Collective Photographer Oliver Endicott talks to Photographer George Voronov. 

I recently had the pleasure of talking to George Voronov, a fantastic Dublin based photographer who has recently finished his MA in photography at Belfast School of Art. George is also a co-founder of Junior, an annual print-only photography journal that celebrates emerging contemporary Irish photography.

I’d like to start by just asking you to tell me a bit about yourself, what your background is and how you got into photography?

So, my name is George and I’m a photographer based in Dublin, Ireland. I was born and raised in Moscow but moved to Dublin when I was six years old.

I picked up my first camera under pretty bizarre circumstances. When I was 15, I won a competition through school and got to go on an expedition to the Arctic Circle. Knowing that it was essentially a once in a lifetime opportunity, my parents were kind enough to buy me a small point and shoot. As soon as I got it in my hands, I was obsessed. It sounds super pretentious now but I was really fascinated with how things looked like when they were photographed. Even though I probably couldn’t articulate it fully back then, there was a palpable sense of magic in the camera being able to show you a very ordinary thing from a different perspective, thereby making it novel. That sense of magic or wonder is what I’m still desperately trying to chase with my work now.

George Voronov, We Became Everything

Your work certainly oozes that intangible but magical essence within photography that is often an elusive and perplexing endeavour. For me the border between fiction and reality is quite slim within your work, particularly with your most recent project ‘We Became Everything’. Could you tell me a little bit more about the work and your process?

I’m really glad to see people picking up on that element of the work. We Became Everything is a project about trying to communicate the sensation of a spiritual or peak experience through photographs so a magical and mysterious atmosphere was crucial to me from the beginning.

I’ve always been interested in the idea of youth and the process of growing up and self-discovery. For We Became Everything, I started with an interest in particularly spiritual or religious young people. I liked the link between the idea of a spiritual journey and the journey into adulthood. Both are process where people blindly feel their way forward in the dark. Both paths are ambiguous and confusing. At the same time, there’s also an interesting tension there between spiritualities often rooted in tradition and our modern, increasingly secular society.

I realised during the making of the project that I need to photograph instinctually and edit methodically. Throughout the project I kept getting frustrated because I was taking images that I couldn’t necessarily explain. I knew they were important but had no idea how they fit conceptually. I realised that what I was tapping into was this idea that everyone that I photographed, despite having radically different beliefs, all shared a belief in two worlds––our material world and a second, mysterious, spiritual world. I realised that those photographs that were annoying me, often of banal scenes made surreal by a trick of the light, could be thought of as instances where the two worlds collide. My elevator pitch for the project is to say that I want to photograph what a religious experience feels like.

George Voronov, We Became Everything

In some ways, photography is almost like a religious or spiritual experience, it’s that making of the images of the outside world to reflect the search for meaning and emotion on the inside. Whilst the work is quite subtle and considered there are also moments of ambiguity and tension between what is there and what isn’t. Was there any particular research, photographers or artists that influenced the work that led you to this?

Ah wow! It’s so heartening to hear you say that. I couldn’t agree more. One of the first realisations I had working on this project was the idea that being a photographer inevitably entails many acts of faith. As I mentioned earlier, I went through this really frustrating process when I was making images that I knew were important but I couldn’t rationalise why. It was only months after many of them were captured that their role started to make sense in a larger context. In that case, my faith in knowing they were important was rewarded down the line.

On a more spiritual level, simply being out in the world and taking photographs could be a meditative and, at times, transcendent process. The works of Stephen Shore and Peter Fraser, both of whom talk about the importance of bestowing the world with an abundance of attention, were particularly important in making me realise that. I remember reading a psychologist saying that the line between artistic inspiration and religious revelation was a relatively narrow one. That was a real eureka moment.

In terms of inspiration, the works of the first abstract painters; Kandinsky, Malevich, and Hilma af Klint were really crucial references early on. I learned that abstract painting arose from those artists’ need to visualise spiritual states. Similarly, I started researching psychological research papers that dealt with the phenomenon of religious experience. These were incredibly useful in suggesting specific feelings or “symptoms” that I could begin to recreate photographically. The idea of a loss of perception of time was a particularly important aspect and obviously intersected with the idea of photography in a pretty interesting way.

