I began to photograph exclusively in the studio in 1999, using a black backdrop, which serves as a little theater. People from all walks of life became my models and interacted with objects I’d find everywhere, but mostly at the flea market, in antique and thrift stores or on the street, in order to tell a story. The studio gave me the freedom to portray my emotional struggles and those of others in a deeper way. Looking back over my work, I realize the most persistent themes are isolation and loneliness, nostalgia, mortality, the struggle with ambition, the irrelevance of labor to success, and the process of immigration. In the beginning, I explored the meaning of my memories, – what I left behind in Russia and what I brought with me. But then the work became more about what I found to be true for me here in America, and even more about the emotional lives of the people who were my models.
I always come to the studio with an idea and never work spontaneously. The props I use have relevance to an idea or to the model. I find that by working with the same props and the same models, I am able to discover even deeper meaning in my initial ideas. The models and I gain greater comfort working together over time, and they are then able to reveal the beauty of the human mind.
I was inspired to work in this particular way by the icons that fascinated me growing up in Russia, and by the classical literature of my motherland. In this age of digital photography, I suppose my tools would be considered classical as well. I shoot only black and white film with a Hasselblad camera designed in 1948, and print the images in the darkroom the old fashioned way.
My greatest satisfaction comes when an image is able to elicit an emotional response or memory for the viewer, because I have delved deep into myself in making it, and we have found our common humanity.