew the secret of bell casting. After the extremely laborious task was complete and the bell rang perfectly we find out that the boy didn’t know a thing about it and relied primarily on faith and his natural skill…)

In “The Train” Donovan geographically and emotionally explores modern Russia which intrigued me – as a Ukrainian photographer living in the UK I am yet to photograph Britain in spite of my huge curiosity for its inner life. I always considered interpreting such a different culture a dangerous territory: how do you deal with something so unfamiliar without trivialising it? Looking at the “Western” work on the former Soviet Union I often find it exciting but feel that it’s all about surface and it tells me nothing through its obsession with detail and recycling of exhausted characters.  A lot of it seems to be revolving around the exotic, which is certainly very seductive and can become a license for patronising. Donovan Wylie however brilliantly succeeded in seeing through the exotic glamour that so often sticks to the subject. I don’t know whether he managed to find his deeper meaning at the end of the journey through Russia, but to me he clearly found a real ambivalence which resonates way beyond state borders.

Alina Kisina

Alina is a self-taught Ukranian photographer who trained as a linguist. Her solo show ‘Zerkalo : Mirror’ was shown at the Scotland-Russia Institute in Edinburgh in December 2008 to January 2009.

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