AUGUST 2018 MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: ALLY NOVGORODTSEVA

A ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR THE WINNER OF VPW’S AUGUST 2018 “SHAPES” PHOTO WALK, ALLY NOVGORODTSEVA!

Dear Vienna Photo Walkers,

Greetings from Baltimore, Maryland!

My name is Rosalie and I’m very excited to have the opportunity to interview my dearest friend, former university roommate, leader of Vienna Photo Walk, and winner of this month’s photo challenge, Ally Novgorodtseva!

We’ve known each other for over thirteen years, have lived together for four, and have travelled together to Rome (where we experienced an earthquake), London (where we fell victim to an epic snowfall that paralyzed the British Army), Paris (which we don’t remember too well because of all the wine and cheese we devoured), New York – and never without our cameras.

Since we both literally never know what to do with our hands when we’re in front of the camera, I’m delighted to see Ally back where she and I both belong – behind it, snapping away with VPW!

So, without further ado, the Member Spotlight Interview for August 2018 with Ally:

  1. What do you love most about photography? 

My two “happy places” are cooking and photography. Both are creative yet “technical” (thus balancing my inner creative-control-freak) and both are wonderful to do alone but also to share with other people (I am an extroverted introvert). I like how photography brings like-minded people together, and how it is very gender-neutral; it is neither male nor female-dominated (at least at my hobby-level). Some of the nicest people I have met have been photographers: most tend to be introverted, curious, patient and sensitive. It comes with the territory.

I also appreciate how varied it is: the World Press Photo exhibition draws attention to the suffering and reality of the world around us, while a feature story in Bon Appétit Magazine can follow the life of a squash blossom: from the moment the vegetable seed is planted by a farmer in Umbria, to the moment the flower lands, stuffed with ricotta, on your plate. Both are valid because both tell a story.

I think everyone uses photography for the same purpose: ultimately, to prove their point and to show others how they fundamentally view life. Personally, I use it to highlight the beautiful. A lot of my work is inspired by childhood memories, and a feeling of peace, happiness or light melancholy.

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  1. How did you get into photography? 

Thanks to my dad. When I was 15 years old, a semester in my high school Art Class was dedicated to photography. We needed to go around town and take photos inside Viennese coffee houses, to capture the Austrian coffee culture: the silver trays, the smokers, the newspaper sticks, the well-dressed elderly men and women. While most of the other kids used disposable cameras, my father gave me his Canon EOS 100 and several rolls of black and white film. Afterwards, he spent six weekends teaching me how to develop film in a darkroom, make my own paper, and print the images. While I never did learn to love the development and printing process, photography itself stayed with me until today.

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  1. What is the secret to taking a good photo?

This is a question I come back to every now and then, especially when I find myself in the middle of a “photographer’s block”: why is it sometimes so hard to produce work you are happy with (or any work, for that matter)? Atrocious weather/light conditions and technical difficulties aside: as any creative process, photography is very emotional. It can, on one hand, distract you from your everyday stress and take you to your “happy place” but – under the wrong circumstances – I feel it can be doomed to failure. If you are feeling distracted or irritated, it can be hard to focus and create. If you feel uninspired, depressed and down: every snap is just that, a snap – not a story. That is not to say that all my favourite photos have come from a sunny and happy place: some were taken in darker times. But even these darker times were accompanied by a feeling of inspiration, hope or a yearning to express myself. You need to be in a mood to want to share and communicate something.

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  1. What is your current desktop picture? (I always loved your bird on a wire photo on your laptop in university) 

Not that far off, actually – still nature, and still from Scotland! My current desktop picture (which is the same as my iPhone background photo) is a close-up of dewy, velvety leaves in the Inverewe Garden in Poolewe, in the Scottish Highlands. 

  1. What are you favorite things and places to photograph? 

I enjoy capturing details, much more so than the “big picture”. For example, instead of taking a photo of the main square in a town, I will find details I consider particularly lovely and focus on those: a faded fresco on a wall, a picturesque basket of fruit, fresh flowers in a vase, the details of a fountain-sculpture, and so on. Stringing several such images together I feel like I can tell a story, and bring across what I was feeling in the moment. I also love to photograph food: cooked at home by myself or my family and friends, in restaurants, or at the market. Finally, I enjoy photographing people. But I find I take infinitely more pleasure in it when I am photographing someone I know and care about. I get a real kick out of being able to capture them “through my eyes”, especially someone who is very self-critical and usually unhappy with photos of themselves. There is no doubt in my mind: everyone who says they are “not photogenic” have just never been photographed by the right person in the right way. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and a photographer always has a couple of extra tricks up their sleeve to turn an uncomplimentary shot into a deeply flattering portrait.

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  1. Do you feel that you have a particular style? 

I would describe it as detail-oriented, feminine, and pretty. 

  1. Are you self-taught or have you taken any courses? 

I took a photography course at the Università Popolare di Roma in 2013. My teacher was a photojournalist and really great: full of energy and practical tips. As with everything else – languages, tech, art, sports – while books and YouTube videos can be a great help, nothing compares to a knowledgeable person explaining their subject to you. I’m very glad I took mine, and would recommend anyone else struggling with the basics to do so too.

  1. What kinds of camera do you shoot with? Do you have a favorite? 

I stayed true to Team Canon, and after years of borrowing my dad’s equipment my parents gave me my first real camera when I graduated from university: a Canon EOS 450D. I bought my second camera three years ago, an Olympus OM-D E-M10. I love both, and interchange them depending on my mood. A favourite lens, in both cases, is the 50mm; it’s perfect for portraits and details. 

  1. Do you have a particular photo that stands out as a favorite? Why? 

It’s hard to pick just one; I’ve had numerous memorable trips or sessions that produced work I am proud of and happy with. 

All of my trips to Russia in Dzerzhinsk and Ulyanovsk, to visit my grandparents, have resulted in memorable photos. Images of my grandmothers and grandfathers, their pets, their furniture, all the little details in their houses; photography is a way to preserve (their) memories.

The Scottish Highlands have the most beautiful scenes of nature that I have ever seen; the details of the charming colorful houses, the beaches, and the seafood have resulted in some nice shots I enjoy looking back at. One January trip to Brussels, with its blue shadows, cold straw-coloured sunlight, and the feeling of a new beginning – photos from that trip really tell a story. In Vienna, where I live now, I like to capture architectural details and “sun bunnies” (a term translated from the Russian “солнечный-зайчик”, which describes flecks of sunlight reflected off mirrors and windows onto the street); the city is very photogenic. In Rome, where I lived for some years, I could never get enough of the light: gold and so heavy, even in the Winter. 

  1. What is your favorite part of Vienna Photo Walk?

I enjoy organising VPW events for the good company and the creative exchange. Photography can get a little lonely sometimes, and it’s always nice to be out with someone who isn’t rushing you, and is just as invested in the process as you are. Though few are professional photographers at VPW, there are plenty of people who are very serious about their hobby, and experiment with cameras, lenses, editing software, and subject matter. If you have a question or a problem you can bet that someone in the group will have the answer… or research it, and email you about it the next day! People are very helpful and happy to share advice. And, whenever we have a competition or a challenge, I genuinely look forward to seeing what people come up with: though we are all instructed to photograph the same subject at the same time, each of us sees the world in our own unique way. Thank you for three wonderful years, guys, may there be many more to come!