Russian revolution

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 SASHA Gusov is quite unlike any other photographer. As a journalist, you prepare as thoroughly as you can before interviewing someone, but no amount of research can prepare for a meeting with Gusov, as he is known. This is meant as a compliment, because Russian-born Gusov is one of the most excitable, exhilarating photographers Iever interviewed. From the moment we mee: outside the Tate Modern on LondonSouth Bank, the conversation is a non-stop flurry of anecdotes and memories. With his infectious cackle and boundless enthusiasm, Gusov is certainly not a dull interviewee. He is eager to relay his wealth of experiences.

Introduced to photography by his uncle at the age of 13, Sasha moved to London in 1989 age 29 with nothing but his camera and a few pennies in his pocket.  I used to see copies of Amateur Photographer, the British Journal of Photography and National Geographic when I was in Russ a, which inspired me to leave my country and pursue a life as a photographer,’he says.

sold everything I had because I knew I wasn t coming back. All my money went on my plane ticket. I arrived at the airport in London a little drunk and ended up falling asleep in the arrivals lounge before two security personnel scooped me up and literally tossed me into this Western world.’Gusov quickly began to find his way, initially taking cleaning jobs to make ends meet.  When I came to this country, I didn t know anyone and had no idea where to go,  he says.  I sold my camera and for two years worked in kitchens as a pot-washer, waring tables in restaurants and so on, trying to

save money to buy camera equipment.’While working as a cleaner at a central London dance studio, Gusov started taking promotional portraits for some of the dancers after-hours. A series of encounters with master printer Roy Snell (see AP 28 April) and celebrity portrait photographer Andrew Macpherson opened up new possibilities. Gusov began processing b&w films for fashion photographers, and in 1992 spent a month with Russia s Bolshoi Ballet in London, capturing elegant and enlightening documentary images of the dancers backstage. A candid of a dancer puffing on a cigarette (above) testifies to his ability to spy telling moments. The work for the Bolshoi led to more commissions from ballet companies and gradually Gusov built up a career photographing some of the worldbest artists and performers, from Luciano Pavarotti to actors Jude Law and Ewan McGregor, among others.


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Inspired by the French amateur photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue whose wonderfully observed images of people in the early 20th century are C y famous for their naturalness and unselfconsciousness, Gusov is critical of photographers who hang back and choose not to jump into a scene with their camera. don t like to photograph landscapes or buildings on their own/ he says. 1 like there to be something going on-some sort of action, a person doing something. I donshoot for the sake of the building alone. Ialways look for something else. Photography is not art. Photography is documentary-it s just fixing something that is happening in a particular moment.

With his roving eye constantly switched to  on  mode and observing his surroundings for unique moments to capture even as wetalking, it is difficult to pin down exactly what makes Gusov tick. The subjects he is dravvn to are eclectic, to say the least. From African tribes in Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to auction items belonging to high-profile celebrities, including Princess Diana and Marilyn Monroe, everyone and everything is a potential photograph. shoot so much I must have something in the region of 1.5 million images/ he says. a million of those are negatives. I like to watch things and I just see things/ he continues. always wait for one image, but sometimes providence gives you more. Itmy job to walk on the street and look.

Ivery spontaneous when I take pictures. I don t think too much before I shoot.

 When you are walking on the street with a camera, you are like a sniper-taking the images is like hunting/ he adds. me, shooting is a mechanical process. I can see things and suddenly I ll have a feeling that something will happen so I stop and wait, and then shoot. It s only when I m processing the films in the darkroom that I think, !   That s when I start to see things I ve never seen before and surprise myself. For me, that is the real joy of photography. It s the anticipation. Even now, I m itching to go and process the rolls of film I ve shot this week.


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Always choosing to shoot with 35mm-frame cameras, Sasha shoots digitally with his camera switched to black & white mode for commissioned work and on film for his personal work. He uses two cameras, one on each shoulder-a Nikon D4 and a Nikon F6, each with a 24-70mm lens attached.  I don t like using long lenses/ he says.  Even a 200mm focal length is too much for me.

