Anna Dobrovolskaya-Mints

Chasing Emptiness with Photographer Anna Dobrovolskaya-Mints

International Photographer Anna Dobrovolskaya-Mints captures stunning landscapes and skyscapes in a body of work that spreads across many countries. She has been a member of group exhibitions in Russia, including “Best of Russia'' and “Silver Camera,” and in 2019 she had her first solo exhibition ZERO F * CKS GIVEN at the Photobastei gallery in Zurich, Switzerland. Anna is an ambassador for the Swiss camera manufacturer Alpa of Switzerland.

Anna is bringing her new project to Barcelona for the show 'Somewhere to Swim' opening this week at Khaos Gallery. We took the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her life and work.

Hello Anna! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. Please tell us a little bit more about yourself and your photography journey.

Hello Amelia! Thank you for welcoming me!

I have been doing photography for twenty years and it was always my main hobby and passion. I think it came naturally from my desire to create something beautiful, but as I was absolutely incapable of drawing, or singing, or playing music - photography came as a right instrument to express myself. One day I just realized I wanted to memorize the moment and I pressed the button. Ever since I was pressing the button to freeze the moment the way I see it.

A lot of your recent work is of nightscapes. Tell us about how you started photographing the night sky?

It is very empty in the night.

When I first started photography I was passionate about architecture. I was shooting very classical film frames of Stalin’s Empire buildings. When you shoot architecture you need light. When there is light – there are people and noise. I’m an introvert so I don't feel comfortable in the crowd.

I experimented with studio shooting. I was alone there but realized the space was too cramped for me, there was no expanse.

I decided to move out of the city and try landscapes. I liked the scale of the place, I felt freedom but I realized that people tend to go for a walk during sunsets. That’s how I stayed for the night and realized that nightscapes are ideal for my state of mind. It’s empty, silent and you are alone there, under the myriads of stars our Galaxy has to show us. Being there is like having a private concert of your favorite rock star on Wembley stadium )

What is your biggest challenge on the field?

Talking about the technical aspect of shooting – night photography doesn’t tolerate mistakes. You have to be extremely concentrated, you have to know your camera as well as you know your body. You operate in complete darkness, so your fingers become your eyes. You need to react fast because the weather may change dramatically. You need to plan very carefully in advance and have plan B and C in case something goes wrong. You need to make sure you are safe.

Apart from technical challenges, which are easily coped with by experience, there are more serious ones – your own demons.

When you stay in the middle of nowhere, in the night alone, all your childhood fears come to life. You hear a sound in the bushes, and you already imagine a giant bear that wants you for dinner. In your mind you understand that there is no bear, but the hardest part is to convince your inner child.

When you see car lights approaching you are sure it is a serial killer coming for you. The border is just your imagination and if you have a good one it may play a bad trick on you.

Once I drove for 2 hours to reach my spot and when I approached it, I felt too scared to leave the car. I had to U-turn and drive back home.

To sum up, the biggest challenge is to go out of your comfort zone and do what you have to do despite what your demons whisper.

What artistic influences inspire you the most?

I can’t say I’m easily inspired by others’ work. I get my inspiration mostly from my inner reflections.

I love classical masters of photography, from the times when a photographer was a person with understanding of composition, of manual camera operation, of development process. I love the era before the “make an art piece” button.

Worsley by Anna Dobrovolskaya-Mints
Photo by Anna Dobrovolskaya-Mints

Your new collection of photographs features the empty swimming pools of the London hotels during the lockdown in the Spring of 2020. What inspired you to create this new body of work?

Let me kindly correct you, the project was shot during spring 2021 and I drove through all the UK including Wales and Scotland.

I had a unique chance to find myself in a hotel during lockdown for a business meeting and was shocked how empty and abandoned it looked. Their swimming pool was drained and full of restaurant chairs no longer needed. It all looked so impressive, so powerful – it was a ready made piece of art!

On the way back home I already had the complete project in my mind.

I believe people can feel love for things and objects. I love travelling, I love hotels. It’s a place where I feel freedom, and someone is taking care of me. I love the fact that people around me are strangers, and I don’t have to communicate with them. Maybe it’s a way for me to be in a crowd without interacting directly.

I love hotel beds and am working on a continuous project on Instagram #admslepthere shooting beds where I’ve slept. It can be found on Instagram by searching the hashtag.

I love swimming pools – a place that brings joy and tranquility. A place to spend time with family or recharge alone.

As you see, hotels as a phenomenon are something very intimate to me.

During the lockdown we’ve been locked at home and we didn’t really know what was going on outside our cozy places.

The truth is, the hospitality sector was dying (as well as many other sectors in the economy). I wanted to show the emptiness of the places that used to be crowded and full of laughter. I was shooting swimming pools as a symbol of the destructive effects the pandemic brought. It could have been empty restaurants, or shopping malls, or night clubs. The pools are just an illustration of the damage.

This is your first project set in an urban background. How was the workflow and artistic process different from work in nature that you’re accustomed to?

As I said, my main problem is people being around. I was lucky to have a chance to shoot absolutely empty buildings in empty cities. There were barely even cars on the road.

On all other terms I was surprised how much easier it was compared to night photography. You see what you press, you see where you step and the most important you feel safe and warm )

How did the lockdown affect your creativity and your work?

It affected me a lot! I’m used to traveling and moreover I’m used to traveling spontaneously.

It was difficult to accept that I can’t do it anymore.

My inspiration suffered as well – I needed a quite empty space to be able to reflect and homeschooling completely prevented me from being able to concentrate on my own needs.

I didn’t touch my camera for half a year before I met my first swimming pool. I just didn’t have the energy to do anything more than household stuff.

On the other hand, it was a wonderful time to take a pause, to let myself be lazy and do nothing and to spend time with my family. I believe the project was brought to life so fast (few weeks from start to finish) because I’ve completely recharged and was ready to create.

Anna Dobrovolskaya-Mints
Exhibition at KhaOs

Are you ready to continue traveling now that something resembling ‘normality’ is returning? Is there any particular place you’re longing to photograph?

I’m already back to traveling and it obviously changed. Now I try to use my car more instead of flying to avoid crowds on checks. Keeping up to date with changing entry rules is a nightmare and takes a lot of time and energy. But this is something we need to accept as a new normal and adapt. As the alternative is staying at home on a sofa )

I never plan particular places. I mean my photographs are not linked to a place geographically, they are linked to a phenomena – Milky Way, comets, Northern lights, meteor showers. Those are part of our Universe and are everywhere if we know how to spot them.

Your next exhibiting is taking place at KhaOs Gallery. What brings you to Barcelona?

This question is answered by Kiama Colas, founder and curator of KhaOs gallery.

Kiama: When we met for the first time I was immediately interested in the pool project and was happy to be Anna’s first gallery in Spain.

The pools project completely fits the way we design projects at KhaOs.

It has a high quality of work and adventurous spirit.

At KhaOs we do not work in a traditional way; we design stories and connect authors. I am glad Anna trusts us. As the project is a global story, I wanted to involve a glass artist to connect the artworks with reflections off the glass. The missing people appear in the glass.

Thanks again Anna for sharing with us today. We look forward to visiting your new exhibition. One last question: can you please tell us where people can follow you and learn more about your work?

Thank you very much Amelia for giving me this chance to share.

All the projects are covered on my website as well as on Instagram @adm_photolife and @adm_photostore 


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