George Voronov, We Became Everything

The work reminds me a lot of the TV show Twin Peaks created and directed by David Lynch, although less dark and twisted and more open ended and fleeting but still maintaining that sense of otherworldliness. Photography itself is quite a fleeting and momentary experience and there are certainly parallels with spirituality and losing the perception of time in that sense.

You co-founded and run an annual photography journal called Junior, could you tell me a little bit about the motivation and ideas behind it?

Absolutely! Myself and my co-founder Ellius started Junior a few years ago as a response to what was happening in Irish photography at the time. I had just come out of uni and because I didn’t go to art school I didn’t know any other people my age who were seriously interested in photography. Similarly, the Irish photographers that I was aware of were largely of an older generation that I felt somewhat removed from. I really loved a lot of their work but couldn’t see myself in it. Junior was an attempt to kind of stir the pot, bring up a younger generation of photographers, and get them hanging out with each other.

As a publication, Junior is about celebrating emerging Irish photography. Because neither myself or Ellius come from fine-art backgrounds we are in the privileged position of running a photography magazine that caters to a primarily non-photographic audience which we’re really proud of. As an extension of that, a large part of our mission statement is to make “serious” fine-art photography accessible. That means no art-speak. no convoluted artist statements, and no art for art’s sake. By that same token, we work with our artists to mediate more nuanced ideas and complex visual language by making sure that all of our selected projects are grounded in very real human issues.

We also want to encourage playfulness and try to show photography in new and exciting ways. Last year we launched a zine called The Sunless Garden that told the story of a fictional couple from their meeting through to their eventual breakup. We teamed up with our friends Hen’s Teeth and turned their Dublin shop into a restaurant, the setting for our fictional couple’s first and last dates. So the launch was a kind of supper club with a theatrical element. Our chef drafted a menu with dishes that drew on his own memories of first date meals and break-up food.

George Voronov, We Became Everything
George Voronov, We Became Everything

Fantastic stuff. One final question, I’m a bit of a photobook nerd and I’m sure a lot of our readers are too, do you have any photobooks that really stand out for you that perhaps we haven’t heard of?

I just got back from Unseen in Amsterdam so I’m pretty eager to show off my purchases. While I’m a big fan of photobooks in general, I tend to value the projects that take a considered approach to the form of the book. I think there’s a consensus forming that too many artists make books simply because they want to, not because their projects necessarily needs to be a book. I bought the two books I did because in both cases, the book is a physical manifestation of the themes of the project.

The first is A Study of Assassination by George Selley. The book is inspired by the release of a CIA handbook for assassins that was used in their involvement in Central America. The second book is The Earth is Only a Little Dust Under Our Feet by Bego Antón, which documents her quest to find mythical creatures in Iceland. Both are phenomenal but the second one in particular makes me feel giddy as soon as I open the cover.

George Voronov

I’m a recent graduate of the MFA programme at the Belfast School of Art, Ulster University where I studied under Ken Grant, Donovan Wylie, and Haley Morris Cafiero. While at Belfast, I began developing We Became Everythinga long-term photography project looking at young people’s experience of spirituality in contemporary Ireland. I split my time between editorial and commercial commissions as well as my personal artistic practice.

For the last few years, I’ve also been raising a baby publishing imprint with my partner in crime Ellius Grace. Junior Press is our way of giving props to the amazing photography talent coming out of Ireland. We publish an annual showcase magazine called Junior and supplement it with a smattering of zines, workshops and photography knitting circles. We are currently working on our fourth issue which is set to release in the coming months.

George Vornov – Photographer

Website: http://www.georgevoronov.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/georgevoronov/?hl=en

Interview by Collective Photographer Oliver Endicott.

If you enjoyed this interview, check out another Collective interview Here.