FORMAT Photography Festival in Derby (UK), has just come to its end, and we are happy to present you the second guest of our column: his name is Alexey Shlyk, Belarusian photographer based in Antwerp (Belgium), whose work was exhibited in Derby.
Alexey (1986) was born and raised in Minsk, Belarus, where he graduated in mathematics, and where he lived until a couple of years ago, when he then decided to move to Antwerp and undertake his studies in photography with a Master at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Photography for Alexey is a passion and a profession that he’s been carrying on since many years.
Alexey was already working as a photographer in Belarus, mostly in advertising, but felt the need to leave, to be contaminated, to be able to give more freedom to his practice.
Moving away from Minsk helped him gain a clearer and more distinct vision of his motherland, and this will be at the base of his latest project The Appleseed Necklace, that he presented at FORMAT Photography Festival in Derby. We met Alexey in a café in Antwerp to talk about his projects.
The Appleseed Necklace is a work on Belarus, something Alexey had in his mind for long, but born, after all, in an unplanned way. “For last year edition of Breda Photo Festival, we were asked by our Master program to work on a project in which we had to reflect on ourselves. This gave me the chance to work on something I wanted to do since a long time, a work on my country, Belarus. But I didn’t want the project to be something with a documentary intent, in black and white, or too sad and melancholic. That’s why I tried to give it a different look.”
The project is a reflection on the ability of the Belarusian people to adapt to difficult situations and the DIY culture that developed in the country during his childhood. During the Soviet era, Belarus has undergone a period of great economic crisis and for this reason people have developed a peculiar wisdom: if you need something and you don’t want to steal it, you have to build it.
Alexey’s work is an interpretation of his memories in a modern key. “A starting point for this reflection was given to me by Belarusian president Lukashenko, who during a speech said:
If there is no money to go to the gym, take two bricks and train at home.”
The idea behind the photos is exactly to show this DIY way of life through the reconstruction of Alexey’s childhood memories. Every situation is something that has settled in his memory. “I wanted to recreate these memories by distancing myself from my country and placing them in nowadays Europe. A distant gaze sometimes can better describe reality. For this reason, the sets I have rebuilt are studied in the smallest details, and even in the clothing of my subjects: I have chosen garments that can be found in today’s great chains, but which recall what was worn in the Soviet Union.”
Alexey’s work is very personal, perhaps more than what can be understood simply by looking at his pictures. For this reason we were curious to know if there was any photo that was particularly dear to him.
“I don’t think there’s a picture I’m more attached to than others, though maybe The Chicken House is the one that recalls me more memories. The custom was to have small buildings in the countryside, with the idea of spending time away from the city for several reasons. I tried to rebuild this small house in my studio by following my memories and starting from a door that I accidentally found on the street in Antwerp.” In his mind Alexey links this house to his grandmother’s one, who came from the Russian Volga region near Khazan, where he usually spent summers with his cousins.
There’s a lot of my grandmother, not just in this photo, but in the whole project.”
Alexey prefers to define himself not just as a photographer, but an artist with different interests, who uses mainly photography. This is especially clear in his creative process, which has a lot to do as well with his math studies. “I can rarely produce an image instantly. First, the idea must settle in an abstract way, like an axiom, then I develop it in all its aspects, and finally I create it.” And this is evident in The Appleseed Necklace, where Alexey himself built all the objects and sets of the photos.
Alexey’s work, halfway between the documentary and the fiction, helps to look at the chosen subject in a very unexpected way. Thanks to his experiences and knowledge, he guides us through particular aspects of the Belarusian people in a detached -but not distant- way. If possible, we get even closer to something that we were ignoring until then, because Alexey is able to relate it with us through objects and colors familiar to us.
As usual, we asked our guest hiss favorite ones among the following categories. So here you are:
- ALEXEY’S FAVORITE CREATIVE: DAVID CLAERBOUT
- ALEXEY’S FAVORITE PHOTOBOOK: GREGORY HALPERN, ZZYZX (edited by MACK)
And are you curious to know what Alexey usually has for breakfast?
It depends on how much time I have and whether the day will be long or not. If I know I’ll have a long day ahead, I prefer to eat eggs and bacon. If I’m not, I am more than happy with a cup of milk and cereal. On the weekend, however, I try to spoil myself a bit by going out and taking a nice croissant!”
Thanks a lot Alexey!