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What's the secret to meaningful and impactful portraiture?

6 years ago

Russian-born Kristina Varaksina has resided in the USA since 2010 and currently lives and works in New York. Her work captures human emotion and the psychological impressions of her subjects' mind – permitting the characters to project their internal reality. Works undertaken are keen to explore a female and child perspective, evoking their thoughts, dreams and hopes.

Recently, Aesthetica magazine wrote that: "Varaksina's personal works are ethereal, projecting the psyche onto the corners of a room... Through a conscientious attention to light and a soft palette, these allegories come to life and absorb the viewer into their microcosm". 

She is a member of PhotoShelter, the leader in portfolio websites, photo sales, marketing and archiving tools for photographers.


Hi Kristina. Thanks for talking with us... Please tell us a little about you and your photography. What does the medium mean to you?

Good question. I’ve always been drawn to visual arts – I’ve been drawing and painting since very early childhood. And after high school, I went to University to study graphic design, where I took a photography class and fell in love with the medium. I had always been an observer and at that moment I realized that I could actually do something with my observations, express myself and say something. Photography allows me to create my own reality and make the viewer believe in it. As opposed to painting, for example, where everything comes from the artist’s mind, in photography I can take something that already exists and make it my own, by adding or subtracting components.


Talk to us about the production and planning of some of your shoots

Whether it is a personal or a commissioned shoot everything starts with an idea. I always try to come up with a story and then decide on the visual means that will tell the story in the best possible way. I often draw sketches, look for references – in photography and other media. Then I put together concept boards for my team: one for set designer, one for wardrobe stylist, another for hair and makeup artist, etc. If a shoot is on location, I go and study it, think of the best time of day to do the shoot. If it is in studio then I think of my lighting, which is a very important part of the story. When the day of the shoot comes I have all the elements planned and ready, now I can focus my energy on working with the model.


What's the secret to meaningful and impactful portraiture?

I think what is impactful for one person can mean nothing for the other. I can only tell what I value in portraits. It’s three things: emotion, story, and shot design. I can only hope that in each of my portraits there are at least two of those elements. And, in my opinion, an ideal impactful portrait shot will have all three.


What inspires you and your work?

I get inspired by people, their lives, and stories. By films, stories and visual elements in them. I find Swedish and French movies the most inspiring. I also get inspired by other artists, mainly painters, like Balthus and Hammershoi, for example, I like stillness in their work.

Do you have a photographic philosophy?

I guess my philosophy would be based on these principles: be thoughtful, be unique, be thorough.