Interview | Iana Tokarchuk

Art has been a focal point since the early years for Kyiv/Kiev based photographer Iana Tokarchuk. Attending art school and picking up her first camera as a teenager, Iana approaches her work with sensitivity and creates images with a timeless feeling. To view more, visit her website and instagram

Interview by Demetrios Drystellas

Can you tell us about yourself and your photographic background?

I’m 30 years old, I live in Ukraine, and I’ve been doing photography for about 15 years. 
I’ve been interested in arts since early childhood. Especially painting and writing. We have a family joke about our mother making me and my sister paint a lot because we were singing all the time, and we were terrible at singing so it was extremely annoying for adults.
I’ve always wanted a camera, too. I got the first one when I was 14. As a photographer, mostly I’m self-taught. Practice can make miracles.
When I started, I didn’t know that my photography was bad then, that helped a lot)
I had many photographer friends, who gave me advice as we were learning kind of in sync. Ukrainians are very talented, I was lucky to grow in such a creative environment.

 Why did you focus on fashion photography, and not a different area of photography?

I fell in love with fashion photography because it felt like this is the world where most of my ideas would fit.
I remember in “September issue” Anna Wintour makes Grace Coddington cut out an amazing picture that doesn’t exactly fit the Paris story (I still love this beautiful shoot). And that seemed crazy to me.
It took some time to see that the picture was probably made on purpose off-the-shoot. I guess it could have been in the script, so they would have an interesting argument. Because it really didn’t fit. No way Grace Coddington didn’t know that.
What I mean is fashion photography is not only about beautiful pictures. First of all, it sells clothes. In this sense, it was not what I imagined at the beginning. I did not know much about it when I started.
But you can still speak through it. You just have to keep some stuff in mind.

What do you feel when you view your photos?

I always feel that my pictures are moving. In the sense that they have an internal dynamism. What I mean is it looks as if they flow. Constantly. There is something about the lines that makes me feel that way. 
I don’t like geometrical lines though. People speak about the importance of lines in their work all the time. But clear and well-defined lines are not what I’m looking for, I appreciate them in others’ work.

Where do you draw inspiration from? Are there particular artists or works of art that have shaped you?

I had an art teacher at school. Once, she said that an artist sees beauty everywhere. And non-artists aren’t able to do such a thing. 
I always wanted to become an artist. So I pushed myself to see the beauty around. I made a habit out of it. When I walk with my friend we always stare at buildings and the sky and the lights, and the lights on the buildings and so on and so forth. I love what light can do.
Of course, I get inspired by photography and cinema. I love fine arts. I dedicated a shoot to the Blue Period of Picasso, but actually the color of Kodak Portra without editing made me do that, ahaha.
Recently I’ve started to notice sculpture. Right now it’s more captivating for me than paintings.
Virginia Woolf taught me to pay extra attention to details. One more thing I love about Virginia Woolf is that you remember the feeling, not the plot when the book is done. That is such a great quality for any kind of arts.

How would you define beauty, and are there any specific occasions where this feeling of beauty captivated you?

I honestly don’t know, when I see something beautiful, I just know it. For example, when I first saw my boyfriend’s scar, I couldn’t stop talking about it.
I try to express what beauty is to me. I think that everyone sees it differently. No other photographer would see what I see, and vice versa. I have the desire to capture and share what I see. So when I was a little child I’ve always wanted to have a camera with me, so I could share with others what I saw during the day. It was the pre-smartphone world. Even pre-cellphone.

How spontaneous is the photographic process for you? Do you spend time pre-planning, story-boarding etc or do you rather let creativity flow during the session?

I had some shoots planned very thoroughly (I mean the poses) but it’s not my favorite style of working.
I plan many other things though, like the character, style, beauty. Few times I styled the shoot myself. Sometimes I need a more detailed board, with all looks and lighting and even the crops. Sometimes it’s just the general mood. I really love making both, it’s my Virgo nature, ahaha.
But I don’t really want to plan every single detail, just the outline.

How do you select the models/subjects you collaborate with and what would the ideal model be?

There are no rules for appearance, when I see the right face I know it. The faces are more important to me than the figures, yet the way models pose is the number one priority. You can see that in the model’s Instagram or portfolio. But sometimes you just take a risk with a new face.
Also when I’m choosing a girl for commercial work I always want to see pictures with no make-up and no studio lights, maybe just a selfie or snapshots.
In terms of character, most people are really nice on the shoot. I like most when they are ready to go the extra mile for the picture when they really love what they do and can bring something new and unique to the shoot. It goes for everyone on the team, not only models.

Would you like to speak about the transition from digital to film and why you chose film?

I started shooting the film in October of 2018. I tried a few times before, but it wasn’t serious. I took pictures of my siblings and some travel photos. But in 2018 my sister and my friend Sasha have been already shooting film and been talking so much about it, I decided to give it a shot. 
It was different this time because both of them started scanning their pictures — and they actually taught me. Scanning is very important for me, it allows me to keep my style in film.
Why film? It looks different. I love the softness and colors. For me it’s just a tool. I do not focus on film “having a soul” as a medium or being somehow more true. Though, in a sense, it can be a bit “truer”, because it does not require that much retouching to look great.
Technically, it is softer. And the coloring works differently on film, even though my film colors are similar to my digital colors. But the texture and contrast are different, and details in bright daylight look better (both in lights and shadows).
Also, blurred out of focus pictures look amazing. And I love defocused pictures.

Do you ever feel disappointed with photography?

I do. For 10 years photography had been everything for me, but then something happened. I didn’t really feel like shooting. My closest friends are photographers so we talk about photography all the time. But suddenly I’d rather talk about anything but photography because I wasn’t in the mood for shooting at all.
It was 2018, a pretty bad year for me. I liked some models, but when I started thinking about creative-direction for a shoot it was always just something I saw somewhere before. It was like “I could do this and that, or the other thing”. But it did not matter for me what I’d choose because nothing was “mine”.