Until two years ago Gusov had his own darkroom, but now he processes the films in his bathroom. He then digitises the negatives by scanning them and meticulously archives them on his computer. amount of craziness can be going on in my life, /v but when it comes to my negatives [“\ I know exactly where everything is he laughs. me, processing the films is the most sacred part of the photography process, so I m very cautious about this. If you mess it up, the negatives are ruined. So I won t let anyone else process my films.

Shooting with film and digitally requires different mentalities, he adds, and for Gusov, film will always be his preferred way of working. [professional clients] demands digital images and wants them immediately, so for one year I shot mainly using digital systems,  he says. I realised I couldnwork like this [so I returned to shooting film]. For me, it s sacred to have 36 frames on a roll of film and I hate to waste even one frame,  he adds shooting on film I pick one moment, click the shutter and Igot it. But when I m shooting on a digital SLR I can t stop myself from taking pictures-I become like a robot and shoot hundreds of images. Ishoot black & white film all the time if I could. Only in black & white can you see the graphic nature of what you re photographing.  Now mostly working on his own projects, Sasha first and foremost takes pictures for himself.  When I m on holiday with my girlfriend she complains I m always with my camera!

he laughs.  But I can talk to her and see something at the same time.


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Key to Gusov s photographic approach is the way he frames his shots. Often choosing to photograph from unusual, even upside down angles, many of his images feature beautiful fluid curves-the curve of an arm, for example-or stark shapes, and there are surrealist undertones in some of the images. What is also immediately apparent is his exquisite use of light and shadow. Choosing not to use a tripod, flash or multiple lights, Gusov believes that working with minimal equipment leads to images that are more personal.  Some photographers spend hours fiddling around with lights, but I ll be in there shooting within a few minutes and then out. If I m shooting a portrait, I always use just one or two lights. I never used lights for the backstage work I did with the Bolshoi ballet. I m an old-fashioned photographer really,  he adds.  I like to play with strong, Hollywood-style light and I love to watch all the old black & white movies. I like my images to look more theatrical than strictly realistic. It creates magic. You can achieve so much with just one light.


Despite calling himself a misanthrope and announcing his contempt for globalisation and technology, Gusov is keen on using social networking websites such as Facebook to disseminate his images.  I want people to see the pictures I take and Facebook is the most accessible, democratic gallery there is,  he explains.  I can post an image on Facebook and immediately people can comment on it. You can know instantly what people have to say about your work, whereas at an exhibition in a gallery space there isnthe same opportunity for people to tell you what they think. Some have told me not to put my images online because people can  steal  them, but who cares? People can post my images on their computer screens or wherever but they don t have the negative. I don t care about exclusivity-1 just want people to see my pictures.  While he uses Facebook, Gusov s chosen medium for showcasing his images in the long-term is, and always will be, the book format. s comments on Facebook help me to select which images to include in my books,  he says. all the progress in digital technology books are how I want my work to be shown. I produce books for myself.

ONE OF the mcst interesting things about Gusov is his ability to shoot insightful portraits as well as revealing documentary images. With his voracious appetite for capturing the world around him, he seems to employ a documentary approach even when photographing portraits-the subjects appear to be plucked from a continuous stream of movement. Gusovs flamboyance and gift for getting on with people has been a particular advantage in his portrait work.  Some photographers are very dull in their approach,  he says. tell their subjects to here darling, do that darling/’but Ilike a clown.

Sometimes you have to joke or be a bit aggressive-it depends on who you are photographing. It s about finding a way to connect with the person/

Gusov s love of photographing peoplebehaviour eventually led him to place his portrait photography to one side and instead concentrate on the knd of spontaneous documentary photography that he loves.  In the beginning, I was only doing portraits/ he says,  but gradually I started to do more repo tage-style work. I photographed so many celebrities, but it was all about the same poses, the same studio and so on. Its too superficial-it s not real/

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