Maria Gruzdeva shares images from her series Direction Space for our Photography+ #3 Space. Timed to coincide with the anniversary of the moon landing, Gruzdeva shares an insight into her process, how she thinks about photography and why she makes work.

Can you explain the work in two sentences?
The project is about the Russian space industry’s most iconic sites – the Star City research and training centre and the Baikonur Cosmodrome (a space launch facility in Kazakhstan that is rented and administered by Russia) – where the era of Soviet space exploration began, from Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin to the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project. Generations of cosmonauts have trained in these spaces, which witnessed events that shaped history. I looked for these traces of the past, the power and ghost-like presences left behind, by exploring the reality of the space community, its physical and psychological spaces.

What one thing has most helped your practice?
I learn new things everyday, with every landscape or portrait I take and with every new project. But if there is one thing that has stayed with me throughout, it’s instinct. When I look back at my earlier projects, I can probably explain now why I took certain photographs, but at the time I was driven purely by intuition. And I still think that this instinct or intuition is one of the most important qualities for a photographer. You have to see things and make decisions quickly. I don’t think you can calculate everything (in photography or in life in general), and even if you could, the intuitive images would still always be the best ones.

‘Medical control panel tracking the cosmonaut’s performance, TsF-7 centrifuge, Star City’, from the series Direction Space! © Maria Gruzdeva
‘Engineer, TsF-7 centrifuge control panel, Star City’, from the series Direction Space! © Maria Gruzdeva
‘Proton mock-up, Alley of Cosmonauts, Baikonur’, from the series Direction Space! © Maria Gruzdeva

Why photography? Why the still image?
Today the borders between mediums are blurring. There isn’t really a need to limit your practice to just one medium. Apart from photography, I also work with moving image, sound, archival materials, and text, which add an extra dimension to my projects. But still images remain the central and key element of my work. It may sound cliché, but they are a universal language. Has the gaze of a person depicted in a photograph ever made you feel uncomfortable? A gaze, frozen in time, looking directly at you – or maybe even through you? Or a landscape loaded with history? Layers of time, history, emotions – I believe that a still image can tell a story and touch someone’s heart and soul. Sometimes just one shot, a fraction of a second, is enough, and that is the magic of photography.

Where do your ideas begin?
It’s a combination of primarily two things – my background and careful observation. By background, I don’t necessarily mean my upbringing or the town I am from, but rather my experiences – places I’ve been to, things I’ve seen, and, of course, people I’ve crossed paths with and the stories they’ve shared with me. The people I meet – spending time with them, getting to know them, and creating connections – always inspire me. One of the reasons why I love photography is that it brings me to places I’ve never been to and gives me a chance to meet people I don’t think I would have met otherwise.

‘Cosmonauts training to perform operations in weightlessness, Hydro Laboratory, Star City’, from the series Direction Space! © Maria Gruzdeva
Control panel, Star City’, from the series Direction Space! © Maria Gruzdeva
Space suit, Star City’, from the series Direction Space! © Maria Gruzdeva

My work isn’t so much about current affairs, but rather about the consequences of events that happened in the past, so observation is essential. By observation, I mean being aware, paying attention to details, whether you’re on location or just walking down the street in a busy city. Sometimes even a minor thing, something accidental, can give you a huge push. It’s like déjà vu – something you see triggers a chain reaction, which then leads you to an insight or an idea.

What’s next?
Since last year I’ve been working on two new projects, which are both still cooking. In these works, I continue to explore the relationship between landscape, history, identity, and sense of belonging. I can’t wait to share more once they are a bit more primed and ready to get out into the world.

‘Vostok spacecraft, Museum of the House of Cosmonauts, Star City’, from the series Direction Space! © Maria Gruzdeva

For more from #3 Space click here. 

For more of Maria’s work click here. 

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