Trusting her intuition and spontaneity, Sorochinski’s surreal self-portraits respond to feelings of confinement and uncertainty during the pandemic.
Based in Berlin since the beginning of lockdown, Viktoria Sorochinski is one of many photographers who has used this time to reflect upon her practice and her personal life. Before the spread of Covid-19, she was preparing a solo show of a recent documentary project called Poltava Neverland — “exploring one of the most mysterious and unexplored places in Ukraine,” she describes — which was forced to be postponed. Allowing herself instead to “focus on things that I didn’t have time to do for a long time”, Sorochinski has created a new project, titled INsideOUTside. Shot entirely in one room of her apartment, the Ukrainian-born photographer uses her body to interact with the everyday objects that have come to define her experience of the lockdown period, be they rolls of toilet paper or a tree branch she found on her daily walk to the park.
The idea for the project, she says, emerged out of a desire to “revisit the subjects and approach that I was working with while creating my old self-portrait series titled The Space Between (2007-2008),” she explains. “I was tracing my identity through dreams, memories of theUkrainian village where my grandparents used to live, and reconnection to nature”.
However, though the inspiration was already there, the process of making each photograph was intuitive and spontaneous, often reacting to what she saw or felt on that particular day, with no clear vision of what the final outcome would look like. The result is a series which straddles the reality of today, and a surreal narrative inspired by fairytale and mythology. “I am also working in a much more minimalistic approach, which is of course in a large part due to the lack of access to nearly anything at the moment,” she says of the project. “And I rather enjoy this challenge, of coming up with images using only a few objects and the play between the light and the shadow.” Sorochinski has been sharing images from the project on her Instagram profile, which has added an element of exchange and connection to the process.
As a lecturer and teacher in her pre-pandemic life, Sorochinski will be hosting an online workshop this Friday 29 May, titledFrom Portrait to Narrative. Though lockdown regulations are beginning to ease, InsideOutside is still ongoing, and continues to evolve and regenerate. “I guess only time will tell,” she says.
British Journal of Photography: How did you develop the project? Did you find that the formula changed as the days went on?
Viktoria Sorochinski: In the very beginning, I started to combine landscapes or other shots that I took outside while walking in parks and streets of Berlin, with my self-portraits and other symbolic images. But later on, I realised that I want to focus entirely on the internal process and only include images that were taken indoors. It is unusual for me to share my work in the process, especially because such changes can happen, and I usually like to see first where it takes me and how I feel about this work, prior to making it public. But I felt that this lockdown situation had to be approached differently because now, more than ever, people need to exchange and feel the presence of others.
I also felt that people needed some positive inspiration. Therefore, I decided to share this project as it grows in the process via my Instagram account. And it has been quite motivating and rewarding to get the feedback from people.
BJP: Did you find the repetitive nature of interacting with the same space challenging?
VS: It is quite challenging. I photograph everything in one room and mostly in the second half of the day when the sun is shining through the window, as I am using only available daylight.
Sometimes, it feels like I have already used every corner and it is difficult to come up with new ideas to make the images different from one another. There are days when nothing works and I get frustrated. But then comes the next day, and the sunshine brings a new wave of inspiration.
“There are days when nothing works and I get frustrated. But then comes the next day, and the sunshine brings a new wave of inspiration”
BJP: Your work often addresses themes of relationships, family and the home. Do you see these reflected in this new work?
VS: The relationship with oneself, which is also part of my other projects, is definitely part of this series as well, especially when it comes to facing your own ‘shadows’, fears and the reflections of the subconscious. The “home” is only part of this series in a symbolic way. Home is a representation of the inner self that we often see in our dreams, and is also one of the symbols described in Jungian psychoanalysis.
I often dream of either discovering some strange home in the forest or by the sea, or that I am living in a home that I know is mine but that seems completely foreign, and so on. During the lockdown, we are all forced to spend a lot of time at home, which in fact makes us turn our gazes inwards, and connect more with the inner-self.
BJP: Do you view this project as an extension of your wider practice, or as something separate and particular to the current environment?
VS: This project is, in a way, an extension of my old project The Space Between. But generally, all my work is somewhat connected by the general approach. I am always interested in revealing something that lies beneath the surface of the visible, and to find ways to connect to the subconscious.
I am always searching for a visual language that can speak to anyone regardless of their cultural or religious belonging, and I usually do that through universal symbols or clues that anyone can relate to, even if they imagine their own story when they see my images. I think I have developed this approach because of my immigration background. I have lived in so many different countries, and so often, I had to go through moments of alienation, dislocation, and language barriers, and therefore through my art I am constantly striving to build a kind of bridge between myself and other people.
“During the lockdown, we are all forced to spend a lot of time at home, which in fact makes us turn our gazes inwards, and connect more with the inner-self.”
BJP: Could you talk us through the process of how you created on of the images from the series?
VS: Most of the images come to life in a very intuitive and spontaneous manner. For example, in the very beginning of the series, I used a tree in a couple of images, but I didn’t really plan these images in advance at all. I was just walking on the street, and I saw a quite large branch of a tree broken and lying on the ground, so I picked it up and brought it into the room where I photograph. I simply began interacting with it in front of the camera, waiting for the magic to happen.
I rarely picture a specific image in my head that I would reproduce later, as I like to allow some space for a chance or a moment of inspiration. I really enjoy the process of ‘go with the flow’ creation. Although, in my very early works as an artist-photographer, I used to sketch specific ideas and try to create them later. This approach is now in the past.
Starting out as an intern back in 2016, Izabela Radwanska Zhang is now the Editorial Director of British Journal of Photography in print and online. Her words have appeared in Disegno and Press Association. Prior to this, she completed a MA in Magazine Journalism at City University, London, and most recently, a Postgrad Certificate in Graphic Design at London College of Communication.