Bio. Offer us a short, snappy (not-copied-from-your-website or any publication), fun biography. Who are you?
I’m a Ukrainian-Canadian documentary photographer and filmmaker. Most of my family immigrated to Canada in the late 80s, while I was born in Toronto shortly after. I grew up in the tight-knit diaspora community here, and I was a Ukrainian folk dancer for the majority of my childhood and teenage years. Community and family are the biggest influences on my work.
Beginning. Do you remember the first time you picked up a camera? The first picture you took? Tell us a story about your beginning.
I can’t remember the first time I picked up a camera or even the first picture I took. For me, I think it less about the photography and more about connecting with people and telling stories. I went to journalism school; in my first semester, the campus paper sent me to photograph an annual march that was happening. I quickly realized how much I loved telling stories with photos and how I needed to be there to tell the story. I loved that, with photography, you didn’t need to speak a certain language to understand the photos. The fact that I could communicate with feelings and emotions was really powerful for me.
Being. What are you working on now? Where? How? Why?
I recently finished a short documentary called Vika, which I co-directed and filmed for CBC Short Docs. The story was about two sisters: Vika, who lives in Ukraine, and her younger sister, Arina, who was adopted and moved to Canada. The film shows the relationship between the two sisters, growing up in two very different places maintaining their connection with each other despite the distance between them. It premiered at Hot Docs International Documentary Festival in May 2018; we are going to be showing the film at a few more festivals this year. I’m really excited to get back to exploring more of Ukraine after spending the last year and a half on the doc. A lot of my work is about finding home and identity through the context of family and the land you are from. I am spending most of my time in Ukraine and will be completing more stories this summer and fall. Even though I was born in Canada, Ukraine always also felt like home. But there’s always a dissonance between an idea of a place and the actual place itself. When I first started coming here, I felt embarrassed to be diaspora—I talked with a funny accent, I didn’t completely belong. But as time passed, I realized this is who I will always be and why not lean into it. And so I’m really interested in telling the stories of people who have emigrated from Ukraine but still have a connection to their home country. I think the insider/ outsider perspective really helps to see things differently and also helps in really appreciating both places.
Blown-away. Show us the last image that completely took your breath away. What do you love about it?
This photo by Alessandra Sanguinetti. I love it because it’s so tender and delicate, but in that delicateness there is a strength. Kids are so beautifully uninhibited when it comes to showing love and care to those around them: that’s something we should all try to remember.
Blur. Boundaries are tricky business. Can you tell us a story about the blurring of them—about the sometimes complicated ethics of photography?
Well, when the film about Vika got into Hot Docs, Vika had a chance to apply for a visa to come to Canada to present the film with us in Toronto. The problem was that she didn’t have her passport, so we did everything we could to help her through that process and apply for the visa. In the end, she got everything done in time. She got to fly on an airplane for the first time, come to Canada, and, most importantly, see her sister for the first time since Arina was adopted four years ago. It was one of those moments where the actual film helped change someone’s life and it was a boundary that I didn’t hesitate blurring, because to re-unite the two sisters was crucial: when we got a real chance to re-unite the sisters, we of course went for it.
Better. How do you work towards continuous improvement, on honing your craft?
Taking breaks and coming back to photographing with fresh perspectives. After this film, I am excited to get back to photography. Film is more fluid and more about dialogue—it feels like dancing with a camera and with what’s in front of you. Still photography is more about being patient and waiting for just the right moment. Working as part of a team in video is great and everyone brings something new to the table, but I’m really looking forward to being on my own again for a while. I think moving between the two is a really good balance for me and makes me appreciate the two mediums even more.
Burden. What are some of the difficulties or challenges of being a woman who photographs?
Everyone should read this.
Too many women in this industry can relate to the stories that these brave women have shared to make our industry a better, safer place. It’s time that happens.
Bolster. Whose work do you think deserves a shout-out here, and why? Who haven’t I been hearing about and whose website I should check out immediately?
How much room do I have for this question? There are so many amazing women making incredible work.
Alex Jacobs-Blum’s photos about her identity as a First Nations-European Canadian and living between those two worlds.
I love any work that takes an intimate, insider look at family. It’s brave and it resonates universally.
And my Toronto photo family with MUSE Projects. This is an incredibly talented group of women who have been an amazing support network—one that I hope will continue to grow.
Best. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever heard? (It doesn’t need to have been given to you personally or be about photography specifically).
“There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that the point?” That was Pam Beesly’s line that ended the American version of The Office and I love it. I love looking for the extraordinary in everyday life.
Best 2. What is the best advice you have to offer someone reading this?
Not to care so much about what others think. It’s a process. But I think as I get older, I realize the strength of our own voices and believe that they matter—we can’t let anyone else tell us otherwise. Remember that work evolves over time. Remember to be patient with the process of growing as a photographer. The work grows as you grow. Just go out every day and collide with life and balance life and take care: the more settled a person you are, the better your photos will be because they are a reflection of you. It’s always an interaction between you and the people you photograph. And that growing also involves letting go. Let yourself fail and treat those failures as opportunities to grow. Give yourself permission to experiment. Let your eye find itself.