An Interview with winner of World Press Photo Danila Tkachenko

The work of Danila Tkachenko – a former documentary photography student at The Rodchenko Moscow School of Photography and Multimedia – has been exhibited in galleries all over the world. His photography has also featured in a variety of magazines and journals worldwide, including the Washington Post, the British Journal of Photography, and Spiegel online.

With his first project, Escape, Tkachenko won the World Press Photo 2014. For his most recent project, Restricted Areas, Tkachenko was awarded with the European Publishers Award for Photography (EPAP) 2015, and recognised in the LensCulture Exposure Awards 2014 – the book on Restricted Areas is due to be published soon.

We spoke to Danila about his photography career, the creative process, and what makes a photograph memorable.


How did you get into photography?

Absolutely by accident – I was renting an apartment with a girl who was a photographer, and this is when I became interested in photography.


©Danila_Tkachenko/ The Restricted Areas / Dewi Lewis Publishing


Let’s talk about Escape and Restricted Areas. Why did you choose such dark subjects for these collections?

It’s possible to say that I was influenced by my disenchantment from the contemporary world, and this is reflected in my artworks. I was disillusioned by the idea that, for human beings, material values matter so much, and the persecution of nonconformity – which is very often not accepted in modern Russia.


©Danila_Tkachenko/ Escape

What was the hardest part of creating these series? 

I am always haunted by issues. In everything I do, I have to overcome initial failures. When I was shooting the hermits, after the first year of work, I lost all my films. In Restricted Areas, I was very often unlucky with the weather – I would be waiting for proper conditions for weeks, even months. But I think that, without these obstacles, the projects wouldn’t be as they are today.


Your subject in Escape is living in the jungle, having made a conscious choice to live away from people. How do you find the balance between documenting people intimately, and entering the private spaces of people seeking solitude from the eyes of society?

It’s an interesting question. I realised that I was violating the personal space of these people, but I was always asking for their permission to do so, and I’m not disclosing their names or location. For me, they are rather an artistic form through which I am trying to express my ideas.

How did you persuade them to be a part of this project?

By far, not all of them were agreeing to this. I’d be telling them about myself and my project – if they gave their consent, I started to work. I would always bring presents – such as food that would otherwise be difficult for them to get.


©Danila_Tkachenko/ Escape

We are fascinated to know the people you documented beyond the stills; do you have any interesting stories about your time spent with those featured in Escape?

When I was working on this project, I wanted to show more than just the way they live. The characters in this series are symbols of escape, and every story was interesting in its own way.

For example, one of them was a former member of the Russian Academy of Science – he developed the new species of ginseng, but after Perestroika, it seemed that nobody needed this anymore, and nobody would ever see it. He decided to head away from society, and continue his biological research by himself.


©Danila_Tkachenko/ The Restricted Areas / Dewi Lewis Publishing

©Danila_Tkachenko/ The Restricted Areas / Dewi Lewis Publishing

How did you manage to gain access to the ‘Restricted Areas’ in your project?

Most of these places were previously restricted, but they have lost their significance, and aren’t guarded anymore. There are safe-keepers, but I managed to negotiate with them.

What was the key message you wanted to portray with Restricted Areas, and what reaction were you hoping to get from the public?

The metaphor of this project is post-technology apocalypse; I wanted to hint at the idea of the ambivalent nature of progress, which sometimes brings destruction.


©Danila_Tkachenko/ The Restricted Areas / Dewi Lewis Publishing

©Danila_Tkachenko/ The Restricted Areas / Dewi Lewis Publishing

Is there a photographer you particularly admire?

Taryn Simon – I like her research attitude, and the way she is combining text and photography.

What makes great and memorable photography?

There are three components: shooting unique objects, the conceptual message of the author; and the beauty of the photo – for me, beauty is the means to propagate the artistic message.

What do you want your viewers to take away from your work?

I would like to encourage them reflect on their own life, and their identity in the contemporary world – to provoke the different view on our reality.

If you had to choose, would you pick film or digital for the rest of your life?

These are only technical characteristics – for each purpose, a suitable means or tool should be chosen.

Do you have a favourite photograph of yourself?

(If it’s meant about the Restricted Areas series)

I am not making any difference. I don’t look at the photos separately – I consider it more in its totality, because each shot is inseparable, each is part of the body of the project.

What kind of advice would you give to photographers and artists who are just starting out?

To not give up, in any circumstances.

Finally, what do you have planned next?

I am working on three projects now – one of them refers to the desire of humanity to travel in outer space, and the other two are dedicated to totalitarianism in the contemporary world.