Irina Zadorozhnaia is a photographer based in St. Petersburg, Russia. She is interested in illusions, gaps, deformation, errors. Area of her research is altered state of mind in the context of the concept of possible worlds.
One of the main methods is abstraction as a practice of concentration on the issue. She explores and challenge the boundaries of photography as a medium. In her practice she shifts the perspective to discover a gap in the familiar and mix different genres to make them relate to each other.

  • Irina, your work lies between the perception of the real world and the illusions you create experimenting with your subjects and the media. How did you develop your research?

I’d say that I work with illusions that we all have a common view of reality. By that I mean, for example, that we cannot grasp and hold in our mind both micro and macro worlds at the same time. We cannot objectify something if we are to eliminate the perceiving mind. “Reality is a lasting mistake”. 

People created an image of the physical world within the confines of classical physics. Then it turned out that these laws cannot be applied to the microworld. The 19th century was familiarizing itself with the reality, the 20th century fought against uncovering many different realities. I am inspired by the idea that there is no single unified fundamental reality for all of the existing personality types; rather there is a diversity of reality-worlds. Thus, it’s not that I create illusions, I’m simply trying to discover new ways of looking. 

In order to enter into an active working process for a project, I need to have some sort of an affect, a click that can provoke all kinds of things if I were to just swing my “psychological pendulum”. Most often everything starts with an amazement. I also need a process of alienation to start.

By the way, the project I’ve been working on since last summer is precisely about the experience of alienation from my own visual experience. 

  • How you do pick your subjects?

If I am to define the subject as passion, then I guess I have one single subject as a leitmotif - altered/borderline states of consciousness. I only try to find out what affects them and how. How can they be transformed? I approach this question in different ways. For instance, the point of departure in “The Observer Effect” was a small article about the effects of zero gravity on the bodies of astronauts. Of course, this wasn’t an accident, since I found this article because of my general interest in cosmology. I wanted to get a sense of the way change in outward conditions influences the perception of one’s own body position and the perception of the surrounding space; and I also wanted to find out whether it is possible to make another person feel this by using a visual language.

But this is more of a technical aspect of picking my subject. It’s true that the article became the starting point. The relationship between space, which is formed by time and events in my life, and spaces of others. Here is the field, where the events occur. However, I am not interested in direct reactions and statements about the outside events. Here I am interested in mediation, not in a reaction but in a search for access. 

  • An important aspect of your work is represented by the interaction with the viewer. How does this interaction is played?

This is a very interesting topic. I think that I create those type of projects about which you can’t really say: “Oh, I get it! This is a story about…” or “This is a study on the topic of…” I try to create multi-level projects, in which I mix physics and lyricism. For example in “The Observer Effect” some images refer to illustrations from high school physics textbooks but at the same time they refer to stories about the Earth, which was was “formless and empty”, or to representation of movement of light. For me the rhythmical picture plays a huge rule. It is formed by a certain pattern, non-obviousness of connections, by repetitions, references and layerings. In some cases I leave hints, in other cases, images remain an inexplicit puzzle; as, for instance, in the case of my work ”Waterfall”. I think of my projects as of something that is realized by the viewer. With each viewer there’s going to be a different story, each time it’s going to be different.

A part of my practice is to transform projects, to run different forms through them. A book is a discrete world in your hands. An exhibition, a space, in which you enter, where an image can become an object. It is a space of high risk for the viewer, who enters it with one’s physical body and loses his or her anonymity. And, of course, I am interested in the virtual space.

I can say that my website is my metaproject. It is already outlined, being in its endless process of creation though. When I was developing the website’s concept, I imagined it not as a catalogue of my works, not an information page but rather an independent platform. It is a visual system, a one more chance to realize an utterance, it is a different form of influence. Actually, we are looking at a thing-in-itself. And here one can increasingly feel a sense of slipping away through unsubstantiality, a lack of a stable form. This will look differently on different devices and thus, will also be a tool. “The Observer Effect” is made in several layers. The images move according to viewport. Each time a mosaic forms in a way, which depends on the device, from which one accesses it. 

I think that after having a contact with the project through my website, the viewer finds him/herself in a position of a voyeur. A duplication occurs, at which point I can see, how the viewer saw it by studying the analytics. The viewer leaves me a map of his/her movement, a map of contiguity. 

