TIFA 2022 Interview with Andrew Rovenko
1st Place winner in Fine Art, Non-Professional, “The Rocketgirl Chronicles”
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you develop a passion for photography?
If what they say is true about our childhood being one of main influences of our interests later in life – it was probably the absence of cameras or any photographic skills in our household that served as the very first trigger.
On those rare occasions when my granddad would bring his half-frame “Seagull” camera when coming for a visit – I’d be naturally drawn to this mysterious and magical device that I wasn’t allowed to use, which only made it a thousand times more desirable.
So once I was old enough to buy my own camera – the photographic journey started, first as a hobby. Then one thing after another, I was invited to freelance for a local lifestyle magazine, and this was really the best practical school anyone could wish for. The variety of assignments eventually translated into practical experience of shooting all styles of photography “in the field”, and with every new edition that had my work published in it came a little bit more confidence to eventually start calling myself a photographer.
Q: Could you provide more details about how you captured this award-winning photograph? What was the main idea behind it, and how did you go about constructing it?
The funny part is, what came to be “The Rocketgirl Chronicles” series wasn’t originally intended as a photographic project at all, so it could be called a happy accident.
We live in Melbourne, and when the global pandemic hit – the city went through six lockdowns with over 240 days of heavy restrictions in total. And as for many families during these challenging times – finding escape in hobbies and interests was a natural way to keep going.
Our four year old daughter Mia has always been obsessed with all things Space, and this naturally set the theme. My wife Mariya studied theatre costume design many years ago, so she made an astronaut costume and a helmet.
This, combined with the power of a child’s imagination immediately transformed our daily walks around an all too familiar neighbourhood into exciting explorations,
And I am guilty for the photography part – first taking images as family memories to remember our adventures in these strange times, which eventually evolved into the series that lasted way beyond the lockdown.
Q: What does it mean to you to get this award?
It’s a true honour to have the work recognised by such an esteemed and diverse jury of industry professionals, especially given the calibre of talent and quality of submissions in this year’s awards, so I’m very humbled by it.
And the opportunity to have images seen by a wider audience is always welcome by any artist, so it’s been really great to be able to share my project with the TIFA community.
Q: Photography is a great medium for communicating various messages to people. What are your thoughts on this tool and how do you use it?
It absolutely is. Communication is the fabric that holds society together, and we as humanity have invented and mastered many powerful ways of conveying a message. What makes photography special for me, is that unlike books, songs or movies it has to tell a story through a single frozen moment, therefore giving viewers additional freedom for interpretation, as they create their own narrative from seeing that one image. And I’m trying my best to harness that power and use it in my work.
Q: What would you say best describes your photography and your style?
It’s an evolutionary process, and at this point in time I’d probably summarise it as “backyard space travel”. It’s about looking at the world through the eyes of a child and seeing the simple wonders that surround us everywhere, if we only take that little extra care to notice.
Q: What one thing do you wish you had known before you started taking pictures?
Knowledge comes with experience, so nothing really.
I only wish I started photographing sooner, as then I’d have had visual references of memories that now only vaguely exist in my head, and it’s something that can’t ever be replaced or reconstructed.
Q: Could you tell us what photography gear you personally like to use?
I am a bit of a hoarder and also like to tinker and experiment with various old equipment, so I have a few 35mm, medium format and 4×5 cameras that I like for their different quirks.
For the past year, my go to camera was Mamiya RZ67 with its standard Mamiya-Sekor 110mm F2.8 lens, and The Rocketgirl Chronicles are photographed on it as well.
Being quite bulky and not having an in-built metering – it’s slow enough for me to have to shoot more thoughtfully, but at the same time it’s more convenient for outdoor use than my 4×5 cameras, while negative size is big enough for decent enlargements.
Q: What would you say are some essential tools for new photographers?
The eye and the brain are two most essential tools for all photographers. You don’t even need a camera to visualise scenes and “take pictures” in your head, and this is what I often find myself doing subconsciously while walking or driving.
And once both – the eye and the brain are trained on seeing the world in this special way, everything else becomes a technicality. True power of the image is not in its capture device but in idea (and of course better tools can help execute ideas better, but they’re not essential).
Q: Whose work has had the greatest impact on you?
There are too many to mention, but if I was to name one – some of the images from “Immediate Family” body of work by Sally Mann are absolutely mesmerising.
Q: What are your future plans? Do you have any exciting projects going on right now that you could tell us about?
Making “The Rocketgirl Chronicles” photo book is one challenge that I’d like to undertake this year. It’s a bit of a scary one as I only have limited experience with print production and the learning curve is steep, but at the same time it’s exciting to be trying something different and I hope it all works out well.
Q: If you had limitless funds for a dream project, what would you do?
It might seem like a weird answer, but I think that having infinite resources can be an enemy of creativity, as new ideas are often born in response to limitations when we’re forced to invent and improvise.
So as long as I can afford to buy film, rather than having limitless project funds – I’d prefer a bit more time to experiment. It would be cool however to capture humans picnicking on the moon, so if any of the Artemis mission people are reading this – please keep me in mind.