Oksana Yushko.

“It’s important to me to be comfortable which makes me feel more confident. I suppose my work depends on it as well. That is why answering letters, editing photographs, reading news or chatting with my online friends, I often choose a sofa and cup of chamomile tea, a chair to put my feet on, laptop in my lap…oh, sometimes I fail because the cat feels my comfortable mood and settles down in my lap.

When I really need to work hard I sit at my desk and force myself to concentrate. It’s not easy. My desk is kind of an organized mess. From the distance it looks ordered but if I try to find something it will take a little while.

I like to have a free space in front of the monitor. Sometimes it’s filled with different things – papers, tickets, cheques, business cards, reminders, some notes, just scraps, an opened diary, books, etc. – and it means a lot of urgent work, a lack of time, deconcentration or just being away for some time. I couldn’t move it because it’s kind of a visual to-do list called for urgent actions.

Finally, free space looks rather awesome. Now it’s time for a black coffee and cheese (no cats!), a lovely music and I am ready to work.

And the surrounding chaos exists apart from me, it doesn’t bother me now.”

Oksana Yushko is a freelance photographer who started working as a professional journalist in 2006. She is based in Moscow.


FROM YOUR DESKS: You live in Moscow. How did you shift your photography to rural North Russia?

OKSANA YUSHKO:Although I live in Moscow, I am moving a lot. I can’t imagine my life without it. And, I have a special relationship with the North of Russia. My grandma lived there for a while and her eyes were always radiant when she was talking about that region. Through her memories, I was attracted to the North like a magnet. The first time was just a week spent there with my friends. We were living on an island in an abandoned village, it was a midsummer, white nights, fields of flowers, wild horses, low skies…we were rowing to different villages in surroundings and there met with my future characters. I already knew I would be back to make my story there. It was a real beauty.

If you would like to know Russia (or any other country) I advise you to know it through people. That way you will not be distant.

FYD: Overall, how are the people’s spirits? I love their eyes. Is there hope?

OY: Let’s talk about tales of it. People are used to living there without special benefits for a long time. They have no job, no social safeguards and can count only on themselves. Most of them live on subsistence farming or scanty retirement pensions. Young people choose to try their luck somewhere else.  It’s hard to speak for all of them, but I suppose they are still both not sad and not hopeless. At least not ceaseless. The way out of the situation always exists. For instance, I met a 86-year-old woman who still kept fishing, going to the forest to pick berries and mushrooms. She taught me to pick up wild flowers and herbs properly. The life wasn’t over for her and she enjoys what she has.

FYD: You take pictures of people. Do you talk closely or share a meal or drink together?

OY: Sure! We spent a lot of time together. I adored listening to their stories, they speak with such a beautiful accent that it sounds like a song. And they really sing a lot. I also love their simple but so delicious meal. We cooked together rybnik, a traditional northern pie with fish. They bake a whole fish inside the pie, then cut it along the middle. Usually the lower part is used as a plate and only the fish and the top for eating. That was something!

FYD: Would you ever consider making a documentary film about a place like Kenozero?

OY: I am not thinking about a documentary yet. Although I was not filming there I have lots of audio records, interviews and of course a numerous pictures for making a multimedia narrative at least.

I met an 86-year-old woman who still kept fishing, going to the forest to pick berries and mushrooms.  Life wasn’t over for her and she enjoyed what she has.

FYD: For someone on the adventurous side, who has never been to Russia, what are three things they should consider seeing (sans the touristic spots).

OY: You came to the right shop. If you would like just seeing you may enjoy white summer nights in the North of Russia (of course!) or visit Kaliningrad region in fall – deserted sand beaches of Zelenogradsk, ruddy hips, mists and cozy houses of an unpolished old town. If you are really adventurous persons follow the beauty of Caucasus region. That’s awesome! If you would like to know Russia (or any other country) I may advise you to know it through people. That way you will not be distant.

I recently I participated in the Patch Adams annual trip to Russia with about 30 foreigners from around the world. All of them were volunteers dressed as clowns. They visited russian orphanages, hospitals, nursery homes for old people and other places in an effort to bring love, peace, humor and joy. Not the most touristic places I suppose. But I believe they knew and loved Russia like anyone else and it’s always mutually.

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