Everyone at PhotoConcierge loves Dina Belenko! Her Conceptual Still Life Photography clearly shows that she is ‘forever brimming with energy and constantly ideating about the story she likes to create and recreate. We call her the crazy photographer, a breed that is so filled with life and love for art and are constantly evolving and bettering at it. Once you set your eyes on Dina’s imageries, you would have ‘bookmarked’ her in your minds even without realizing it and find yourself following her all the time. How lucky we are to feature this animated personality!
PC: Who are you Dina Belenko? You are crazy and am sure you know that!
DB: I have some sort of a catchy phrase to introduce myself. “My name is Dina and I’m telling animate stories about inanimate objects”
Photography was my hobby ever since high school. I was taking snapshots of everything around me, be it flowers, clouds and kittens. I just liked the sound of the shutter. I decided to upgrade photography from hobby to profession after five years of studying “Editing and Publishing” at Far Eastern State University of Humanities and one year of editorship in a local publishing house. Working as an editor would have been a lot of fun if not for the pretty conservative management I had. I was not allowed to do anything creative and it was very tiring and in the end literally depressing. So I quit my job and decided to make something useful from my hobby. I started with photographing food for small cafes and handmade accessories for local crafters. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but finally I was doing what was really enjoyable.
PC: Where did the inspiration start and explain your first such photography
DB: I guess, one day I got tired of mindless pictures and tried to arrange composition by myself, surely, I failed, but the feeling was magical – I was the director for my own imageries so I went “hey, coffee cups, you’re my actors, listen and do as I say!” I started to take photography more seriously (and finally read the instruction to my camera), started to think about what I wanted to say with my pictures, to plan shootings, draw sketches and pay attention to minor details. I began to control more and more aspects of my work. Call me a control freak but I fell in love with it. I found out that what interests me lies not in tracing some events and retelling stories of some happenings, but in creating tales of my own and the easiest way to do this is when you have control over all the objects in your shot. I understood that still life photography is something I can become good at. At least, theoretically.
I think that every object around us also have emotions, expectations and feelings just like us. Every single thing grows old and breaks down just like we do. These things can tell what they saw, who held them, who accidentally broke them, who lovingly gathered them in pieces and repaired. They can even represent people in a nutshell. Think about sonic screwdriver and Doctor Who, about King Arthur and Excalibur or remember that keepsake you’ve got from your grandmother. You can actually photograph a portrait of some real or imaginary person using only inanimate things.
PC: Whats your lifestyle like – walk us through a week of yours.
DB: Let’s see, all my work can be divided in four groups: commissioned photography, personal projects, shooting for stocks and writing tutorials. When I’m not doing anything related to photography, I’m doing something fun in order to stay creative and being able to come up with ideas for my photos again. So this week I’ve finished one commissioned project with macarons and watercolours, have written three tutorials (which is highly unusual, most of the time it’s just one article per month), have taken about four photos just because I felt like it, have listened to a bunch of podcasts and started to read a new book.
Most of the time I work at home, there’s no need of a studio if you’re working alone and most of your clients are never going to meet you in real life. Sometimes I work on location, then I shoot for a cafe or a restaurant, but that tend to be a rare occasion.
Working at home is very convenient for me: no commuting, no distractions, no lifting of heavy bags full of gear and props. There’s a downside too: all my backgrounds and props are taking over my apartment, but I can roll with it. So, all the time, it is either photography or something that makes photography possible: podcasts I listen to – Writing Excuses and You’re not so smart are my current favourites, I read books and the last one that had my heart broken was Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky, shows I watch – I’m in the middle of Torchwood, all that stuff. I don’t think I can borrow any visuals, and make a picture directly related to this story, but it supplies me with a bunch of interesting ideas to ponder and thanks to that I can get into a working mood.
PC: Tell us about your photography – how long does it take, how do you even ideate? choreograph? how many times you have to shoot? Post production etc.
DB: I always start with a sketch. It’s not usually very detailed, but it helps to define the topic, location and mood, as well as to grasp the overall composition and required objects. I can’t say how much time it takes, because I do it nearly in every free moment, so it’s hard to tell when I started to think about certain picture.