And then my film nude series started in October. This series saved photography for me).
This kind of photography is really close to what I liked when I started out. And it was really simple, like what would I shoot if there were “no overthinking”. Just creating instead. I can go far with self-criticism, and “lose” the way. It is important to trust yourself.
Sometimes I need to “refresh” what I do. So I need some other hobbies for my other ideas, I tried video and writing for example. It helps to take a break and start anew.
I can talk a lot about that, this is a very important subject, all my friends went through times of disappointment and found a better fulfilment after that.

So you started shooting nudity in 2018 when you had already been shooting for years. What made you become interested in this element, compared to the past?

I shot some nude pictures before, but it wasn’t consistent. I wanted to do a shoot like that for a long time though, it’s just – I work with fashion models; not all of them would agree to participate in nude photography. I still feel uncomfortable asking them.
My first model – Alina – has never been photographed naked before, but agreed easily and said that she trusted me and my taste, we’ve known each other for 5 years and worked together a lot. All of the girls would have different reactions and some kind of rules about what can and cannot be demonstrated.

Compared to fashion, nudity is a bit more art, cause it doesn’t sell anything. It’s about creative freedom on the shoot — freedom is exactly what I’m gaining with my nude series.
I love (and in fashion works always loved) barefooted pictures. People look like statues to me this way; or like paintings. It was always part of my aesthetics.
Another thing that I like about this kind of photography is that you can shoot one on one with the model, and it changes the pictures, too.
And the last one is the simplicity of the object and the backdrop that makes you “concentrate” and find something new each time, even though it’s the model and the backdrop again and again.

Your ‘Nude series’ focuses on female nudity from a fresh perspective. What is the story behind the series?

I wanted to shoot a different kind of nudity, to celebrate the body as an art-object. In brief, nudity that is for women themselves. And I know my audience is mainly women, so it probably works.

Sensuality plays a key role in your visual identity. Do you face any challenges blending it to your commercial work and what is your approach?

Sensuality in photography comes naturally to me. I found something mine there – my pictures are sensual and simple, not vulgar.
I have clients now who appreciate it the most about my style. So Ι can’t say there are any challenges there – because sensuality is what most of my clients look for now. My clients changed when my photography changed.

What is the one thing you wish you had more of in your work?

I’d have more nudity for sure. For now, I’m mixing nudity with fashion, because fashion is such a huge part of my photography journey. I’d love to see what I can find there without fashion bits, to work more with the body itself and the lights. I wish we had more ethnic faces, but then again Ukrainians are extremely beautiful, can’t complain, ahaha.

If you could work with one person, who would it be?

I would love to shoot with Grace Coddington because when I started photography her work really inspired me. Famous ‘September issue’ was accidentally the first Vogue I’ve ever bought in my life. And I loved the documentary too. 2007 is when I actually chose photography for myself.
Also, I’d really love to take pictures of Laetitia Casta. But if I start a list of people I’d love to take a picture of it won’t ever end. Ever.
It’s fun to take pictures of the same person over the years, too. So I have a few models that I shoot every once in a while for 5 years or so. For example, I’ve been taking pictures of my friend Sasha for 11 years, and you can see through those pictures how my photography has been developing and how she’s changed as a person.
It’s funny, but I’ve got only one male model I love to shoot (probably for 5 years now). It’s Bogdan Romanović. I love when people can bring something unique to the picture, as I mentioned earlier.

When you aren’t working, where can we find you and with whom?

My favorite thing to do is walking. I really missed it on the quarantine. It’s a lot easier for me to talk during the walks, even though I am a talkative person, and it’s pretty easy for me to talk all the time. My boyfriend and my sister and my best friend all love walking.
As a lazy person, I watch a lot of movies and TV-series, and I can work with some TV-series in the background. I can be in the mood for Marvel movies or for the filmography of Takeshi Kitano (I had periods when I hated wasting time on blockbusters and when I couldn’t bring myself to watch anything more complex than Disney). I adore Italian movies and especially Federico Fellini, I really love Woody Allen. Obviously I spend a lot of time watching movies.
I have this game with my boyfriend when we’d watch the full filmography of the direction we choose in the chronological order. But right now we can’t agree on anybody 🙈

What are your thoughts on social media and its influence on photography? Through filters, for example.  

I have a strange feeling about filters. Actually I have just discovered this quarantine. Apparently they not just add some butterflies or flowers to faces, but retouch the skin, plump lips and reshape faces and noses. 
The filters can be fun, but also if you think about them more, are they fun? 
I’m a little upset because it’s harder and harder to love yourself — we are reminded every day of how we could look if we’d get fillers and plastic surgeries or worse how we “should” look.
Just today I saw an advertising-article that sells some kind of “Instagram-face” fillers procedure, that makes you look like you “should” — at least that’s what I got from it.

What is your most treasured possession?

Probably my cat Mishanya 🐈

What is the trait you dislike the most in others?

Right now my least favorite thing is when you talk to a person and they’re suddenly on the phone and not showing any signs of life.

A guilty pleasure?

Reading “Harry Potter” ♾

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

I’d write a children’s book and make a cartoon out of it later

If you could take a two-day crash course in any field or endeavour, what would it be?

I think writing ‘cause that’s what I do right now on master class 🙈

What would be the soundtrack to this interview?

Songs from Woody Allen films.
Especially if there’s Billie Holiday’s “Did I remember?”

Describe Iana with 3 words.

Self-deprecating jokes lover

What should we expect to see in the future?

More beautiful women from me.