Photographer and recent Gute Aussichten / New German Photography Award winner, Alexandra Polina, talks to us about her series 'Masks, Myths and Subjects'.
PW: For anyone unfamiliar with your work, could you explain your interest in photography?
AP: The main subject of my work has always been concentrated around the themes of immigration and identity, especially their social and emotional aspects. I moved to Germany when I was twenty years old, which was a life-changing experience. My personal history and identity influenced me as a photographer a lot. I’m working across the fields of staged photography and documentary themes.
PW: How did you come to photography?
AP: I’ve never been a hobby photographer. I discovered my interest in photography quite suddenly. In Uzbekistan, where I was born and grew up, I studied journalism. In Germany, I wanted to continue the studies in the same field. One day, on my way to a German language course I was on an empty train and met a guy who was speaking Russian. He told me a little bit about himself and that he was studying photography. I came home and I knew this was what I wanted to pursue in life. I don’t know why, but I knew it was the right thing to do.
PW: Your series Mask, Myths and Subjects looks at cultural identity in Germany with a focus on assumptions of minorities living there. Can you tell us how you became interested in this subject?
AP: My themes were always connected to my own biography. At the beginning it was the story about migration at an older age, which was inspired by my grandparents. The project about the last generation born in USSR – my generation – was connected to my own cultural identity. The interest in the issues of visual minorities came after leaving Germany for a long time. At that time I felt part of German society. I’m not German, but I felt I belonged there.
Through the privilege of being white, strangers were not projecting their stereotypes directly on me. Only after hearing an accent does the conversation turn to themes about Russian or Uzbek politics; kitchen and women. In these moments, my cultural background influences my personality.
In the beginning it felt great, because I didn’t have any connection to the German country and I was happy to share the stories from my own past. But after studying and working, having life and friends there, it became a very one-dimensional perspective on who I am – a stranger.
At this point I started to ask myself, do I belong to a German society? Who does? I’m a foreigner, but I’m white. I thought about the stories of people who are my opposite – German and non-white. It was interesting to discover their perspective of how their appearance defines their everyday life.
PW: The installations of this series are very colorful with layered displays of frames and vinyl prints. Can you explain your thinking behind the exhibition?
AP: My visual strategy for this work was to bring in stereotypical elements. In this way, the viewer is confronted with the first impression of seeing something exotic and foreign. After a second look, the spectator notices these elements have no connection to the protagonists in the first place. Everything interacting with the person is staged and brought up. I’m using the same strategy in the presentation. It’s always about the first impression and questioning the stereotypes.
PW: You’ve seen a fair amount of success in your career so far including, most recently becoming a finalist for Organ Vida International Photography Festival. How do you feel winning prizes helps your career?
AP: I don’t expect that one achievement will lead me to big success and make my career. I see it as a stairway, where every step is important and takes you a bit further.
PW: What advice would you give to a photographer wishing to develop their practice?
AP: I’d suggest seeing as much as possible. Analyse that information, talk about photography with other photographers and inspire yourself. The most important thing for me personally is to learn to deal with critics, mistakes and failure and just keep going.
PW: Finally, what’s next for you?
AP: I want my latest project to gain the biggest exposure possible. I want to speak about the topic, because it’s a very important issue in our time. In the meantime, I want to start research for a new project. As I said… just keep going.
For more of Alexandra’s work, click here.
For more from our Ideas on Talent, click here.