In order to make a sketch I have to write everything down. I have a notepad with “List of things I want to try one day” (interesting objects, metaphors, compositions, scheme of lighting, tricks or effects, everything you can’t do right now, but don’t want to lose even it! They’re only notes like “Oreo cookies look like casino chips” or “Try something with mirrors”) and with a list of nearly finished sketches (with composition and props). There’s no goal to complete it, only a defence from fear of blank page and answer to what shall I do today?”
After the sketch is ready, I pick up props. My city is quite small, so certain things are hard to buy and just because of that I I often do props by myself (from paper or polymer clay). Often I do not have enough skill to do the exact thing I want, but I always try to do my best. As for composition, I try to keep only the most needed things in the frame, those that would work for the shot, and get rid of all unnecessary stuff. Somehow I feel that the question, Why do I need this thing?? is very important. If the object doesn’t become part of the story and is not affecting the composition in any way, then maybe the shot will be better off without it. The time depends on amount of details. Sometimes you can draw a simplified map of starry sky in 20 minutes and be happy with it, but sometimes you can struggle all day long with one paper tepee.
When the props ready, and the composition is collected, the only thing that remains is set the lights, press the shutter and take a picture. Voila!
PC: What websites do you follow to better your photography skills.
Also there’s a bunch of blogs on my native language, but they probably won’t be useful to anyone who doesn’t speak Russian.
PC: Who do you take the inspiration from. Name some photographers from your genre that you look upto
DB: Well, if it must be ‘who’, there are many still life photographers I adore. Like Catherine MacBride with her cute and cozy paper sculptures, Vanessa Rees with dark and vibrant style, Karina Sharpe with her precise compositions, Natalia Lisovskaya with her masterfully crafted delicious food and Peter Lippmann with his, well, everything. I can do it all day, there’re so many photographers I love.
But I often find inspiration not in other’s work but in everyday life. There are so many interesting things around! Form of a coffee cup, sharpened pencils, wooden tables, spilled paint, all those things are brilliant.
PC: What are you working on right now?
DB: My Endless Book Project is big panorama about outer space, chocolate cookies, dreams of interstellar flight, coffee, cupcakes and meeting with aliens. As a still life photographer I always try to find something interesting and adventurous in everyday objects; Because I’m also a sweet tooth, nothing inspires me more than coffee and sweets. This time I found that mixed marble dough looks pretty much like a galaxy, donut can be a centre of a little star system and all my missing cookies are stolen by aliens.
It is a variation of 52 weeks project initiated by Beamused Magazine. Each participant was creating their own Endless book during the year. Every week each member of the project created one illustration in any possible technique (photographs, watercolours, computer graphics, etc) on any possible theme. There was only one condition: the illustration on the previous page should flow smoothly into the next one, so there should not be visible seams or rough blends. So, in the end of the year each participant will have large panoramic image, an endless book which will consist of 52 images, and can be continued.
I have never made such a long series before so I had to find a theme which may give large variations of objects and stories. Space fit perfectly! Partly because every time I pour some milk in my coffee I see a new-born galaxy. It was quite enjoyable to make crop circles with coffee beans, cut star-shaped biscuits or make tiny Big Bang using flour. And I make a couple of Easter eggs dedicated to some space-themed books and films that I love (especially The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams). They’re not very important to the whole series but there was a lot of fun to insert them.
You can see the entire project with a scroll here: http://www.diyphotography.net/photographer-spends-12-months-creating-a-never-ending-panoramic-story/
PC: If not for conceptual still life photography, what else would have interested you?
DB: When I was a child every time people ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I had a different answer. I suppose most children react this way. There are so many interesting things and you want to try them all! The last idea I had was “a book publisher“ so I went to university with a dream of becoming one. But even before that I wanted to be someone from a film crew — a cameraman or a property master. That’s funny, how these two dreams combined into a still life photographer.
PC: Your message for PhotoConcierge?
DB: Well, I have one for all the aspiring photographers of PhotoConcierge. Ask questions. They will lead you to better understanding on how to translate your story in visual language. What are these objects? How did they come here? Who brought them here? Who is the protagonist? What is going on here? What’s the main emotion? Can that object represent that emotion? Express the thoughts and emotions you want to share, in a visual way. What does joy or nostalgia mean in terms of visual art? Soft colour tones? Dramatic light? What could work as a symbol of it? Move in small steps and take your time with answers.