  • You speak about “visual mazes”, can you tell me more about their nature and the process behind their construction? How the mix of different kind of photography is important in your artistic practice?

By “visual mazes” I mean a visual construct, which I build as whole. I already spoke of repetition, since images that get repeated and bend the line of viewing. These repetitions always have slight differences. It is a movement through the curve. The same thing with mixing of different types of photography — it is also one of the ways of constructing. Eclecticism is truly an important quality for me. It is like when one studies a foreign language. It penetrates your native language and starts to transform it. You could say it is a frailty test. Either it will set off or it will collapse. 

Linkages, fusions, stratification often eliminate contradictions. It could be said that intricacy begins to act as a subject.

  • Your experimental approach to photography is made by abstraction. I can also see the presence of the so-called constructivism approach to photography.

Yes, you are right. Bearing in mind where constructivism was born, I guess, my roots have something to do with it.

When I was about two years old, my father gave me a doll. When tilted, it said “momma”. The first night I took it apart. Merleau-ponty described such behavior of children as a first metaphysical experience. I think, I am just trying to return to that experience. Simply press the button.

  • In your series “The Observer Effect” you use the physical world as a tool to create a possible world which exists only for the creation of the image. How do you pick and build up the imaginary which establishes your story?

Points from which I observed various objects played an important role. Water, light, earth… For me it was interesting to pick well-known, recognizable objects and forms. By using them I tried to build my project by using the method of “detachment”.

And, in turn, even the image itself became a tool for creating another. It was an endless search for access.

  • It is interesting the way you mix languages, overlapping images in order to create a sort of tension which changes the vision of a single photograph. I also noticed a redundancy which underlines the feeling of being trapped in a maze.

Redundancy is a great term! Thank for such a spot-on definition. I think one could define the character of this project as polyphonic. It is one of important tags, with which I work.

  • In your work it is possible to perceive this relationship between the subject and the manipulation you operate to change the perspective of the viewer. 

I am also interested in working with different kinds of distances.

  • “Eyes are an obstacle” is a sort of statement which questions the way an artist sees his subjects suggesting the paradox of “close your eyes and watch”. You explore the gap in the area between the perception and awareness of the subject which you call “territory in between”. What happens in that precise situation?

The opposition “looking vs. seeing”. I tried to internalize through my own experience that an act of looking, just like the body, cannot go through. “That, which you see is always inside”. You feel something but the eye can’t see. I wanted the images to be a stimulus, so that they would only lightly touch the viewer. I was destroying them by which I meant that the phrase “to be all eyes” does not work. Images cannot tell anything. They are silent and thus, can become a catalyst, which sets an inner process in motion. To see something precisely because the image does not show anything. I call the relationship with the visible  — an in-between territory, i.e. in-between relations.

  • This is part of your photobook entitled “The drill charted a point and bore a hole. Input /output. Where is the creature: inside or outside?”. How do those images work in the printed matter?

Let me tell you about one experience. There as an icon of a computer mouse mounted into one of the images from the project. This image was printed-out for the exhibition. The person, who was packing it, was afraid that it is a defect and so carefully tried to get it off. He would stare at it and then tried to brush it off again. I think, even after my explanation he could not solve this dilemma. 

First and foremost this project was presented as a book. It is a game of sorts with a familiar experience, during which “when seeing something we usually get an impression that we are acquiring something”.

The form of the book is essentially that of an instruction brochure. And the red line with the name refers back to the display, on which the word “error” is blinking. There are visual games with an alleged transparency, which could have been realized only in a book.

  •  On your website it is possible to have a preview on your work in progress. Can you tell me more about it?

I’ve already mentioned a project I have been working on lately. It’s called “Machine”, which, I hope, will soon see the light of day. It was inspired by the idea of an imaginary ‘Influencing Machine’, the birth of which was analyzed at the beginning of the 20th century by a psychoanalyst Victor Tausk. It was him that my attention was primary focused on. The intention of a different project, some images from which can be seen on the website, appeared spontaneously during the process of analyzing the work for “Machine”. They are not connected ideologically, rather “Machine” became the source of its atmosphere. At this time I am not going to say anything else about it, except that one of its components is a deliberate erroneous software implementation. That is why it is on already on my website.


Irina Zadorozhnaia