Hailing from a small provincial town in Belarus, Marc Chagall's home country, Alex Veledzimovich (also known as Sasha) is a photographer and more notably - a storyteller. Capturing the moments of suburban post-Soviet youth by forging strength and solitude, he manages to captivate the viewer with serendipitous seduction. Following his friends around the cities of Belarus, he first emerged with his “NON-AGE” album, where he presented the portraits of regular folk through his dreamlike imagery.
Everything he does is intentional from the moment he presses the shutter button; for him, there is magic in image making. There is this apparent momentary flirtation with the past and present that is noticeable in his work and which is easily described as abiding, or perhaps candid. This self-taught photographer’s world appears as one in constant search of enhancement, subcultural figures, and its own realness.
Growing up in the small provincial town set his perspective on people and the world; exposed to so much positive and negative, he is able to illustrate the places he regularly visits and the people he associates with for the most part in the “For you” cafe in his alluring images. Soon after viewing the movie American Beauty and buying his first digital camera in USA, he expeditiously learned that capturing moments and perceiving them in a form of progressively changing recording electronic medium is what he adores and holds in high regard. In his military jacket, jeans, chaffed sneakers and his Rolleiflex camera with chrome parts and brown leather by his side, the freelance photographer spoke of how he differs from others, what most influenced him, his distinctiveness and growing up in Belarus.
What was it like growing up in Belarus? What was the best thing about it? Have you felt oppressed by the society and if yes, how did that influence your work? Have you ever felt like you had better chances of succeeding somewhere else, in another country maybe?
I am confident to say that my childhood was quite a happy one. My father tried to run a small business and so he regularly ventured to Poland, returning with various things we kids were craving for (candy and gum, new tees, toys and VHS movies). I remember getting a Dandy console, which was awfully cool at the time. In school, I had the same problems every nerd has: surrounded with two prisons and three factories in our neighbourhood and dealing with boys, who favoured physical strength over knowledge on the daily basis was hard, but I managed to survive. I and my family came from a low working class, but what is interesting is that I never felt oppressed by the society itself. I learned to adapt and to find my way around. After high school, I went to university where I started to regularly visit the spots where punks, hippies, and individuals from different subcultures were gathering. The best thing was that I grew up before the digital age and peoples’ relentless time spent in front of computers and on the internet.
How would you define beauty? Is beauty what you seek in your work?
It is hard to explain or even discuss what beauty really is. I strongly agree with the adage that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In terms of photography, beauty is firstly a visual perception that can in a way be objectified. It can be explained as a combination of photographers' vision and impartial laws of photography. Personally, I’m not very fond of contemporary art, which authors use to clarify and disclose their understanding of beauty and which often enforces our understanding of art. I loathe artists who try to explain and even justify the meaning of their art in a way of writing about it. I mean, I enjoy reading theoretical texts on artwork or art itself, but that alone could never replace the strong importance of visuality. Beauty could be defined as some sort of a never ending search.
I was thinking of the portraits that you do... They seem so natural. Do you just capture the moment, for example, when you see someone interesting on the street, or are they premeditated?
Most of the portraits were deliberately done. First, I started taking photos of my friends with whereby I encountered… Later, I started to approach random strangers and take snapshots of them. All of my photos are more about me, my dreams and vision of this utopian world, where only my rules and views on life are permitted. It’s in fact my way of creating, my way of using photography to show the viewer another way of life. But it’s completely different from the NON AGE album, where I tried to emphasize other peoples' looks and their emotions. It’s more about them and less about me in this series, which is quite offbeat from what I normally do. I just capture the brief moment in a life of a random stranger. I must admit though, that I am fonder of the portraits of my friends.
Who or what had the biggest influence on your work and on your style (a person maybe or a specific era, the society, etc.)?
There’s been a great deal of people that had substantial impacts on my work and my inner self. Speaking of photography, there’s been two worth mentioning: Oleg Videnin and Evgeniy Mochorev. However, in terms of visual aesthetic I have been mightily influenced by the “Flower power” era and its passive resistance and non-violence ideology.
Books by Alec Soth, his outlook on photography and his principles of art, which are akin to my color projects “Kunstcamera” and “Eden Garden”, are likewise not negligible.
Who or what is the most common subject of your photos?
From 2010 till 2013, the focal point of my portraits were photographers, various artists and the majority of assorted individuals from my area. By 2014, my perspective marginally altered and so the central subject of my work had become the most common objects: paper, toys and the blue walls of my apartment.
Could you tell us what kind of projects you have done in the past and what your plans are for the future?
Well, the first ever project I did was the before mentioned NON AGE album that captured the teens and young folks of Vitebsk. Another sequential and somewhat chronological project with my 35-mm camera, consisting of roughly 150 photos, was the “I wanna be a contemporary artist/actor.” The main difficulty with this project, created as a criticism of Nan Golding style photo diary, shown at exhibitions in Minsk and Vitebsk was the problem of publishing the photos en masse. “Kunstcamera” project, dealing with stereotypes in contemporary art and the affiliation of images, took place before the current photo project of my childhood and my memories (“the Garden of Eden”).
Let’s talk more about your NON-AGE project. What is the main idea behind it? (Is it just taking pics of youth?) How do you select your "models" and what approach do you usually choose?
To be honest, at the beginning, there was just this basic idea of creating a concept of individual photos in a form of documentary. The whole thing kicked off when I started taking detours in a pursuit of something intriguing. I began to observe people of different backgrounds and subcultures, that I spotted near Vitebsk wall, the pit and nearby the “For you” cafe that I frequently visit. Work of August Sander, german portrait and documentary photographer, was of great importance for me as well. Dividing people by their occupation in his series People of the 20th Century, I started to do the same. I photographed people in who I saw a great deal of my younger self in the early hippie/punk years. It was in 2014 when I started to edit the analogue photos, when it occurred to me; the project I did few years ago was in fact not a documentary on Vitebsk youth, as it was originally planned. It was very intimate portrait of my “tribe”, of people who reminded me of myself and not an objective portrait of youth at that time. First, I observe from afar, paying attention to special details. Somehow knowing when I’m not going to be refused, I approach people confidently, asking to take a photo.
What's the best advice you'd give to young emerging photographers?
Work hard, but most importantly, be happy and genuinely satisfied with your work. Have a positive mindset and be honest with yourself. If you ever get a feeling that photography is not making you happy, sell your camera immediately!
What are you most proud of?
I am largely proud to be an owner of my Rolleiflex FX+ camera, covered in brown leather. I am likewise proud of my Swiss army green bag. And btw, this is not advertising, but I have to point out that I’ll soon be a proud owner of FRYE Wayde Combat Boots as well.