Founded in 2006 by photographer and curator Olga Korsunova, art-manager and photography critic Nadya Sheremetova, and art historian Elena Zyrianova, FotoDepartament is a gallery, bookshop, library and education hub in St. Petersburg, Russia. Aiming to promote and develop contemporary Russian photography at home and abroad, FotoDepartment runs many events, exhibitions and workshops, and represents internationally-recognised artists such as Kirill Savchenkov, Irina Yulieva, and Jana Romanova. FotoDepartament is also currently running several digital projects, such as the Young Russian Photography site (www.youngphotography.ru) and the https://projection.media/ project, a new online platform.
FotoDepartament recently started a publishing project called Amplitude, creating photobooks of emerging Russian photographers’ work which can be read individually, or gathered together into groups. Amplitude No.1 includes photobooks by Alexey Bogolepov, Margo Ovcharenko, Irina Zadorozhnaia, Anastasia Tsayder, Igor Samolet, Yury Gudkov, Olya Ivanova, Irina Ivannikova, Anastasia Tailakova, and Irina Yulieva. BJP caught up with Nadya Sheremetova to find out more about the publication.
Nadya Sheremetova: Yes, but since the beginning of FotoDepartament, we have supported and developed young photographers – showing exhibitions and projects, educating, advising, and helping them to identify their strengths and personal visual language. We also distribute self-published books by Russian photographers in our bookshop. So you could say we have been working towards our book for a long time.
We made it with the support of Garage Museum of Contemporary Art and The Foundation of Vladimir Smirnov and Konstantin Sorokin, but the curatorial idea and the design were independent, as well as the book production. We were helped by the designer Anton Lepashov, who has already developed several notable book projects by Russian photographers, including Jana Romanova, Arthur Bondar, and Ksenia Yurkova.
BJP: Why did FotoDepartament decide to publish a series of books?
NS: There are many reasons but most crucial is the number of Russian photographers who are still so little-known at home. They are published and they win contests abroad, but they remain unrecognised in Russia. The main impulse is to introduce those photographers to a wider audience, both at home and abroad.
The format of the book [a slipcase containing several books] is more convenient and more complex, one and divisible at the same time. You can choose to buy any of the books separately, but the value and potential of the format is that you still see each book as a part of the united organism. We plan to run Amplitude as a periodic project, which will talk about the state of photography not only in Russia, but as part of the contemporary photography world.
BJP: What can these books do that exhibiting the photographers can’t?
NS: It allows us to bring together photographers whose approaches are completely different, although we can say that they belong to the same generation. The name Amplitude came from this contradiction – on the one hand it is a single statement, but within that each photographer is an individual.
This material could be shown as an exhibition – we have worked on similar projects in the past, such as the exhibition Experiences of Brownian motion which we showed at the The Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography in Moscow. But the book suggests a completely different experience. We wanted the reader to go deeper into the details, but at the same time keep in mind the overall picture of the photographers’ works – their differences, and their strength and individuality.
BJP: How did you get involved with the book project?
NS: Books are an important part of my relationship with photography, especially in searching for photographers and topics. I’ve always come back from trips with books and portfolios. The idea of having a bookshop in FotoDepartament came from my own experience of compiling a library – I stock the shelves by choosing the books I would like to see in my own collection.
In terms of creating a book, I have previously worked as an editor, adviser and curator, working with photographers and helping them develop their own expression in book form. Amplitude drew on that experience – when you see an exhibition or a project as a whole, but also keep an eye on its details.
BJP: How did you select the photographers you wanted to show?
NS: All of the photographers involved in the first edition of Amplitude (and in the subsequent ones) have very distinctive ways of working with photography. I’m always interested in photographers with very individual visual styles and ways of thinking.
During the selection process I kept in mind two different criteria. First, I was looking for projects which were known from publications, exhibitions or festivals, but which had not previously been published as a book. These projects had to contain enough material to cover 28 pages [the size of each book], but also be able to make a strong and complete statement. In Amplitude, the projects by Margo Ovcharenko, Alexey Bogolepov, Igor Samolet or Irina Ivannikova fulfil this criteria.
Second, I was looking for photographers with an interesting practice as a whole. For these photographers, a single book would obviously not be enough to present all of their work – but that tension would create a saturated, complex, strange publication. In these cases, the book would show some but not all of their practice, acting as a teaser or a reference to their other works. The books by Irina Zadorozhnaia, Anastasia Tailakova, Olya Ivanova, Anastasia Tsayder, and Irina Yulieva are examples of this approach.
The textbook by Yury Gudkov combines his two roles – as an artist whose projects became the direct subject of the text, and as a critic who looks at the current practices in contemporary photography and art.
BJP: How would you describe the contemporary Russian photography scene?
NS: It has two sides. On the one hand, there are those who adhere to the classic, most easily understood approaches to photography. Mostly they still dominate the festivals here, but there is a feeling that they’re losing steam.
On the other hand there are young photographers, who see images as a tool for raising more sophisticated issues. There can be a gulf between them and their audience, but the situation is changing. We are experiencing a transition, and I want to believe that FotoDepartament is helping to initiate that.
BJP: Is the scene in St Petersburg very different?
NS: It is probably just a bit smaller than Moscow’s, as the city itself is smaller – though it has the same number of art and photography schools. Moscow seems to be a little more inward-focused, in St. Petersburg we’ve always been in touch with photographers from all over Russia. And we’re also closer to Europe, through the Scandinavian and Baltic countries.
Compared to other countries, many artists here feel the lack of support. Photographers often have nowhere to show their work and nowhere to find funding, to make a decent exhibition of their work, or even to produce it. Many of them seek out Western competitions and grants instead, and often win them. Things are slowly getting better, and at least our book is an attempt to reach a wider audience.
https://programme.parisphoto.com/en/photobook-awards.htm Amplitude No.1 costs €95, the individual books can be bought for €12 each. https://fotodepartament.ru/