Often I cannot express in words how beautiful this world is, how everything is precious, both sunrises and sunsets, but I want to do it, so photography is a useful tool for me.
Oli, tell us about your background, where are you from? And where do you live now?
I grew up in Vladivostok, a small town with bridges, a large port, and such foggy weather that drivers have to open the car door to see the road marking and somehow keep driving. Because China, Japan, and Korea are really close to my hometown, we had all kinds of kids’ treasures such as bubble gum, soda water, and game consoles earlier than in the rest of Russia. But still, I would call Vladivostok a dull province with bad roads and a complete lack of urban design aesthetics.
Now I live in Bali. Indonesia is an almost exclusive place where a Russian can live for the long term. Not only because of the climate, which is definitely wonderful here but more for such trivial reasons as the visa policy. I used to leave every summer for several months either to Russia or to Europe, but this year I stayed, and I’m very happy with that.
When did you start taking pictures and when did you dedicate yourself to the ocean?
My father, like many Soviet citizens of that time, had photography as a hobby, so I was familiar with cameras since childhood. I remember how we locked ourselves in a dark bathroom to develop the film. I started taking pictures myself at the age of 13, I was shooting everything, literally. At 19 I got my first job as a reportage photographer. So this is my profession, which I am still faithful to.
Since I was born on the seashore, open water has always been a part of my life. But I have to admit that I started to appreciate it much later. the strong influence of Asian culture in Vladivostok felt very irritating, so as soon as I was able to, I moved to St. Petersburg to be closer to Europe. And suddenly it turned out that the Neva river and the Gulf of Finland were not the same as the ocean at all! I wanted to live by the ocean because when it is not there, I have a feeling of emptiness, some kind of constant anxiety.
As a photographer, what’s a typical working day for you?
In Bali, the best light for shooting is either in the early morning or at the sunset. So if the shooting is not related to surfing, I try to schedule it for the evening and devote my morning either to surfing or to a good sleep depending on conditions. But if I need to shoot surfing, then it’s always sunrise, the gentle light is complemented by the best waves and uncrowded spots. During the day, I usually sit in the room with an air conditioner and stare at the screen doing postproduction.
Do you also surf?
I have been surfing for about 4 years now, only longboard, and for my own pleasure, without any complaints. Sometimes inside me, there is a fight between surfer and photographer. For example, when the waves are really good, I can swim with a camera and regret that I am not on board. The other day I may go surfing, and the light might be so beautiful that I would give everything in the world for the camera.
In general, I think that if you are a surf photographer, then it is good to be involved in surfing. First, it gives the understanding of the ocean, where you need to be and what to do, as well as the ability to predict the surfer’s moves. And also, it gives you a general understanding of what does it mean, when a surfer «looks good on the board».
What is the ocean for you?
Everything. Really. It is a job, a hobby, a source of joy, a psychiatrist, a doctor, and a big brother, and a drug… All at once.
Do you prefer to shoot from land or in the water?
In land-photography, everything completely depends on me. I mean I can plan the angle, calmly wait for a moment or the right light. In the water it’s the opposite, I can only swim, well, and understand the technique I shoot with, and that’s all, everything is a matter of chance. I’m not able to plan a specific shot. Everything should match. Wave, light, rider.
In the water, I get uncompromising pleasure, since I don’t have any expectations. Plus, I love pictures that are difficult for me. Those that are easy, I cannot appreciate, it seems to me that there is nothing special in it, even if others like them. It’s important for me to make an effort, and in the ocean, this is always the case.
There are not a lot of female surf photographers. How do you feel about the misrepresentation of female surf photographers in the surfing industry?
In surfing, I never felt any sexism or gender stereotypes. Not like in skateboarding where I felt it a lot. Skaters are punks who do not care about the beauty of the photos. When I come to shoot them, especially some famous and ambitious ones, they look with great distrust and even arrogance, like «who are you, girl».
There is no such thing in surfing, but I think it’s because surfers are in general more prone to narcissism. Aesthetics as well, especially by longboarders. In addition, I do not shoot surfing as a sport, I rather have photographs with a touch of mysticism, and this is exactly what many surfers want, to see themselves beautiful on the wave.
Do you think being a successful photographer in this industry is harder for a woman?
I think yes, it’s probably easier for a man. Well, with the exception of the case when you are in Australia and want to shoot nude women. They have strict rules and men need a bunch of documents and permits to do so, while women can avoid bureaucracy. But in general, in the whole world, it is more difficult for women to stand out, because often not only talent is judged but also the appearance and personality.
Also, there is some kind of mistrust when it comes to photography. Getting back to the skaters. When a man comes, it is immediately “Hey, bro”, and when a woman: “Well, let’s try…”
And what advice would you give for aspiring female ocean photographers/videographers? What kind of camera are you using?
I’m sure that anyone can become a surf photographer, it’s not that challenging. If you know how to swim and know how to click, then you are a surf photographer. And then it’s a matter of the vision. So my advice is to develop a vision and not be afraid to do what you like.
Of course, the technique gives an advantage. Sometimes you see the shot in your head, but the camera cannot make it, because, for example, it is not light-sensitive enough or the lens does not have such a focal length that can give the picture the required volume and depth. And then you need to select a camera according to your needs.
As for me, I’m trying not to get attached to the technique. Of course, for a commercial photographer, it’s important to have the best camera to take clean sharp shots. But when someone comes to you because of your vision, then it doesn’t matter at all what you are shooting with.
Are you trying to express something particular with your pictures?
For me, a picture is a way to express an inner feeling. Often I cannot express in words how beautiful this world is, how everything is precious, both sunrises and sunsets, but I want to do it, so photography is a useful tool for me. I remember when I had my first exhibition, I realized that it allows influence on people. So I’m promoting beauty, and inviting viewers to look at the world in a different way. It’s my contribution to the world.
What is inspiring you?
People who are madly in love with their work and devote themselves to it completely, from beginning to end. Such people inspire me to move on and never give up.
Can you name 3 of your favorite accounts that really inspire you?
What’s your favorite Oy Piece
My favorite piece is the Flores swimsuit because it’s perfect for water shootings. It protects me from the sun while giving me all the freedom I need for action pictures.