Kiev and Its Grace
Alberto Martín de Ruedas is a Spanish photographer currently living and working in Kiev, Ukraine. While the Ukraine's conflict with Russia is slowly stabilising after last year's ceasefire agreement, the creative youth residing in its major cities continue to rebel against authorative figures that disregard the importance of art and young voices. Because the government does not financially support the arts, young creatives are forming strong bonds between each other by being forced to grow and develop in their financial independence. We speak to Alberto about the creative scene in Ukraine and what it's like to be working as a photographer.
When did you move to Ukraine? Why?
I moved to Kiev a few years ago. I’d always wanted to know what it felt like to start from nothing in a country where you know hardly anything. Ukraine had always attracted me, it felt like a place full of mystery, yet authentic at the same time.
How would you describe the creative scene in a country going through a period of such political change?
Living and working in Kiev isn’t easy. Yet, for the last few years, the young people in Ukraine have rebelled against how their corrupt politicians think they should be and think. This brings about more difficulties, but its this kind of difficulty that I think makes artists, and young people, grow and develop. It’s precisely this inconformity that gives rise to an art scene as vibrant as Kiev’s. It’s a scene where everything is done in a kind of haze of the unofficial. As far as I know, no artistic space receives any kind of government funding, and that makes it something completely free and independent.
You described Ukraine as having a certain 'sartorial grace', could you explain what you mean?
It’s difficult to explain. I think it’s something more to do with light and colour. I, being Spanish, was raised in a place where it’s sunny practically all year round, I was very used to having good light. I didn’t appreciate it like I do now. In Kiev, during the harsh winter months, the city is covered with snow and practically everyone who lives there wears black, almost uniformly. And on top of that you have to remember that it gets dark at around 4pm. However, when spring arrives, there is a rapturous explosion of light and colour. You perceive colours as being more vibrant. You start to tell apart everyone you see on the street, and you do it thanks to the colours of their clothes. The exquisiteness of a woman’s hat, how interesting this other woman’s jacket is. It’s a visual sensation that lies dormant during the winter months, yet when the light returns it makes you perceive everything more intensely. You can extrapolate this feeling to the city itself.
Is there a community of photographers?
There are very many photographers, with an incredible amount of talent and taste. I don’t know if it’s because I’m just too drawn into this circle or if there really can be so many good photographers. This is something really positive, and interesting too, something you might call ‘competitivity’ which becomes an ‘impulse’ which makes you want to better define your own style.
Is it difficult shooting 35mm in Ukraine? Is it hard to find film and get it processed?
That’s an interesting question since I don’t think I’d ever have had the chance to develop my analogue photography if I hadn’t been living in Ukraine. I like to think that the young people here are analogue. If you go to a party, everyone has their ‘point-and-shoot’. They’re opening more and more shops where you can buy films and cameras. Unfortunately, due to the crisis, prices have tripled in the last three years, but it’s still cheaper than anywhere else in Europe.
What to themes do you hope come through in your work by shooting in a place like Kiev?
I'm always looking for what characterises Kiev, that 'something' that makes it unique, and means the photo couldn't be taken the same way in a different place. The thing is that, since I'm not from there, I find this 'something' in almost everything, be it a sign, a bus, or even a cat. I think it's a positive thing, because I've had to rethink everything around me in an aesthetic way.